April 9, 2017

The Ocean of Churn - Sanjeev Sanyal - Book Review

The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading 'The Land of Seven Rivers', I was fascinated when I read that Sanjeev Sanyal has written a book focusing on Indian Ocean, a key geography oft missed out in the history books.

The author has a very interesting pattern of writing books - he knows the drawbacks of contemporary history books. History has often been looked at from a linear and singular perspective. We say that the British invaded India and ruled us for 200 years, but often miss out on other countries fighting in our territory and the Indian kings who helped the British and other happening of those times. Second, history often glorifies the victors and suppresses the losers. So, we have heroes and villains when most of them were actually people with shades of grey. Third, the western world believes only in written piece of evidence. The author believes that Oral verses continuing over centuries can't be ignored. The same stories have been spread across different countries and cultures. They might have shades of fiction, but they do have a tinge of reality as to what happened really in those times.

The book covers the happenings of events around Indian Ocean from the early human settlements to the recent world wars. He covers both sides of India as to how the western part of the country traded with the likes of the Romans, Arabs and how the eastern part traded with the likes of Indonesia or Malaysia. The trade has had a long cultural impact in many countries. Particularly the South East Asian countries still have a lot of cultural similarity with the South Indian states. There are a lot of temples spread across these countries. Temples played a key role in the trade as they acted as banks of those days.

In the later part, there is a lot of focus on Europeans as to how they started trading for Spices like Pepper and Nutmeg with the eastern countries and went on to colonize them and fight violently for territorial disputes. A very interesting aspect here is that the Europeans have often collaborated with the local kingdoms and hired mercenaries to fight the battles. So, all the while when we imagine that it was British fighting India, it was the Indians on behalf of British fighting the Indians.

The author also touches upon Religion and the way Religion helped kingdoms and tribes across history. It is little wonder that Religion still fires up people and unites them to fight for something or the other. Still lot of the Asian countries have statues of Hindu gods and they peaceful worship them before worshiping Lord Buddha or they attribute them as Pagan Gods. The trade also had a wide impact on Language. Most of the South East Asian countries have languages originating from the Brahmi Script.

The final part focuses on the World Wars and how the east Asian countries widely affected don't get mentioned anywhere in the war related documents. Many Indian soldiers fought on behalf of the British and similarly many Asian soldiers were involved and countries affected by war including the likes of Malaysia and Singapore. It is also interesting that the Indian Naval officers strike was a key reason for British to exit India as the Indian Soldiers played a key role in enabling British administer India.

It is interesting that certain landscapes got shifted from One hand to another hand during the colonial rule. In 1667, the Dutch forced the British to hand them an Island in the Indonesian Archipelago which grew Nutmegs in exchange for a big Island in North America. It was considered a big victory. The big Island turns to be Manhattan. Looks like Real Estate investments have remained tricky over centuries.

Books like this are very rare for they cover a very wide spectrum of things and gives you a very new perspective to History. If you are a history buff, get in, get immersed and come out with a refreshing view.

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