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Bhoom bhoom goes the bundook…

June 18, 2019

Shekhar Kapoor in conversation with Amitav Ghosh, last evening, is something that is bound to stay on with the audience for a lifetime – especially for anyone nurtured in a tradition of storytelling. Amitav after all is the classic storyteller of our times. The Mumbai launch of Gun Island was the occasion. I prefer not to read a book before its launch.  Although ahead of acquiring my copy – I must say – there was something brewing in my head.  I held it in my hand admiring its mysterious cover – almost unable to take my eyes off. Over the weekend one was bombarded by some fascinating media accounts on Amitav’s round with Raghu Karnad in New Delhi. Howsoever sketchy an insight into the plot, it was potent enough a stimulant!

All I managed to read ahead of the curtain call was what the jacket said: On a visit to his birthplace, Kolkata, a Brooklyn-based dealer in rare books finds his life becoming entangled with an ancient legend about the goddess of snakes, Mansa Devi. While visiting a temple, deep within the vast mangrove forests of Bengal, he has a disturbing encounter with the most feared, and revered, of Indian snakes, a king cobra. This is followed by a series of increasingly uncanny episodes that seem to dissolve the borders of the human and non-human.

Peopled with a diverse cast of characters, and set in places that range from Sunderbans to Los Angeles and Venice, this is a story about a world in which creatures and beings of every kind have been torn loose from their accustomed homes by the catastrophic processes of displacement that are now unfolding across the Earth, at an ever-increasing pace. It is also a story about a man whose faith in the world is restored by two remarkable women.

Shekhar made a valiant attempt to probe the author’s mind, his motivations, frustrations, belief in the uncanny, magical and in the power of coincidence. And to a question on shedding ‘reason’ – I thought I could sense a tinge of pain when the author reminded us as to where it has brought us?! He wished he was thirty years younger in response to whether he would like to be an activist. You do not need to be an activist to spur activism. I for one regularly follow his tweets and what does come out is his immense concern for nature, the dramatic deterioration and the sheer urgency that the situation demands.

There is still hope and faith in our ability to overcome this calamity!

The plot to me is very clear – unleash all the creative juices, stir up the waters, rock the boat and remind all humanity of what it has chosen to unleash upon itself. There is still hope and faith in our ability to overcome this calamity! Mr Ghosh chose to read the opening paragraph to a rapt fan following: The strangest thing about this strange journey was that it was launched by a word – and not an unusually resonant one either but a banal coinage that is in wide circulation, from Cairo to Calcutta. That word is bundook, which means ‘gun’ in many languages, including my own mother tongue, Bengali (or Bangla)… Amitav has fired the ‘bundook’. Let this be a wakeup call. The Climate Change has already mutated into a Climate Crisis.

P.S. By the way, I am getting all set to progress beyond the jacket and the first para… And yes, I almost forgot what I thought was an extension of last night’s dialogue. During my morning walk earlier today – I spotted the lady who tends our Society garden – conversing with a pet snow white rabbit. On a leash with a red silk ribbon!

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