Assam, which shares borders with Bhutan, Bangladesh and used to border Myanmar and China, is the largest state in India’s volatile Northeast region. Many of the Indian states that now border Assam; Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, were all carved out of Assam’s territory post-Independence following fierce political battles for representation and autonomy. Therefore a study of Assam is vital not just for understanding events in one of India’s most geopolitical important regions, but for understanding wider South Asia politics.
In 2008, Amitav Ghosh released A Sea of Poppies, the first in a trilogy of historical fiction set in India and China in the 1830s amid the outbreak of the First Opium War. The Ibis trilogy details the growth of opium in India, the role of British agents in shipping it to Canton (modern-day Guangzhou) and the massive international impact of the opium trade. Now, eight years after the final book in the trilogy was released, Ghosh has released Smoke and Ashes, a non-fiction compendium to the series, based on his extensive historical research conducted while writing the trilogy. The book is a mixture of a travelogue, a reflection on writing and research but mainly an expansive history of opium’s cultural and economic impact that takes us from the 18th century to the modern day.
In Anarchy or Chaos, Ole Birk Laursen sets out to bring the life and intellectual contributions of MPT Acharya, a relatively unknown yet vitally important Indian revolutionary, to a wider audience. This biography delves into Acharya’s involvement in nationalism, anticolonialism, revolution, and anarchism, drawing extensively from memoirs, letters, newspapers, and intelligence reports. The result is a remarkable and comprehensive portrayal of a man, for whom much of his life was spent at the centre of major radical activity.
The impact of missionaries around the world has been widely condemned by anthropologists, historians and medical professionals. They have been accused of suppressing indigenous languages, religious and social practice, disrupting countries’ social fabrics and prohibiting contraception. Moreover, missionaries were, on the whole, stalwart defenders of European colonialism. However, that does not mean they are unworthy of nuanced academic study, indeed given the immense socio-political and religious change they have fostered, academic engagement is crucial to understanding the outcomes of their activity.
Negotiating Borders and Borderlands, edited by Gorky Chakraborty and Supurna Banerjee, delves into the intricate dynamics of India’s borders and the everyday experiences of those living in its borderlands. It features a diverse collection of articles contributed by various authors, aiming to analyze and portray how borders have influenced the destiny of countries and their inhabitants.
Beyond the Siliguri Corrido, the so-called chicken neck of Indian territory that runs between Bangladhesh and Nepal, lies an India very different from that of common preconceptions. This is an area surrounded by Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh, hemmed in by the Himalaya. As Samrat Choudhury writes in the introduction to his new book, Northeast India: A Political History, “the Northeast is a protuberance that hangs on to the rest of the country by a slender thread, barely 21 kilometres wide at its narrowest point.” What follows is an attempt to shape a political history of a region that has seen mass political turmoil while ongoing debates rage around ideas of ethnic, political and cultural identity.
Fruits of the Barren Tree, a translation of the Nepali-language novel Phoolange, is set near Darjeeling, the hill station in India’s West Bengal synonymous with the Raj, tea gardens and domestic honeymooners. Yet the mountainous region portrayed by Lekhnath Chhetri is a far cry from the clichés and tropes that are so often invoked when discussing the region.