A look into the book, The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

by tybmmjourno

Book Cover of the Hungry Tide

It feels great to read a book which you never intended to, or even didn’t even have the slightest clue that it existed. The Hungry Tide proved to be a gripping read twisting through the lives of Piyali Dutt, a cetologist , and Kanai Dutt, a successful translator leading an emerging company in New Delhi. Both having different reasons to visit the islands of Sundarban, eventually ended up having an exchange of words with Kanai inviting Piyali to visit Lusibari.

On completing her PhD in marine mammals from the United Sates, Piyali had come to the mystique waters of the Sundarbans to conduct research on the Irrawaddy Dolphins. Regarded as a foreigner in her native land usually spurned back memories of what her father used to tell her about the tide country. In the secret book of her mind she sometimes turned the pages of her parents marriage’s disintegration, her mother’s shouts, she being diagnosed with cancer and finally the withdrawal of her presence forever.

On the first day of her mission to study the dolphins  an unlikely event in the middle of an island proved to be a blessing in disguise as she met Fokir, a local fisherman. He was uneducated and village like, not knowing or recognising the sounds of the English language. But with him Piyali sensed a feeling of safety and hence began her journey.

Kanai Dutt on the other hand prided himself to be able to fluently converse in eight languages and having set up a thriving business as a translator in New Delhi. His aunt,Nilima,  had called him to visit her in Lusibari,   as her husband Nirmal had a diary for Kanai to read which he had written before his death. Nilima was a woman of substance who built a hospital out of scratch in Lusibari. Nirmal on the other hand was the headmaster of the only school in Lusibari. Nilima being realistic while Nirmal being a dreamer, she being a contemporary while he being a revolutionary, a pragmatist and an idealist, woman and man.

When refuges came to settle in an adjoining village of Morichjhapi, an internal conflict brew between the settlers and the government as the village was demarcated as forest reserve by the government. Nirmal chanced to visit the village and met Kusum, a young girl brought to the hospital by Horen when she was small, whom he shared sympathies with. She explained to him the harsh conditions of the village and the attitude of the government towards them. They treated the refuges as being on the lowest rung of species whose existence didn’t matter.

What drew Nirmal as an insect to the village was when Kusum told him about how the people would resist the government and if need be die, but would not leave this place which came to be known as home for them settlers. The idea of revolution was soo deeply rooted in his mind that letting go of such a cause made Nirmal a body without a soul, a tree without its roots, a poem without a rhyme and a mind without a brain.

Nirmal not a believer of religious stories nor a worshipper of myth spread this knowledge reasonably. Kanai on his first visit to Lusibari , when he was not more than ten, was also told the same values. But soon he met Kusum who was also fairly his age and it was she who showed him the undiscovered world of religion and faith. The stories of Bon Bibi and Shah Jongoli. Bon Bibi is considered as the epitome of justice and she could be called upon when in need.  When Kanai returns as an adult man he reminisces those moments of revelations. Those instances of his life which were still embedded in his memory. When Nilima handed over Kanai the remains of Nirmal in the form of a book Kanai set to reading it. The entire book written in the span of a night explained how Nirmal associated with the people of Morichghapi and his innate desire to be part of the revolution.

When Piya returns to Lusibari with Fokir and meets Kanai, he develops a fond liking for her. Piya inquired for the arrangement of a bigger boat for her project which was still underway. Horen who owned one offered to take her along with Fokir. In the meantime Piya and Fokir developed a sense of understanding based purely on understanding and feelings. Language did not a pose any hindrance, only circumstances did. Kanai offered to be the interpreter for Fokir and Piya and hence joined the entourage.

Hence started their journey in the tide country. The book describes the nature at its best.It is an avalanche of emotions as it describes the ruthless nature of storms and cyclons, fear of the mightly tiger and crocodile, and the journey of different people from different walks of life.

The book is an amalgamation of the west and the east, of culture, of languages, of the sand with water, of words and feelings.