airlifting a brigade of troops to the region to reinforce Indian positions. A resolution of the dispute by Doval, the rise in sea levels. and that is what happened. But a novelist is not writing about one thing you are trying to create an entire world I am not just interested in opium you know I am interested in the clothes people wore their food what sorts of entertainments they went to the songs they sang In the case of the Opium War there hasn’t been any detailed military history of the war and I had to reconstruct that on my own That was quite an undertaking One of the great gaps in Indian military history especially the 18th and 19th centuries is that everything we know is refracted through the official lens through English sources I was desperate to find an Indian voice speaking about his experience Between 1760 and 1900 literally millions of Indians fought in the British colonial armies You know how many accounts we possess One Even that is apocryphal It was published in English An English army officer claimed to have recorded the memoirs of a subedar It is called the Memoir of Sitaram Subedar So I found myself being pushed forward in time into the memoirs of the 20th century One and a half million Indians fought in WWI But the number of firsthand accounts can be counted on the fingers of one hand Of these memoirs two were in Bengali written by two medical personnel The accounts were self-published and so they never had any kind of readership in Bengal One of them written by Shishir Sarbadhikari is one of the greatest memoirs of WWI Amitav Ghosh: “I lead a very quiet life I am not sociable even” (Credit-Emilio Madrid-Kuser) The Indian sepoy in a war not of his choosing is a theme that runs through this book and your earlier work See long before the Sepoy Mutiny the sepoys were constantly mutineering I refer to one of them the Barrackpore Mutiny in The Flood of Fire Often when they were asked to go abroad they would refuse On the one hand they fought the colonial wars and on the other they were in near-constant mutiny Similarly in WWII they formed an army of their own the Indian National Army which I wrote about in The Glass Palace So this sort of divided consciousnesses of the sepoy is very interesting to me This is a novel about war but not of heroism In your view of history do individuals matter Leo Tolstoy famously took this position that history is never about heroic individuals but larger forces But Tolstoy also insisted that he was a historian and not a novelist It is actually a fact that his vision of Russian history reigned in academic circles until very recently So it is not as if novelists don’t play a part in the writing of history They do they always did But I believe sometimes individuals significantly alter things In the early period of British expansion in India it is a matter of coincidence that a military genius was present here Sir Arthur Wellesley If not for him the British would have lost many battles As for the book many of my characters are heroes because they are making the best of incredibly difficult circumstances The Ibis you write is a vehicle of transformations Has it transformed you as a writer It’s a progression of my earlier concerns I started writing the books when I was just short of 50 Soon I will be 60 My children were teenagers then now they have jobs The writing and publishing of these books has been a life cycle event I knew I was setting out to do something very ambitious But I had no idea how ambitious it was There were many times that I thought I was crazy to take this on But if you didn’t set yourself that challenge why would you push yourself I had endless fun writing it of course I have spent days laughing my head off while writing some bits Writing is a heightened form of life and that is what is special about it about the lives one lives as a writer How do you live with this multitude of characters inside your head I lead a very quiet life I am not sociable even I go through months and months even when I don’t see anyone other than my family I really don’t feel the need because of these characters chattering away (in my head) Have they ceased chattering now No I don’t think they have gone All my books take about 3-4 years but because it’s been 10 years the characters of the Ibis trilogy have become permanent fixtures I might return to them later but in another form This artifact is now complete Do you remember what impelled you to write There was a time when I realised that a moment had come when if I didn’t write I never would It was 1982 and I had come back from Oxford Writing is not something that happens accidentally When I was working at Indian Express I can’t tell you how many journalists had a novel or a short story locked away in their drawers And I didn’t want to be like that If I had to write I would have to give my all I became a writer because I was a reader first I constantly try to remind young writers who come to me for advice is that the impulse to write comes from reading I get the feeling that some of the people start writing because it is glamorous or that you can be seen at festivals But that is not the life of a writer; a life of a writer is these long stretches of solitude For all the latest Opinion News download Indian Express App More Related News

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