Musings of a Reader: On Amitav Ghosh and the Importance of Historical Fiction

Published in the 14th issue of Zau magazine in February 2016

I’ve been a fan of historical fiction since long before I knew what the term meant. When I was ten years old I read Patricia Reilly Giff’s middle-grade novel Nory Ryan’s Song, which is set in Ireland during the Great Potato Famine of 1845. At that time, I was, of course, completely unaware of Irish history and of the mass level of destruction that this watershed event caused for Ireland – what I cared about was the story of Nory, a young girl trying to help her family survive the famine and the cruelties of their English landlord while having adventures in her coastal hometown of western Ireland. The historical setting of the novel was superfluous to ten-year-old me, apart from creating the very specific circumstances that Nory’s story grows out of – how she and her friend Sean try to prevent their neighbor from being evicted when she can’t pay rent, how she sings to her little brother to distract him from his hunger, her dream of one day reuniting with her older sister in Brooklyn.

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On Books – And What They Mean To Me

They say a song can take you back instantly to a moment, or a place or even a person. Being an avid music fan myself, I can completely testify to that statement. But for me, it’s not just music. Books also hold sharp and distinguished memories for me. I remember not only the circumstances surrounding me obtaining and then reading a certain book, but, if it’s one of those excellent books you can’t stop thinking about afterwards, I also remember the whirlwind of emotions I experienced while reading them.

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Memories Of Nana

When I think of nana, almost invariably, a kaleidoscope of images rushes through my mind. Among them is of nana sitting at the sofa in the TV Lounge, reading a newspaper with glasses perched on his nose, or looking up expectantly to see who has arrived. Another one is of nana, sitting on the same sofa, observing everybody as different activities took place over the years. Whether it was one-dish parties or Maria Baji’s Nikkah or Chand Raat when he would watch us make packets of sweets, I can still remember how his eyes would twinkle with laughter and a smile would play upon his face as he watched over us all.

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On Top of The World

I have many, varying memories of the chhat at my house, the rooftop. Back when “my” house was still “nani ka ghar”, the chhat used to be our hideaway, the place where my cousins and I would escape to, when we wanted to have a bit of an adventure or just felt rebellious. Because, of course, us being the little kids and the chhat’s low walls, the place was strictly off-limits to us, which made it all the more fascinating.

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