Monday, April 11, 2011

Sea of Poppies

India and poppies two of my obsessions.
It's a bum hole, going out to see if i can find it now................


The story begins with Deeti, a simple, pious lady, caring mother and an efficient housewife. Married to Hukam Singh, a crippled worker in the Ghazipur Opium Factory, the unfortunate Deeti figures out that on her wedding night, she was drugged with opium by her mother-in-law, so that her brother-in-law could consummate the marriage in place of her infertile husband. This brother-in-law is the real father of Deeti's daughter Kabutri. When her husband dies, Deeti sends Kabutri to stay with relatives. Deeti looks almost certain to meet her doom when she chooses to go through with the sati ritual (immolation on her husband's funeral pyre), but then Kalua, the ox man from the neighbouring village, comes to her rescue. The couple flee and unite. This is not acceptable to their fellow villagers. In order to escape Deeti's in-laws, she and Kalua become indentured servants on the Ibis.

Zachary Reid, an American sailor born to a slave mother and a white father, receives a lot of attention. He has been on the Ibis since the schooner started her arduous journey, and hopes to die with it. He maintains that in his lifetime he has never seen a more admirable article than the Ibis and it is no less than a mother to him, supporting him in his dark hours and rejoicing with him in his happiness. With the support of the head of the lascars, Serang Ali, he becomes the second in command of the ship, when it was refitted to carry indentured labour to the island of Mareech or Mauritius instead of the tradable opium.

Neel Rattan Halder, a wealthy rajah whose dynasty has been ruling the zemindary of Rakshali for centuries, is confronted by Mr. Burnham with the need to sell off his estates in order to pay for the debt he had incurred when trading opium with China at the height of the opium trade. But now that the opium trade has come to a standstill, as a result of the resistance shown by the Chinese authorities, he is left with no money to clear his loan. When Mr. Burnham proposes to settle the load for Halders zamindary, Halder refueses the deal as the zamindary is his familys ancistral property and selling it would mean turning his back on his many dependents living in his household and zamindary. He is tried for forgery, but it is a sham trial orchestrated by Burnham and his cronies. The court punishes him by sentencing him to work as an indentured labourer for seven years in Mauritius. It is then that he meets Ah Fatt, a half-Chinese from Canton, half-Parsi opium addict, his sole companion in prison since the two will eventually be transported together on the Ibis.

The book also features Paulette, a French orphan, who has also grown up in India. Her father was an eccentric but kind botanist, and her mother died in childbirth. Mr. and Mrs. Burnham take Paulette into their home after her father's death. She becomes determined to run away because Mr. Burnham has behaved in a disturbing way with her in private. Also, he is trying to get her married to his friend, the stern, elderly Justice Kendalbushe. As it happens, Paulette had met Zachary Reid, the American sailor, at a dinner at the Burnhams'; she was instantly drawn to him, and he to her. She has resolved to travel to Mauritius, as her great-aunt did, in the hope of finding a better future. Along with Jodu, her childhood friend (or brother, as both Jodu and Paulette are brought up under the care of Jodu's mother following the death of Paulette's mother at childbirth), she boards the Ibis, unaware of her destiny. Paulette easily disguises herself as an Indian woman, using her fluent Bengali, which she learned in childhood growing up at close proximity with Jodu and his mother. Paulette's upbringing in India has also made her feel more at ease with Indian manners, food, and clothing than with Western ones.

As the stories merge, each carrying its share of joys and sorrows, the Ibis becomes a shelter to those in destitution.

After much strife and bloodshed on board the vessel, Neel, Ah Fatt, Jodu, Serang Ali and Kalua manage to escape, unaware of the destination the sea waves will carry them to.
[edit] Critical reception

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