" Mere piya gaye Rangoon
Kiya hai wahan se teliphoon "
This was my introduction to Rangoon, present day Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar.
The name Rangoon has always fascinated me and this was the prime reason for choosing this book, not that I did not care about the author. On the contrary I had been wanting to read a Ghosh book ever since Gopa, a dear friend of mine had highly recommended his books. But as is usually the case with me, I just was not interested then. This book though was different. After reading the synopsis, I was compelled to get hold of it!!!!!
Hmmmm.. I have to admit that this is not one of Ghosh's finest compositions and as per some reliable bookworms not the best book of his to begin with. But can't do much about it now and it will be sometime before I hold another Amitav Ghosh in my hand.. That's for sure!!!
For starters its a very long story which starts in a very interesting manner but soon looses steam even before its halftime. He is a superb writer and he has done his homework really well and does a brilliant job in writing a masterpiece when it comes to mixing fiction with historical events. But funnily enough, he is like that studious student who will write a full page answer for a 2 marks question, just because he has mugged up the whole chapter. Such is the case with Ghosh. He just does not know when to stop.
He starts with the royal family of Burma and their forced exile to India. Then the story goes into a different track talking about the money minting timber trade of Burma which was the prime reason for the Britishers to show any interest in Burma. From the timber trade Ghosh takes us back to India highlighting the plight of the royal family in Ratnagiri. He then tells us about the Indians employed by the Britishers as collectors and the privileges enjoyed by them, who look down upon their own countrymen, thinking themselves to be at par with the Gora Sahib. Then again Ghosh jumps to the mutiny days by the Indians sepoys against their masters and all that it stands for. Here he does an admirable job in bringing to light the inner conflict in the minds and hearts of the Indians who were an integral part of the British army and were forced to go to God forsaken places to fight against armies much superior to them, in terms of arms and facilities, just in the name of the Queen during the world war. Not only this, the Indian sepoys had to stand against their own people, the freedom fighters, which was taking a bad toll on their psyche and it was baffling for the loyal sepoys to understand what prompted others to stand against the British army.
But as said earlier the story does not end here... Ghosh takes us through another heart wrenching episode of history and that is the 1000+kms walk by the Indians who fled Burma during the second world war. I was at my lowest emotionally just reading about the hardships faced by those people who were forced to give up everything that mattered to them to go to a country which was their homeland in name only as it was Burma where their souls were. Ghosh then takes us through India's fight for independence and then he jumps to the early 1990's and takes us to the present Ratnagiri and then finally to Myanmar where he even mentions Aung San Suu Kyi.
Phewww.. If you are confused and tired after reading this, imagine poor me.. Struggling through the story and its jumps and leaps and sudden twists and abrupt endings after every chapter( more or less)..
There are parts which I really enjoyed reading and that was the highlight of this experience.. The first 150 pages of the book which revolves around the life of the royal family in Mandalay and then in India and the initial years in the life of Rajkumar, an orphan living in Mandalay and how he becomes a successful timber merchant makes for an interesting read. Then the part where Ghosh talks about the inner turmoils of the Indian soldiers fighting against their own countrymen for the Queen is just too
good and of course the part which describes the hazardous walk taken by the fleeing Indians through the dense jungles for days at a stretch was just superb!!
As for the rest, the lesser spoken the better... Too many characters in the story, too many incidents, too many places.....here I have to admit that I am bad in geography, even in the basic directions.. Right/left/ north/south...don't ask how bad!!!
So I was all the more confused and lost with it!!
At the end, have to say that its a good story and would have been a truly excellent one with a few edits and cuts..
As the famous phrase goes, "If Only....."