Saturday, January 15, 2005

Amitav Ghosh on politics of Tsunami relief; Locana on Ghosh

A couple of days ago, Anand posted links to the series in The Hindu by Amitav Ghosh. (For those who don't know, Ghosh is one of postcolonial India's greatest writers. Much of what he writes is a cross between journalism, history, and creative non-fiction essay. I've written about him a bit here.)

Here are the links Anand posted:

Anand has also offered a kind of critique of the essays here with a review of Shonali Bose's novel Amu as well. Anand compares this Ghosh piece (the three articles really run together, and form a single essay) unfavorably with Ghosh's own essay on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, "The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi" (which you can read in The Imam and the Indian; I don't believe it is online anywhere.

I have two thoughts.

1) I think the Ghosh pieces on the Tsunami are worth reading as journalism -- very few journalists have written on what happened at Car Nicobar thus far (partly because the Indian government itself wasn't allowing anyone to go for awhile). Reading this essay, you learn about the history of Andaman and Nicobar, as well as the unusual mix of people who have ended up settling there since independence. Ghosh also makes an important observation about the failure of the local and national government structure to adequately help the survivors of the Tsunami in the ways that they need to be helped. It's not just about food and water. People's entire livelihoods have been wiped off the face of the earth. Many people have no papers, and no money. Their farms have been permanently ruined. Some or all of their families are gone. The kind of help they need is simply of a different order than a sack of rice.

It's expected that the government is unable to process something like this. As many people have been documenting, the government has been a lot less proactive in providing relief than the NGOs. Ghosh points out that the situation is especially bad in Andaman-Nicobar because the islands are governed directly from the center, without an elected local legislature.

In some cases, the government crosses the line between incompetency and outright corruption, as this BBC article demonstrates.

Still, I'm not sure that even the international relief agencies are equipped to assist on this scale. They have the money now (lots of money), but are they concentrating on the problem in that way?

2) Ghosh's search for metaphors for the Tsunami are indeed questionable, as is his ending to the essay.

It's not at all surprising he's thinking in these terms. Privileging the position of the writer, for instance, is something he's done many times in his books. But I'm not sure that it works in the context of the particular narrative he's describing (see sections 2 and 3 in the links above).


Quizman said...

I went to the article linked above. Anand writes:
"Perhaps Shonali Bose hasn't been able to impart an extra force to the whole theme, say unlike Aparna Sen in Mr and Mrs Iyer."

Just to set the record straight - after all my nom de guerre is quizman - Mr and Mrs Iyer's basic story has been lifted from this film.

4:02 PM  
Amardeep said...

Now that is some impressive trivia. I don't recall any reviews of Mr. and Mrs. Iyer talking about that fact. (I don't think it takes anything away from the film, which is very nicely done.)

I've never seen The Journey. It looks excellent.

5:42 PM  
Anand said...

I just googled a sentence from Ghosh's essay, and found that the essay is online! Here's the link:

3:49 AM  

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