Alu, the orphan boy, who derives his nickname from a lumpy potato head, comes to live with his uncle, Balaram, in the village of Lalpukur, close to India’s border with Bangladesh. Alu’s uncle apprentices him to a weaver, from whom the boy learns and masters his craft.

Meanwhile, Balaram, who has long been fascinated by rationalism, becomes obsessed with the idea of disinfecting the entire village with carbolic acid, a substance that terrifies his arch enemy, Bhudeb Roy. The feud finally leads to a tragedy that forces Alu to flee. Suspected by the police of being a terrorist, he goes first to Calcutta, then to West Asia, and ultimately to North Africa, all the while pursued by the bird-loving inspector Jyoti Das.

Amitav Ghosh’s first novel shows the beginning of the literary journey made by one of India’s finest contemporary canonical writers.

Published in 1986.