Climate crisis rooted in Western colonialism, says Amitav Ghosh - GulfToday

Climate crisis rooted in Western colonialism, says Amitav Ghosh


The planetary crisis is a resource curse, says Amitav Ghosh.

Gulf Today, Staff Reporter

India’s highest literary award winner, Amitav Ghosh, spoke about his latest book, his struggles as a writer during COVID-19 and his concerns about climate change on the penultimate day of the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

“Sounds of ambulances piercing through my apartment walls in Brooklyn (at the height of COVID-19) was not the perfect stage for me to write fiction,” said Ghosh while talking about his latest book ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis’ published only last month.

“It began with a trip to the Banda Islands. It was amazing in ways I couldn’t immediately absorb, but all the work began afterwards when I got home,” said the winner of the 2018 winner of the Jnanpith award for his body of work in English that includes best-sellers like ‘The Calcutta Chromosome’ (1995), ‘The Glass Palace’ (2000) and ‘Gun Island’ (2019).

“I had to address questions I encountered (on climate change), and the effects I saw for the first time first-hand were closer home,” said Ghosh while talking about how his book on the climate crisis, ‘The Great Derangement,’ is inspired by the situation in the Sunderbans in his native West Bengal – a mangrove area in the Bay of Bengal delta formed by the confluence of three rivers where, he said, rising sea levels were “gobbling up islands” in front of his eyes.

In Ghosh’s latest book – a successor to ‘The Great Derangement’ – he finds the origins of our contemporary climate crisis in violent exploitation of the natural environment.

“Nutmeg and mace are endemic to the Banda Islands – a volcanic group of ten small volcanic islands in the Banda Sea in the Indonesian province of Maluku – thanks to their fertile volcanic soil. Because of the nutmeg tree, Banda became the centre of the world and the Bandanese were very prosperous until the colonialists entered, plundered and left,” said Ghosh while talking about how an abundance of a natural reserve (the nutmeg trees) led to the elimination of their very preservers, the Bandenese.

“The planetary crisis is exactly the same. It’s a resource curse – take, for instance, what happened with fossil fuels in several parts of the world in recent history,” he said while explaining how the dynamics of climate change today are rooted in a centuries-old geopolitical order constructed by Western colonialism.

ROLE OF LITERATURE: To what extent do literature and writings reflect our identity, and should writers and poets hold a mirror to the issues of society?

This was the subject of an intense discussion at the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) where panellists included Sultan Al Amimi, Emirati poet, novelist, and short story writer; Saud Al-Sanousi, Kuwaiti novelist and journalist; and Jennifer Mansubuga Makumbi, Ugandan fiction writer.

The session titled ‘Mirrors’ was moderated by Layla Mohammed.

Reading is a journey of personal development, pointed out poet Sultan Al Amimi. “The relationship between a reader and a writer is very complex and ambiguous – both change and evolve over time. It is the same with my reading and writing – my interests and beliefs change with my growth as an individual.”

Saud Al-Sanousi, winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009, said: “Literature is thought provoking; it gives us a deeper understanding of the world around us. But, as a writer, when I go deep into the thoughts and minds of my characters, unearthing their beliefs and values, it is a process that leads me to discover myself.”

Award-winning Jennifer Makumbi agreed that readers turn to literature to find themselves in the worlds of another. “Literature, for me, is like a mirror that we hold to ourselves. It tells me that I can do better; pushes me to go further; and shows me the ways I can be.

Even when I read about other cultures, I become the main character and learn so much from it – just a mere reflection is not what I look for in a book; I expect to find much more than that.”

Related articles