The Ocean of Churn by Sanjeev Sanyal attempts to expand the horizon of his earlier book ‘The Land of Seven Rivers‘. I had quite enjoyed reading that book, so it was logical to pick up his next book, especially when it is in the same genre. The book talks about the intersections of history at the rim of Indian Ocean. I live on the Indian Ocean coast. So, it was fun to look at the ocean and read about the pages of history it has filled.
The key message that I gathered from the Ocean of Churn is that the maritime trade was to pre-industrialized era what the Internet is to 21st CE. The world was far more globalized and inter-connected that we are willing to accept. Passage of time in the books keeps moving the boundaries of communities, empires, and countries. If you pause and think, you would realize how fragile and vulnerable the boundaries are that we so vehemently want to preserve.
The span of the book is the rim of the Indian Ocean. That stretches from Australia to the middle east and covers the eastern coast of Africa. Moving chronologically, Sanyal takes you through the trade routes, maritime history and powerful kingdoms of the past. He unravels the global linkages that exist as part of our gene pools. He highlights the generations that came through marriages across communities. And he points out the reasons for some communities to follow matriarchal or matrilineal traditions. Some of his observations are interesting. Like most women leaders of the recent past have come from the east and west is yet to see many true women leaders. He attributes it to matriarchal systems that nurtured women leaders. Wonder if women studies groups would look at this angle.
As a narrative, this book appeared a bit scattered to me. The stories kept jumping, some incidents keep coming back. Some places get more than their due share in the story while others get a passing mention. A coherent story was missing. In The Land of Seven Rivers, it was his telling of history that was interesting, even for someone who knew most of what he said. That storytelling was missing even though the book is full of stories – most of which are not popular. I can safely say that most stories are new for an average reader. I understand the geographies traversed in this book are so diverse and so spread out that weaving them into a single narrative is a brave attempt.
And I also understand that the author has put picked up the stories scattered around and presented them as a part of a single tapestry. Not an easy task. As a reader, there was too much of jumping around. And I often lost of the stories.
Sanjeev Sanyal likes to give you some quirky trivia from history – small insignificant looking events that actually turned the course of history. Trivia that was lost to our history book writers. This is what I enjoy most about his writings. I also appreciate that he travels to learn about a place before he writes about it. This way he becomes a part of the community that adds the present to the history for the sake of future history. As a traveler, I know, when I stand at a historic place, the history comes alive in a very strange way. A lot of incidents start making more sense than they would ever do by reading or even by watching documentaries.
The Ocean of Churn is an important piece of work. Given that there is no popular literature on the maritime history of Indian Ocean. I also believe that as the circle of time moves, the oceans may regain their prominence in being the favorite route to travel.
Language is simple and engaging.
Read it, if history interests you.