The Calcutta Chromosome: Amitav Ghosh


This book has lain with me for ages before I picked it up a couple of months ago. It’s a short, quick read, but very un-Amitav Ghosh, at least un whatever other Amitav Ghosh I’ve read.

The story follows quite a few different threads. Antar, who finds a card belonging to an old acquaintance, L. Murugan. Murugan, who is a big fan of Ronald Ross, the guy who discovered that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. Urmila and Sonali, journalists with a Kolkata magazine. All of them tied together by the mysterious Calcutta Chromosome.

The story skips back and forth, which is meant to spin a web and confuse the reader, but I got the sense that Ghosh got a little confused himself. The science is a lot of gobbledegook, and I confess, I’ve forgotten what exactly the Calcutta Chromosome is. I get the core – it’s an interesting fusion of Eastern philosophy and Western medicine – but too esoteric for my taste.  And add to that ghostly trains and reincarnation and all that, it becomes too much. What is interesting about the book is the history. Ghosh’s research is impeccable, and I learned a lot about Ronald Ross, malaria, colonial India etc. Had he just written a history of malaria, I would have read it.

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