Archive for December, 2009

Spirituality in The Calcutta Chromosome

December 4, 2009

The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery by Amitav Gosh is a thrilling postcolonial science fiction set between the present, past and future.  Set in India yet with a touch of Western identity, the novel involves a computer programmer who comes across some valuable information that takes him back to the cure for Malaria.  He goes on a hunt to find out what happen to the missing L. Murugan, which takes him back to all of Murugan’s discoveries that he had so long been obsessed with.  The novel is a whirlwind of excitement with tales of mosquito’s, malaria, and cures for syphilis and at the same time there is something very spiritual going on between the native people.  Religion and spiritualism is a pressing theme in the novel as there is some sort of spiritual connection present during the ritual like gatherings where syphilis is “cured” by the Malaria disease.

Ronald Ross, the scientist who claimed to have discovered the manner in which malaria is conveyed by mosquitoes, was widely remembered and has a memorial in Calcutta.  On page 41 Murugan discovers a poem to the left of a marble figure of Ronald Ross.  The poem refers to God saying,

“This day relenting God

Hath placed within my hand

A wondrous thing; and God

Be praised.  At his command…” (Gosh 41).

Murugan, in his adventures, finds that Ronald Ross was used as a tool to help Mangala and her people become immortal even though he did not know it, “how do they speed up the process?  The answer is: they’ve got to find a conventional scientist who’ll give it a push… They can’t tell him what they know because of their religion” (Gosh 106).  The religion is very secretive.  From what we do know about it, it seems very spiritual with séances and Mangala has power over the people because of her knowledge, “clustered around the woman’s feet, were some half-dozen people… some touching her feet” (Gosh 150).  She uses her scientific knowledge during the religious meetings, “She folded her hands over it [bird] and her mouth began to move as though muttering a prayer.  Then suddenly a scalpel appeared in her right hand” (Gosh 152).  Sonali snuck into the house and accidently came across these spiritual worshipers, “They were chanting something and some were keeping time with drums…” (Gosh 154).  These little bits about religion make the novel a little eerie because we are never really sure what is going to happen.  The locals to Calcutta are the ones that are involved with the secret meetings held by Mme Salminem.  They were committed to keeping the secrecy between themselves and never share it with outsiders such as any westerners, “It ought to be noted that in general the Spiritualists, Theosophists and their fellow-travelers looked upon British civilian and military officialdom with undisguised loathing” (Gosh 209).  The mixing of science and religion occurred because they looked at Malaria as something more spiritual than just a disease, “it can be more hallucinogenic than any mind-bending drug.  That’s why primitive people sometimes though of malaria as a kind of spirit-possession” (Gosh 249).

There is a spiritual presence throughout the novel which is what made the story so intriguing.  The natives were not falling an ordinary sort of religion.  They were vowed to secrecy which created a barrier from the westerners that they despised so much.

Gosh, Amitav.  The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery.

Harper Collins: New York, 1995.


Calcutta Chromosome: Postcolonial Science Fiction? A look at James Thrall’s Article.

December 1, 2009

James H. Thrall’s article, “Postcolonial Science Fiction?: Science, Religion, and the Transformation of Genre in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome,” uses the novel, The Calcutta Chromosome: a novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery by Amitav Ghosh to support his argument that the boundaries of the science fiction genre need to be reconsidered because of the intertwining of religion and science in the novel.  Thrall suggests that there is a new subgenre of science fiction emerging called postcolonial science fiction. Thrall also suggests that Ghosh’s novel raises questions about the nature of knowledge.  The novel seems to reasonably unite Eastern “mysteries” with the standard influence of Western reason, which are usually opposing factors in colonialism. Thralls arguments of a new subgenre and of questioning the nature of knowledge go hand in hand: religion with Eastern “mysteries” and science with Western reason.  Ghosh’s novel, The Calcutta Chromosome unites science with religion and the East with the West creating a new take on science fiction and on postcolonial knowledge.

Thralls article helped me look at Calcutta Chromosome much differently than I had been looking at it while reading.  I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that this novel could be considered a postcolonial novel because even though the story was set in India, it felt like such a western read.  While I was reading I seemed to forget where the novel was even set in the first place.  I was so into the mystery and “detectiveness” of the novel that I also didn’t really consider it to be much of a sci fi type of book.  I would have called this novel a mystery and wouldn’t have even considered a new subgenre of science fiction.

I do agree with James Thralls argument.  After having read his article, it is very clear that this novel is a science fiction novel because of Ava the computer and with the idea of Malaria curing syphilis and all the other crazy stuff that goes on. Thrall is correct in saying that there is a lot of medical ideas in the novel that would be hard for a conventional scientist to accept. I also could not deny that this novel is postcolonial being set in India but also having a western presence because of Phulboni.  Although the ideas that Thrall gives about the east in the West seem a bit stereotypical they cannot be denied.  The East can be seen in this novel through all of the spirituality and mystery and silence etc.  The West is seen as well but by different means like technology and like Thrall continually says, rationality.  We cannot deny the West their spirituality but I would consider Eastern people to be much more spiritual.  I would agree that this novel could be considered a postcolonial science fiction because I wouldn’t just call it science fiction and I wouldn’t just call it postcolonial.

I liked this article after reading it three times.  I found that I had to look up the definition of every other word.  The article was extremely wordy and it took me a while to understand what the argument was.  Once I figured it out, it was very helpful because Calcutta Chromosome, although it is an easy read, it is extremely complex with its past, present, and future.  Thralls article was split into seven parts, which made each of his points a little easier to follow.  I have no reason to discount anything that Thrall argued.


Ghosh, Amitav.  The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery.

New York: Perennial, 2001.


Thrall, James H. “Postcolonial Science Fiction?: Science, Religion and the

Transformation of Genre in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome.”

Literature & Theology 23.3 (2009): 289-302.