Ruchira Paul reviews Amitav Ghosh's new novel in Accidental Blogger:
A historical novel, Sea of Poppies is also a love story(ies) flowering both on land and water. It is the account of thriving global trade, addictions, greed, betrayal, war, occupation and the rigid hierarchy of class, caste, race and power. Thoroughly researched, Ghosh meticulously creates the culture of 19th century India in the early grips of foreign occupation and that of seafaring adventurers, pirates and mercenaries. It is set in a time when the East India Company had discovered that among the varied natural resources across the vast expanse of India, the land and climate of the north central Gangetic plains offered one more lucrative opportunity of raising revenues for the British crown which had the additional enticing value of becoming the gateway to China. Under British supervision, the first large scale opium production in India's history began in a region across eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar where farmers were commissioned (coerced) to devote their entire tracts of agricultural land to the growing of poppies for opium. Some quantities of the opium produced in India entered the local markets and it was also utilized for medical purposes in the form of morphine, an effective pain killer and anesthetic. But a large portion of the raw opium was exported to China, the other large Asiatic nation whose wealth and resources the Brits eyed hungrily and whose rulers, fearful of the European intent in Asia, had adamantly barred entry to foreigners. The plan was to make the Chinese so addicted and dependent on opium that out of desperation, the wily mandarins would open the doors of the secretive land to the procurers of the drug. Apart from the complicated shenanigans of opium trafficking, the novel also introduces readers to another British export – the first large scale relocation of Indian laborers to Africa, the Caribbeans and the far east as indentured servants, slaves with a new name.