Amitav Ghosh’s new novel leads in with a legend about the ‘Gun Merchant’, plunging into a mystery
I don’t remember when I first heard the story, or who told it to me, but constant repetition ensured that it sank so deep into my consciousness that I wasn’t even aware that it was there. But some stories, like certain life forms, possess a special streak of vitality that allow them to outlive others of their kind – and since the story of the Merchant and Manasa Devi is very old it must, I suppose, possess enough of this quality to ensure that it can survive extended periods of dormancy. In any event, when I was a twenty-something student, newly arrived in America and casting about for a subject for a research paper, the story of the Merchant thawed in the permafrost of my memory and once again claimed my full attention.
As I began to read the Bangla verse epics that narrate the Merchant’s story (there are many) . . .