Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

(I have tried not to give any part of the story except for what maybe included at the back cover of the book)

I was introduced to the writing of Amitav by Colors through his latest book, “The Hungry Tide”. I found his writing fascinating because of the fact that the setting of his novel was as much a character as the people in it. As I was opening my luggage after moving to Edmonton, I was surprised to discover that I had a copy of Amitav Ghosh’s “The Glass Palace”, which was given to me by my cousin before leaving for Canada. I never got the chance to read it and the book relegated to the obscure corner of my bookshelf for 6 years. When I started reading Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace, I decided to mark those pages that have a great quote or something that I would like to read more about. By the end of the epic novel, I had more than 80% of the book marked.

Burma, which is as good as one of the central character of the novel because of the mystery, untouched beauty and uniqueness of the place.

The Glass Palace starts from the calm waterways of Mandalay in Burma, moves to the beautiful port of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra to the sameness of rubber plantations of Malaya into the conflict of Indian National Army against British forces during the Second World War. This is a story of three generations starting and ending with the family patriarch, Rajkumar. If “Hungry Tide” had the setting of Sundarbans as one of its principal characters then “The Glass Palace” has Burma, Ratnagiri and everything in between as part of its characters. Amitav, the writer, takes us to the places that we only read in books and may never visit because maybe they are inaccessible like Burma or out of the way like Ratnagiri.

Thibaw Palace, Residence of Burmese King exiled in Ratnagiri by British. King Thibaw is one of the few real characters in the novel.

Another character of this masterpiece is the timezone in which the majority of the novel is set. It was the tumultuous time at the end of British rule of India, when the country was divided between Gandhi’s and Bose’s ideology. At that time everyone knew that India needed to get independence but the question was which ideology was better. In hindsight we all can say that Gandhi’s ideology had a better chance of succeeding but the soldiers in Indian National Army did believe ferociously in their ideology as much as Gandhians did in theirs. It is this ideological difference that Amitav has tried to discuss through characters of his novel rather than through public figures like Gandhi and Bose, and so we are able to see those ideological differences through the eye of common man and hence can have more sympathies with one side or another.

It’s a bit coincidental that both the novels that I have read of Amitav, had lead me to encounter with either the principal character of the novel or with the scenario presented. In Hungry Tide, as I mentioned in my older post, I was able to see dolphins while reading the book on the ferry and the story in that novel revolved around dolphins in the river Ganges. In The Glass Palace, the story starts in Burma and talks a lot about the political upheaval in Burma during and after the British Raj and how the country that was once called, “The Golden Bird” is now going towards obscurity because of questionable policies of the then British regime. This part of the story is coincidental because Burma is again in news for all the wrong reasons. Recently, the military regime of Burma decided to raise prices of fuel and the conflict split into streets with at least 88 student protesters missing since the conflict began last week. The novel has described the political situations of Burma in a very engaging way through different time zones and history.

The novel ended with few questions unanswered but that is the best way to end some books where the reader is made to think of his/her own ending based on how he/she interprets the novel. For me personally, it made me to think of all the events that took place preceding to the ending and then make up my own ending in my mind that answers my questions not anyone else’s. The Glass Palace was a fascinating read but if I need to be picky then there were few coincidental moments in the book but then again they could be forgiven in the spirit of fiction.

I read my novels very slowly, reading only 30-40 pages a day, maybe because I didn’t started reading them till last few years but over time I have realized that for me that’s the way to read good fiction because the characters in the novel become a daily part of my life. I like exploring them day by day, chapter by chapter, and layer by layer, till the entire layers end up to the real seed of the book which may one day give life to another fruit. The Glass Palace was one such book that revealed itself layer by layer till its culmination that didn’t really end the novel but provided the seed for another one, maybe not for me but for someone who is ready to nurture it.

Here’s ending with a direct quote from The Glass Palace that defined a major conflict in the book:

“Arjun saw that it was a pamphlet, written in Hindustani and printed in both Devanagari and Arabic script. It was an appeal directed to the Indian soldiers, signed by one Amreek Singh of the Indian Independence League. The text began: Brothers, ask yourselves what you are fighting for and why you are here: do you really wish to sacrifice your lives for an Empire that has kept your country in slavery for two hundred years?


Blogger Ekta said...

WOW! an update soo soon....badiya hai!!

2:16 AM  
Blogger Ekta said...

I read The Hungry Tide some time back & loved it because of the simple characters & the flow was superb...was totally immersed in the book....Well, even I read books very slowly...reason being...I read a few pages...& then half way thru I am ZZZzzz....don't know why this happens all the time.

The Glass Palace is lying in one corner of my bookshelf too....maybe this post of yours inspires me to pick it up soon. :)

2:18 AM  
Blogger The Bhandari's said...

me too here, will comment later :)

2:21 AM  
Blogger Marlee said...

U mark your books as well? *Same Pinch* lol, I have got the same pinch syndrome frm u! :-p

I read the Glass Palace when I was in school (Donkey yrs ago) I must get my hands in one soon)

@ Mehak: I fall off to sleep as well! and then usually dream of the story :)

2:13 AM  
Blogger Ricky said...

mehak - Thank You jee!!

Yea, no doubt "Hungry Tide" was one of my best reads. It happens to me too, feel sleepy while reading book esp in lazy afternoons :-)

Read it and then tell me how you like it :D

the bhandari's - Good to see you jee.

marlee - Ouchhhhhhhhhhhh!! ;-) Wait for me pinching you in real :D

You are a good reader and such a dreamer :D

11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really like your flow of words, you know.. but i left your post half-read coz i want to read the book someday :)

11:12 PM  
Blogger Supriya Saxena said...

Well, I look forward to read this book.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Supriya Saxena said...

Well, I look forward to read this book.

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