Historic opium trade brought to life
The India studies program will host award-winning novelist Amitav Ghosh at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Asia Society Texas Center.
Ghosh is the author of the Ibis trilogy, which includes “Sea of Poppies,” “River of Smoke” and the upcoming “Flood of Fire.” The historical fiction trilogy highlights the journey of the 19th-century opium trade between India and China and the events that led to the First Opium War in 1839.
His lecture, titled “From Bombay to Canton: Traveling the Opium Route to 19th Century China,” will explore the paradigm through which an Indian trader might have viewed the port city Canton, which is now the city of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.
“Amitav Ghosh’s literary work spans centuries, continents and cultures. It is said that to understand India, you must live in five centuries at once — and so you do when you read his novels. He allows you to inhabit several cultures at once,” chair of the Department of Comparative and Cultural Studies Lois Zamora said in a press release.
Assistant Director of the India studies program Anjali Kanojia also expressed her anticipation for Ghosh’s upcoming visit.
“India studies is based under comparative cultural studies; my sister departments are religious studies, anthropology and liberal studies,” Kanojia said. “So someone like Ghosh just kind of fits in to the cultural aspects of comparative cultural studies. The other thing, about going back to the travel and the journey, is (that) one of the things that we’re tasked this year is to develop a study abroad program. So the whole concept of journey just kind of fits right in to Ghosh.”
This December, Kanojia will lead a group of India studies students abroad to India through the course GIS 3300. However, this is not the first accomplishment of the program.
“About six or seven years ago, the community figured that India should be represented academically at a public university,” Kanojia said. “And, with President Khator being here, India has come up academically within the University sighting.”
More than three years ago, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Dean John W. Roberts created the CCS program to bring religious studies and other cultural studies under one umbrella. With this, India studies was born. The program wrestled with the state for about a year until the India studies minor was established.
“The minor has been on the books for about two years,” Kanojia said. “It’s a 15-hour minor; it’s interdisciplinary, so that’s a unique attribute. (The focus is) to study India from multiple angles: history, religion, political science — that’s what I do — economics, literature, courses in anthropology and sociology, of course.”
The program, which offered specialized courses in art and architecture this year, hopes to expand its course listings as well as its new study abroad program.
“It would be great to have every student graduate with a passport stamped,” Kanojia said, quoting Dean Roberts. “Study abroad fits right in — there’s nothing like immersion learning.”
The growth of the India studies program through the last few years is exemplified by the arrival of Ghosh, whose novels “Sea of Poppies” and “River of Smoke” were, respectively, finalists for the 2008 Man Booker Prize and the 2011 Man Asian Literary prize.
“The upcoming lecture by Dr. Ghosh is the kind of programming that speaks to the growth of the India studies program and its intentions to be an academic and cultural asset to UH, the city of Houston and the diasporic Indian community that enriches both the University and city,” Roberts said in a press release.
The lecture event is free and open to all ages.