27 June 2017

Opium Series

This series explores opium and its history. Opium is a commodity of notoriety and tremendous value. Wars have been fought over this lucrative commodity, the infamous Opium Wars in China. The fighting in Afghanistan is currently being waged in the province of Helmand, the world’s most productive region of opium. Apparently, it’s still worth fighting over.

Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon by Barbara Hodgson, 1999, Excerpts
Opium: potent and evocative, it is a word with the power to intoxicate both speaker and listener, a word that implies languor, mystery and a sort of sinister beauty. Nothing seems to capture the sensuousness of this word better than the image of the dreamy smoker adrift in his illicit paradise. To consume opium regularly, in any form, is to risk forging an almost unbreakable and deadly bond. Opium is one of the most addictive and debilitating substances on earth, the opium addict has been called slave, fiend and ghost.

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts
Opium makes up between 30 and 50 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. It’s essential to recognize the economic miracle the drug traffickers have achieved. From one of the world’s most remote and backward regions, where the transport network and infrastructure is almost completely shattered, they have managed to integrate an agricultural product into the global economy. From importing precursor chemicals to giving loans to thousands of small farmers to providing security for shipments as they move across the border, this is an organizational feat of the highest order. And it’s all about making money. Although the Taliban commanders are deep in the opium trade, they are not the masterminds. This is being run by businessmen.

Golden Triangle

Opium and Afghanistan

Soviet-Afghan War: 1979-1989
Post Soviet-Afghan War
Post 9/11 Afghan War

San Francisco, Clarion Alley

Short film by Media Storm, from the Soviet invasion and the mujahideen resistance to the Taliban and the American occupation, examines thirty years of Afghan history.

How Collecting Opium Antiques Turned Me Into an Opium Addict
24 Sep 2012
Great selection historical photographs and story of Steve Martin’s, no relation to the actor, journey from opium paraphernalia collector to opium user.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, 2003 Exceprts
He brought what I asked for – a steel spoon, distilled water, disposable syringes, heroin, and a carton of cigarettes – and he set the items out on the little dresser. I cooked up a taste of heroin. The dose sat in the syringe for almost an hour. I picked it up and put the needle against a fat, strong, healthy vein in my arm. The damnation drug, the drug that had driven me to commit stupid, violent crimes; that had put me in prison; that had cost me my family, and lost my loved ones. The everything-and-nothing drug: it takes everything, and gives you nothing in return. But the nothing that it gives you, the unfeeling emptiness it gives you, is sometimes all and everything you want.

I pushed the needle into the vein, pulled back the rose of blood that confirmed the clean puncture of the vein, and pressed the plunger all the way to the stop. Before I could pull the needle from my arm, it made my mind like the Sahara. Warm, dry, shining, and featureless, the dunes of the drug smothered all thought, and buried the forgotten civilization of my mind. The warmth filled my body, killing off the thousand little aches, twinges, and discomforts we endure and ignore in every sober day. There was no pain, there was nothing.

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh, 2016, Excerpt 
Then Mr. Chan said, ‘We’re almost ready now, Mr. Reid. When I roast the opium again it will catch fire. The smoke will last for one or two seconds. You must be prepared – you must blow out your breath, emptying your chest so you can draw in all the smoke. When the opium begins to burn I will put it on the dragon’s eye’ – he pointed to the tiny hole in the pipe’s octagonal cup – ‘and you must draw hard.’

Zachary had already emptied the air from his chest: when the flaming pellet was placed on the ‘dragon’s eye’ he inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the smoke. Its consistency was almost that of a liquid, dense, oily and intensely perfumed; it poured into his body like a flood, coursing through his veins and swamping his head.

As he leant back against the cushions Zachary suddenly became aware of his pulse – except that it wasn’t beating only in his wrist or his neck. It was as if his whole body were pulsating; the drumming of his heart was so powerful that he could feel his blood surging into his capillaries. The sensation was so strong that he looked down at his forearm and saw that his skin had changed color. It was flushed and red, as if every pore had been awoken and irradiated. 

He looked up at the ceiling and suddenly it was as if his eyes had become more sensitive, his gaze more powerful. He could see minute cracks in the wood; his hearing too seemed to have become more acute and the lapping of water was loud in his ears. He closed his eyes, luxuriating in the feeling of weightlessness, allowing the smoke to carry him away, as if on a tide.

22 June 2017

Opium Smugglers

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, 2009, Excerpt
Neel: ‘Mr. Burnham, I know nothing about this war you speak of.’

Mr. Burnham: ‘The officials in Canton have been moving forcefully to end the inflow of opium into China. It is the unanimous opinion of all of us who do business there that the mandarins cannot be allowed to have their way. To end the trade would be ruinous – for firms like mine, and indeed for all of India.’

Neel: ‘Ruinous? But surely we can offer China something more useful than opium?’

Mr. Burnham: ‘There is nothing they want from us – they have no use for our products and manufactures. But we, on the other hand, can’t do without their tea and their silks. If not for opium, the drain of silver from Britain and her colonies would be too great to sustain.’

Mr Doughty: ‘When I first went out to Canton, as a lad, there was just a trickle of opium going in. The yen for opium would still be limited if not for the perseverance of English and American merchants. It’s happened almost within living memory – for which we owe a sincere vote of thanks to the likes of Mr. Burnham.’ He raised his glass to the ship-owner. ‘To you, sir.’

21 June 2017

Mandarin's Message to the Opium Merchants

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh, 2012, Excerpt
‘So long as you do not take it upon yourselves to forbid the opium but continue to make it and tempt the people of China to buy it, you will be showing yourselves careful of your own lives, but careless of the lives of other people, indifferent in your greed for gain to the harm you do to others. Such conduct is repugnant to human feeling and at variance with the Way of Heaven.’

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh, 2012, Excerpt
Opium is a poisonous drug, brought from foreign countries. To the question, what are its virtues, the answer is: It raises the animal spirits and prevents lassitude. Hence the Chinese continually run into its toils. At first they merely strive to follow the fashion of the day; but in the sequel the poison takes effect, the habit becomes fixed, and the sleeping smokers are like corpses – lean and haggard as demons. Such are the injuries which it does to life. Moreover the drug maintains an exorbitant price and cannot be obtained except with the pure metal. Smoking opium, in its first stages, impedes business; and when the practice is continued for any considerable length of time, it throws whole families into ruin, dissipates every kind of property, and destroys man himself. There cannot be a greater evil than this.

20 June 2017

British Empire and the Opium Trade

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh, 2012, Excerpt
The drug may come from India, but the trade is almost entirely in British hands. In the Bengal Presidency, the cultivation of opium is their monopoly: few Achhas play any part in it, apart from the peasants who are made to grow it – and they suffer just as much as the Chinese who buy the drug. In Bombay, the British were not able to set up a monopoly because they were not in control of the entire region. That is why local merchants were able to enter the trade. Their earnings are the only part of this immense commerce that trickles back to Hindusthan – all the rest goes to England and Europe and America. It was not the Achhas who started sending opium to China: it was the British. Even if every Achha washed his hands of opium, nothing would change in China; the British and Americans would make sure that opium continued to pour in.’

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh, 2016, Excerpt
Free Trade, the truth was that their commercial advantages had nothing to do with markets or trade or more advanced business practices – it lay in the brute firepower of the British Empire’s guns and gunboats.

19 June 2017

Indian Farmers - Opium Debt

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh, 2016, Excerpt
Their district had been seized by the East India Company a long time ago, but in the beginning the annexation had made little difference and things had gone on much as usual. But with the passage of time the Company had begun to interfere in matters that previous rulers had never meddled with – like crops and harvests for example.

In recent years the Company’s opium factory in Ghazipur had started to send out hundreds of agents to press loans on farmers, so that they would plant poppies in the autumn. They said these loans were meant to cover the costs of the crop and they always promised that there would be handsome profits after the harvest. But when the time came the opium factory often changed its prices, depending on how good the crop had been that year. Since growers were not allowed to sell to anyone but the factory, they often ended up making a loss and getting deeper into debt.