The Hungry Tide: A Novel

The Hungry Tide - Amitav Ghosh This was the book that made me watch out for any new work of Amitav Ghosh. Here's why!It is a novel set in Sundarbans...or ‘Bhatir desh’ or tide country as the writer Amitava Ghosh calls it.It was a great read….the language was almost lyrical…his description of the ways of water and land in sunderbans is poetic. You could almost feel the salty smell of the water and the whiff of the moist air of the land as you are reading.Amitava Ghosh has weaved an awe inspiring tale of the resilience of human spirit. The narrative moves between past and present with parallels emerging inconspicuously. There is a special place to the tiger, the man eating kind and the inseparable ways in which it is linked with the lives of the peoples of the tide country. About the legend of bon bibi who the locals rever as protector against the tigers, crocodiles and tides in the times of storm.The principal protagonists are Priya, a foreign bred Indian cetologist, who comes to sunderbans to study the rare dolphins in the water system, Kanai, a suave Delhi businessman with a past in the area who is on his second visit to his Aunt who is a social server in the area and Fokir, a local fisherman who Priya hires to guide her and moina, fokir’s intelligent wife. The description of cetology and the ways of dolphins is very thorough. The part about Priya’s experience as a wandering cetologist with a south eastern man is good. Another part where Priya describes why she is uncomfortable speaking Bengali, her native tounge, revealing her deepest , unpleasant memories of the language is amazing.Parallelly runs another narrative, with Kanai’s uncle Nirmal, Kusum, a local girl and Horen, another local fisherman and Fokir’s mentor as the principal actors. Kanai visits his aunt and uncle as a boy and doesn’t like the tide country very much. Nirmal is an idealist who is forced to settle in the tide country with his wife Neelima because his radical views could be trouble in Calcutta. Neelima takes up social service and starts an NGO which operates an hospital among other things in the tide country. Nirmal dies mysteriously following an evacuation by police of the settlers from Bangladesh from one of the islands part of the tiger reserve. He leaves Kanai some of his papers which are found many years after his death. Thus, kanai’s second visit materializes.Back to the present, Kanai accompanies priya and fokir on Horen’s boat on their exploration. How the exploration brings out the different shades of personality in each of them, how they agree and disagree with each other and finally understand each other, how Kanai finally manages to connect to his uncle’s ideas, how the individuals gather themselves after shattering experiences and about how life goes on in general.Amitav Ghosh’s research on the subject of cetology and the ecosystem of sunderbans is exceptional. But it is the characters that steal the show. Also, there is an underlying message that nature is supreme and man nothing in the face of nature’s fury, which turned out prophetic in the occurance of Tsunami.In the end it’s a great story set in a breathtaking background of sunderbans, combining history, myth and legends of the place with wonderful imagination and narrative prowess. A must read.