In Amitav Ghosh's acclaimed novel, Sea of Poppies, a village woman from an opium-producing region in India has a vivid encounter with a poppy seed.
"She looked at the seed as if she has never seen one before, and suddenly she knew that it was not the planet above that governed her life; it was this miniscule orb - at once beautiful and all - devouring, merciful and destructive, sustaining and vengeful."
At the time when the novel is set, poppy was harvested by some 1.3 million peasant households in northern India. The cash crop occupied between a quarter and half of a peasant's holding. By the end of the 19th Century poppy farming had an impact on the lives of some 10 million people in what is now the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A few thousand workers - in two opium factories located on the Ganges river - dried and mixed the milky fluid from the seed, made it into cakes and packed the opium balls in wooden chests.Read more