Book Review of The Ocean of Churn By Sanjeev Sanyal

Review By Vipul Murarka
Edited By Dr Swatii Chandak

I had read this quote somewhere “Mountains are conservative, seas are liberal.” When I picked up the book “The Ocean of Churn – How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History” by Sanjeev Sanyal, I thought it would be another book that will tell how Indians have been instrumental in world history. I am firm believer that it is not just one race, one person or one event that has influence but a diverse set of people, things, instances that lead to a better world. So I am not sure why I picked up this book but let me tell you, I am grateful (to myself) that I picked up this book.

First of all, I would like to say that in our schools, it is this book to be considered. When I was in school I dreaded history because it was boring, there were so many loose ends of which no one had the answer to, and thus it didn’t make any sense. This book begins literally from the separation of India from Africa to evolution and culminates at the disappearance of Europeans from Indian Ocean nations.

This way most of my questions got answered such as
– How did Parsis come to India
– Christianity was at its peak in the Middle East. Then how did Islam become prominent
– What are the linkages of many South East Asian countries to India
– What made Buddhism and Islam dominate south-east Asian nations
– How did the geography of countries (in the Indian Ocean) come about after big bang
– How did the homo sapiens who left Africa reached India, then further south-east and Australia
– Who all ruled India and how did their reigns come to end and much more
– Why is there matrilineal society in south-east Asia but not in western parts of Indian Ocean
– How did the fossils remains of Marine animals come to the Himalayas

The book gave answers to all of the above and much more. And it was not only that India only had an impact on the nations around the Indian Ocean. It was vice versa. For instance, Nalanda University attracted students from the Indian Ocean rim as well as from China and Central Asia. However, it was partly funded by the kings of Sumatra. Many more interesting facts such as Yale University in the US was founded on the money that was made by the side deals of the founder when he was with British India Company.

The book largely follows the amazing path at explaining how we around the Indian Ocean have evolved. The book talks about countries right from South Africa to China including all the countries that are around the rim of Indian Ocean. He also beautifully explains how around the 12th century, civilization around the Indian Ocean can be seen as Islamic Zone, Indic Zone, and Chinese Zone. And how later these zones will be dislocated when Mongols burst out of Central Asia and then when Europeans would come to Indian ocean in search of Spices. It then goes on the tie the thread of how the withdrawal of China left the Indian Ocean for Arab dominance but was taken over by Europeans thereby bringing the age of colonialism. While discussing the shores, the author has also highlighted the importance of the land of how people middle east would take the land route to come all the way to India in the northern parts.

Sanjeev Sanyal points out what made him write this book. According to him, all of the books on Indian Ocean fall in two categories – first would be the histories written from western perspective wherein they assume that the history of Indian Ocean began with the arrival of Portuguese. The second group would consist of indigenous scholars who would describe the history from a local perspective. Sanyal has beautifully tried to bridge these two groups. While doing this, he also has tried to shake some myths that Tipu Sultan and Ashoka were great leaders. He showed the dark sides of them.

His amazing research by digging deep into archaeology and evolution has led to a more sympathetic account of myth and folklore about science. The second half of the book is a racy read that covers everything from Waq Waq dynasty to rise of Arabs.

This book is not only from an inland perspective but clearly also takes into account the happenings around the Indian Ocean countries. One thing that this author clearly states is that not only did he rely on studies, texts while writing the book, but he also went to the locations mentioned in the book once he had a general idea of the narrative. Thus this book seems more like a story than a history. Anyone even with a slightest of interest of how things evolved in India and Indian Ocean must pick up this book, and you will not be able to put it down.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Reviewer’s Profile

Vipul Murarka likes to learn something new every time he picks up a book. He has done BSc (Hons) in Plant Biotechnology from University of Nottingham after which he has done MBA in Marketing from School Of Inspired Leadership. Right now he resides in Myanmar doing business in agriculture.

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