Book- “The Opium Clerk” by Kunal Basu

The opium ClerkOpium trade in Asia was one of the major business controlled by Britishers. The famous Anglo- Chinese Opium War  as a result of Chinese control over the British Opium Trade practices. Though Chinese lost the war, the trade continue to suffer both financial and diplomatic cooperation between the two nations. The Britishers continue to import opium from Indian soil, through various traders.

Hiren , born in the year of Indian Mutiny, lost his father before he turned 1, killed in an accident run-over by horses in the park. His mother came back to her family in Calcutta from Patna. Young Hiren, now under the direct influence from his progressive uncle. It is here he developed his special ability of reading palms. His modern education and ability to adapt landed him at a job of Clerk at an auction house run by the mysterious Britisher Jonathan Crabbe. The company involved in dubious trade of Opium to other parts of the world. Soon, Hiren was invited to the house of Crabbe, for teaching him Sanskrit. Asked to help in adopting a child for the opium addicted wife of Crabbe, Hiren and his friend goes through the slums of Calcutta. Little did he knew that this is going to change his life forever.

The second part takes him on a long voyage to China to assist his employers in setting up their base with the help of local viceroy. hiren find himself being witness to the cruel massacre of the resistance forces by the British supported local ruler. The third and last part makes a forward leap to the adopted son in the remote Indonesian island, as an official of customs at its ports.
The writing is fascinating and Kunal is able to take us through the life of Hiren from the orthodox Brahmin family to the complex and notorious trade of narcotics, from the shores of Calcutta to Hongkong and South China. Often put in the middle of the conflicts, Hiren, introduced an Indian Prince was requested to get in the dangerous game of getting the rebels and the rulers in the path of surrender. The fate made him the silent spectator of the mass murder of many under the British and Chinese rulers.
The language is very vivid and descriptive and the subject is interesting. Kunal Basu is a good writer, with flowing language and very visual style of writing. Each topic developed from the historical events and expanded within its logical extensions.

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