How drugs shaped the world we live in

Chennai-based author Thomas Manuel’s ‘Opium Inc’ investigates how British colonialism was funded by a world commerce in the drug

In the huge tree-dotted campus of St Andrew’s Church (the Kirk), the place for practically 150 years many Scotsmen who made up the rank and file of the East India Company worshipped, stands an previous corridor now in ruins. Under its shadow, the place 30-year-old journalist-writer Thomas Manuel is being photographed, two worlds mingle — the long-forgotten glory days of the British Raj and a e-book on how a drug constructed the empire on which the solar by no means set.

Thomas’ first e-book Opium Inc. – How A Global Drug Trade Funded The British Empire, revealed by Harper Collins, was written over the course of the pandemic.

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“For nearly 100 years, the British knew that the drug was dangerous but continued to trade in it. The story of opium trade is not just about narcotics that were stored in chests and shipped. It is about how that trade shaped the world we live in. Its legacy in India, whether the poverty of Bihar or the wealth of Bombay, is still not acknowledged; the story is one of immense pain for many and huge privileges for a few,” says Thomas, who, in 2016, was the winner of The Hindu Playwright Award for his script Hamlet and Angad.

A glut of literature has been written on how infuriated retailers in London based the East India Company (EIC) when the Dutch who managed the spice commerce elevated by 5 shillings the value of a pound of pepper. By the nineteenth Century, when opium made its look on the world stage as a commodity, Britain had moved from commerce to conquest, its scarlet stains spreading throughout the world map, marking the extent of its empire. While the empire is now not a trademark of British id, the world nonetheless strikes to the tidal shifts of its colonial coverage.

Global saga

It is that this — how the EIC took opium from India to China, tea from China to Britain and introduced colonial rule from Britain to India — that Thomas examines in his e-book, traversing continents and time frames in a matter of 250-odd pages.

Thomas embarks on a historian’s journey, with out maps, piecing collectively a jigsaw from studying and reconstruction. “I was raised in Chennai in a family of chartered accountants. I joined the family firm after school and graduated in Commerce via correspondence. Three years later, I decided to become a freelance journalist.”

As a journalist, most of his incisive articles are on historical past, science, artwork and training, written with out being weighed down by a proper diploma. His article on Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, the opium dealer from Bombay who turned certainly one of India’s richest males and based iconic establishments corresponding to the JJ School of Art and JJ Hospital, set him on the highway to Opium Inc.

Opium Inc is revealed by Harper Collins
| Photo Credit: Ravindran_R

But earlier than that, got here India Ink, a public historical past discussion board that Thomas runs together with Viswak P, a journalist, and Shireen Azam who ran the Economic & Political Weekly’s digital initiative.

“We do two things — take an academic paper, simplify it and retell it for a larger audience with a focus on political issues, and write on how history can educate the political debates we are having today. We also make animated whiteboard-style videos with narration for YouTube on social history, caste, class and gender,” says Thomas, including, “We rectify misinformation that may spread through WhatsApp and communicate, especially to a younger audience, what is widely agreed on by academicians across the world. There may be disagreement among them, but there is also a very clear majority opinion.”

An strategy to complexity

Thomas additionally compiles a podcast listing. Another of his passions is knowledge journalism, the place he extracts knowledge corresponding to crime knowledge from Government PDFs throughout years and states from the National Crime Records Bureau, codecs and visualises them to make it simply out there for the public. “I like to simplify complex things,” says Thomas, including that studying to write down Opium Inc was simply as complicated, repeatedly switching between characters and company energy.

“I prefer to tell stories peopled with various characters, multiple locations and interesting angles,” says Thomas who’s eager on writing a e-book on historical Indian scientific discoveries subsequent.

Thomas writes the story of opium with a capacious sweep of historical past, starting with the Greeks, travelling with the Safavids of Iran and the Mughals; the rivalry for dominion of commerce by the European colonial powers with Asia as their battleground; the forays into Canton and the Malwa plateau and the tragedy of kid labour.

Opium Wars; the anti-crusaders in each China and India and their place in our Freedom Struggle; slavery; opium’s affect on the Romantic poets; the warfare on drugs as we speak; India’s personal wrestle with dependancy in states corresponding to Punjab, and the want to look at the drug’s place in our people medication, medical and justice programs are additionally explored.

Opium Inc isn’t a litany of Britain’s inglorious empire, though it investigates its function totally. It is a compelling story in sensible prose that throws gentle on some narratives for the first time with out taking sides. Built on a basis of educational articles, books and a 500 words-a-day schedule, Opium Inc is a reminder of how whilst imperial nostalgia is dying, its impression nonetheless resonates round the globe.

Deepa Alexander , 2021-10-28 11:12:43

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