Sea of Poppies

2010 November 25

The issue of opioid availability is such a huge concern for palliative care people that all their antennae go up when they hear the word ‘poppy’.

Well, you will not regret it if you pick up “Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh (Penguin Books, 2008) – a book short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

Set on the Gangetic plains and the wide ocean during the days of the British Raj, it is indeed a masterpiece. Read it and it will take you inside the Opium and Alkaloid Factory in Ghazipur. And the poppy is indeed a major character in the book,

Like all the gifts that Nature gives us – fire, water and the rest – it [opium] demands to be used with the greatest care and caution.

Wise words indeed. We palliative care people in the developing world particularly need to remember this. In our enthusiasm to improve access to opioids, do we sometimes forget to ensure that it is stored, dispensed and monitored with caution?

2 Responses
  1. December 1, 2010

    Thanks very much for this: it was an interesting post.

    Best Wishes, Amitav Ghosh

  2. indira ballal permalink
    December 1, 2010

    While there is no disputing the greatness of the novel, it seems to me that this “enthusiasm” at the very sound or mention of the word “poppy” is rather “going over the board”. In the book, although the “poppy” is a main protagonist, the deleterious effects of opium/ poppy are highlighted. It captures our attention through its notoriety, indirect though it may be.

    A young girl, on her wedding night is drugged with opium so that she can be seduced by her brother-in-law…her husband is known to be impotent.The rest of the story also revolves around the adverse effects of opium/ poppy. It instigates wars, destroys people’s lives. It is a means to unscrupulous accumulation of wealth.

    Already, most people see the flower as a mischief-maker. It is difficult as it is to convince people about the potential it has as a miraculous agent for pain relief. So, I feel rather uneasy with Pallium India featuring this book to amplify or advocate the message that this “flower of hope” is a gift to palliative care.

    With no stretch of imagination could I relate the “poppy” in the novel to “our poppy”.

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