World-Renowned Bengali author Amitav Ghosh gave a talk at the Indian embassy in Yangon on November 15, focusing the discussion on his novel The Glass Palace, which follows events in Myanmar from the Konbaung dynasty to the modern era.
Mr Ghosh is the award-winning author of seven novels in the English language, as well as five works of nonfiction. The Glass Palace, published in 2000, has been translated into more than 25 languages, including Myanmar by writer Nay Win Myint and retired forestry official Hteik Tin Thet.
Mr Ghosh took the stage at the embassy to tremendous applause, and began by commenting on how much the atmosphere of Yangon had changed since his last visit 15 years ago.
“It’s like going from one planet to another,” he told the audience.
He also commented that he thought it was “really miraculous” that so many people had read The Glass Palace, and that it has been translated into so many languages.
“When I was writing The Glass Palace for years and years, I would sometimes think, ‘What am I doing? Am I mad? Who’s going to read a book about Indian labourers who were in Burma 100 years ago?’” he said.
Mr Ghosh told the audience that the book really began in a “very lonely little house” in Kolkata, India, where his uncle’s family lived after having fled their home in Burma when the Japanese attacked in 1941.
“My uncle was an entrepreneur and founded a very successful timber business in Burma, but when the Japanese bombed Rangoon on December 24, his timber yard caught fire and he lost everything,” he said.
“He had to move back to Kolkata, and he and his wife and his son moved into the this tiny house. It was a strange thing to see this person, who was accustomed to being rich, as his life slowly dwindled. I used to sit by his bedside and listen to his stories.”
Mr Ghosh said his uncle introduced him to great writers such as Maurice Collis, Knut Hamsun, John Steinbeck and Nikolai Gogol. He later found that these same authors had “an enormous impact” on Indian writers as well as famous Myanmar authors such as U Mya Than Tint.