"A Shared Burden": Reading Chaos and/as Utopia in Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies

Nisha Eswaran


In hir work on wildness, Jack Halberstam argues that epistemological chaos (or “wildness”) functions as an “alternative to political discourse, to identity politics, [...] to how we want to think about being -- together and apart” (127). Similarly, in Cruising Utopia, José Muñoz conceives of “being together” in political struggle as a utopian practice wherein differences in identity coexist with “a belonging in collectivity” (20). Taking an interdisciplinary approach, this paper aims to bring these crucial developments in queer theory into readings of the colonial encounter within a specifically South Asian context. Focusing on Amitav Ghosh’s 2008 novel Sea of Poppies, I argue that the ship central to Ghosh’s novel is a site of wildness that collapses the racial, gendered, and class boundaries pivotal to the maintenance of colonial order. In this wild space, the traumatic and violent experiences of individual passengers -- otherwise incommunicable and untranslatable between categories of identity and difference -- become the “shared burden” of all (Ghosh 299). In rendering this profound intimacy among the passengers possible, Ghosh evinces the utopian potential for collectivity that exists both within the specific context of the novel and, more broadly, in our contemporary struggle against colonial order.


chaos; friendship; queer collectivity; colonialism

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