India's Ink

One of the unmitigated joys of summer is the ability to dip into books, read a page or two. Or three. And so on... And the perfect books to do it with are anthologies. There are many that have been coming out over the past few years, but of note is the series from Penguin, India, First Proof: The Penguin Books of New Writing from India.

The last book, No. 3 in the series - and already old by now- has contributions in poetry, nonfiction, fiction, extracts from graphic novels, poetry and an extract from a graphic novel " from unpublished or relatively new authors as well as established names in genres that are new to them. Some of the contributors to this volume are Sankar Sridhar, Neel Kamal Puri, Kishore Valicha, Nirupama Dutt, Ashok Malik, Jahnavi Barua, Shakti Bhatt, Parismita Singh and Temsula Ao."

Also from Penguin, but with quite a different level of surrounding hype is the forthcoming Amitav Ghosh novel, The Sea of Poppies. Penguin is breathless: "The first in Amitav Ghosh’s new trilogy of novels, Sea of Poppies is a stunningly vibrant and intensely human work that confirms his reputation as a master storyteller. At the heart of this epic saga, set in the 1830s, is a vast ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean to the Mauritius Islands. As to the people on board, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval in the mid nineteenth century, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed village-woman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited European orphan. As they sail down the Hooghly and into the sea, their old family ties are washed away, and they view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers, who will build whole new lives for themselves in the remote islands where they are being taken. It is the beginning of an unlikely dynasty.

The sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields by the Ganga, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of China at the time of the Opium Wars. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, which makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive—a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelists. "

Well... something must grow in Brooklyn. Jhumpa Lahiri is a resident too, one hears. SofP will soon be out from Viking, Rs 599 when available. A nanoextract was given away free with Outlook Magazine this week.