The Hungry Tide – Amitav Ghosh

Posted on February 21, 2010

Anushri Mondal:

A saga of intense human relationships within the folds of the Jowar(high tide) and bhata(low tide) of the tidal country

Life is short; life is transient; make full use of it.

It is unwise to remain seated in a corner with fear , with cowardice that the life outside-the life of adventure, the life of excitement might be too much to face .This is the message that Amitav Ghosh’s thought provoking novel The Hungry Tide seems to give us.

The novel is constructed in a unique manner. The novel begins with an accidental meeting of two young persons, by the name of Kanai and Piyali Roy in an Indian railway platform. Their meeting is followed by a subsequent conversation in the train. The novel progresses with these two protagonists, getting separated after they reach their destination, that is, Canning and pursuing along their own respective directions of interest. At this point, the novel takes a two way track methodology of composition. The author carries forward two separate tales, one dealing with the life and times of Kanai and the other, with that of Piyali or Piya, as she is addressed throughout the entire breadth of the novel. These two plots are carried on in alternate chapters of the novel in such an innovative way that it sustains the reader’s interest and does not lose the thread of commonality of one plot while initiating the other. The story of Kanai and Piya, moves on comfortably with Kanai reaching his aunt’s place in one of the islands of Sunderbans by the name of Lusibari .He had been called by his aunt Nilima Bose, for a special mission of delivering her husband Nirmal Bose’s self composed diary that he had specifically instructed to be placed on the hands of his nephew, Kanai at the time of his last breath on earth. The novel in itself spills out the contents of the diary which deals with Nirmal Bose’s expeditions and his revolutionary spirit-given expression during the days of political combats in the island of Morichjhapi-an island that had been occupied illegally by homeless Bangladeshi refugees. The diary was composed in the last months of his existence. Along with the contents of the diary that Ghosh etches out on the pages of his novel, the tale of Kanai’s relationship with Lusibari along with the island history and geographical details are also give a voice of expression. Parallel to that, on the other hand, the plot gives us an account of Piya’s adventurous expeditions on the river where she goes for a short survey on river dophins. The account moves on with her contact with Fokir, a village fisherman who is the primary helping hand to serve her in the desired purpose. Her almost wordless interactions with Fokir, is enough to bring her to the very island of residence which is none other than Lusibari itself. This is where the plot converges into one, bringing the distinct, separate tales of Kanai and Piya on a single platform.

The plot ultimately comes to a close with Kanai’s departure to his workplace in Delhi and Piya’s struggle in a deathly combat with cyclone. What is touching in this novel is the developing relationship between Piya and Fokir-a relationship that has not been given any name and can neither be given any. The concluding section of the story talks about Fokir’s attempt to save Piya from the hands of Cyclone while sacrificing his own life. This is probably the maximum intimacy that’s showed between them. It is after all, a wonder to even think that an Americanized Indian woman can share her thoughts and emotions with an unlettered village rustic like Fokir.

This book is a revelation of the spirit of humanity-of the fact that human beings are bonded not by their by their status or their similarity of backgrounds, be it religious, cultural, political or even regional but by the similarity in experiences shared and struggled, by the similarity in mental make ups and the ability of understanding one another. This is what makes an individual adaptable to the whims and norms of the other human persona, no matter now distinctly dissimilar they might be in their external appearence.

Ghosh achieves his unique triumph in displaying such a bond between Piya and Fokir’s relationship, a relation that does not require speech to convey a message and the account of Nilima nad Nirmal’s relationship that remains voiceless inspite of being tied with the bond of marriage and having had innumerable instances to share with one another. The novel is a captivating read with fearful instances of a tidal country dictated in line with superstitious beliefs, the poverty of the islanders and the effort made by an entrepreneur like Nilima lead the path of such illiterate island dwellers from their subjugated existence to a healthy, educated and liberated livelihood.