Sea of Poppies

Author: Amitav Ghosh

Year of Publication: 2008

“The wind is rising and we must make sail. Anchors aweigh! We must be off!”

The book is the first in the series of the Ibis Trilogy written by Amitav Ghosh and aims to set the base for a voyage which is more than a journey on a ship to a land assumed to be land of magical opportunities.

The author first establishes the tone of the plot where one gets acquainted with the everyday lives of people both labourers and the one coming from royalty. Both these type of people are important in the society to maintain the balance and how despite their inter-dependency there is immense chaos.

The characters are vivid and almost appear like stage actors who keep changing their costumes in order to confuse the audience. It is difficult as a reader to predict what will become of the major characters as the plot progresses.

One understands the entire premise of the book is based on trade and commerce. But what is being traded and what is being earned is a question which is alarming.

A distant land away from homeland is always luring and tempting. There are rumors and stories of progress and failures. Still there is continued movement through the water to reach the lands in the hope of a better life.

Neel Rattan Halder, Raja of Raskhali has earned whatever he has in inheritance and ultimately loses what he has in a case of forgery to a trader Mr. Burnham Moddie and serves imprisonment.

Paulette or Putli is an Indian bred but a French woman in a white skin who seeks solace in a draped saree and not the western dresses. She who is liberated and educated also seeks an escape through the Ibis.

The sub plots of laborers from Bihar like Deeti & Kalua is very integral to the novel and their escape is more than just a route for a better fate.

As a reader, I enjoy Ghosh’s characterization of women where he never lets them put down their knees. Women like Deeti & Putli are strong examples of how a woman can carve her way through death and disasters. He is even open about expressing their sexual desires in the setting in which he is writing. Women take ownership of their actions and even make men to think.

“in her inward reality she was a vehicle of transformation, travelling through the mists of illusion towards the elusive, ever-receding landfall that was Truth.”


The Ibis is a ship which is heading towards Mauritius taking labors in its dabusa and what happens during the journey is something to be observed. The weak and the oppressed fight their way to recreate their identities and this is what makes the journey worth looking for.

As the book ends, one is curious to know if the ship will ever make it to its destination. The plot further follows in his next book River of Smoke which has answers to the questions which Sea of Poppies has implanted in our minds.