When opium trade was a vibrant source of income for Mumbai

Updated: Dec 21, 2017, 09:25 IST | The Guide Team

We found this rare pick, and rightly so, on the bookshelves of one of Mumbai's last surviving indie bookstores - Paperback inside Prithvi Theatre

We found this rare pick, and rightly so, on the bookshelves of one of Mumbai's last surviving indie bookstores - Paperback inside Prithvi Theatre. Opium City: The Making of Early Victorian Bombay (Three Essays Collective) by Amar Farooqui caught our attention with its title, and then with its curious cover that depicted a Chinese opium smoker. As we read through the pages, it became increasingly clear that the book offers a fascinating insight into how opium linked Bombay to other cities of the world, as well as the hinterland, back in the 19th century.

A Chinese opium smoker. The book looks at how China’s opium trade impacted India
A Chinese opium smoker. The book looks at how China's opium trade impacted India

The author, a Delhi scholar, must have pored over possibly volumes of research and data to unravel the lesser-known stories and choronology of events when it came to opium trade. Turns out, Mumbai (then Bombay) emerged as a trump card for the East India Company and eventually the British Empire because of its prime location and natural harbour, swiftly stepping into the vaccuum created by Surat's downfall. In no time, the growing city's business class, comprising a mix of communities, ensured that the opium trade became a vibrant source of income, and paved the way for its growth into a buzzing commercial centre.

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