Book Title – The Hungry Tide
Author – Amitav Ghosh
Genre – Fiction
Year Published - 2004
My rating –7/10
Piyali Roy, an American with an Indian origin, arrives in Sundarbans, formed by the Bay of Bengal and located on the easternmost coast of India. She is a maritime scientist and her search for a rare species of dolphin brings her to the vengeful yet beautiful waters surrounding the Sundarbans. Her first encounter to the destination happens in a train enroute in the form of Kanai Dutt, a linguistic expert and businessman running a translation agency. Kanai Dutt is also on his way to the Sundarbans, visiting his Aunt and to claim a journal left behind by his deceased Uncle. And later, as she embarks on her mission with an unwanted government aid on a boat, she bumps into Fokir, an illiterate fisherman who not only becomes her savior in the treacherous sea but also her guide to the dolphin-rich enclave. Together, they begin a journey in the backwaters, all three from different worlds and each with their own agenda.
What happens when three people from completely different backgrounds get together on a boat and set off in search of something that takes them to precarious waters and on lands that faces the wrath of nature every single day? Many things happen. Love, attraction, danger, joy, understanding and survival. And then we ask, were they really so different in the first place? Is language the only medium of communication? Is being educated from books and getting a degree sufficient criteria for discrimination and is that the only way of being knowledgeable?
Answers to these questions come to us one after the other as we turn the pages.
But, first I have to absolutely acknowledge and appreciate the Author’s command and control over those English words. Having read Chetan Bhagat, I tend to take Indian Authors lightly (very presumptuous of me and I apologize for that) but just 5 pages into “The Hungry Tide” and I was forced to Google for more on the Author. And as I read into his credentials, his words ceased to surprise me anymore.
Amitav Ghosh’s research into the land and water he writes about is another thing that is superlative about the book. 'The Hungry Tide' is as much about the Sundarban archipelago and the fragility of life on them; changing everyday with the tides, as it is about the people who dwell there. The Author creates a lush green world full of trees, tigers, deities and dolphins, right in front of your eyes and all with his words. Like my friend Sejal Shah, who recommended this book in the first place mentioned “I felt like I have visited Sundarbans”. Environment also plays a significant role in the story as we witness a mortal combat with the superior power of nature, to protect his beloved.
The Book seamlessly alternates between past and present, nature and humans, water and land; never losing grip. While the story appears to be principally about Piyali, Kannai and Fokir, there are many other characters and incidents that weave in and out giving this novel the necessary muscle and background to become a compelling read.
A historical event moves along in the novel as the Author gives an account of the siege of Morichjhapi which took place in 1979, aimed at driving away the refugee settlers through the eyes and words of Nirmal. Its deep impact on him and his wish to confide in Kannai sets the pace for bringing about the characters of the story together, at one place.
Women in 'The Hungry Tide' have been portrayed as strong, ambitious and survivors irrespective of the time, education and place. Nilima, Kusum, Moyna and the protagonist Piyali, all possess a common trait – each of them knows what she wants and is not willing to give it up without a fight. They are also all women who bring about a change, in their own ways.
And in my opinion, that automatically makes their respective counterparts weaker. Maybe it wasn’t the author’s intention, but the way I see it, Nirmal only talks about a revolution for most of his life; Nilima actually brings about one by her social service.
Kusum, having faced such deep personal tragedies, still chooses who to love.
Moyna pursues her ambition to be a nurse and provide for a better life to their son Tutul, despite Fokir’s impudence. Fokir, with all his knowledge of the sea and the perils that surround its land, stubbornly refuses to see why his wife wants a different future for their son.
Piyali possesses all three, courage, persuasiveness and patience required to go looking for nature’s rare specimens. Kannai on the other hand thinks highly of himself and is quick to judge people based on their appearance and social relevance.
You could say the strength of these women and the author’s vast vocabulary are the book’s highlights. Other than that, 'The Hungry Tide' is not an unusual story. Laced around love, jealousy, fear and ambition; its ingredients are ordinary, but the metaphors, extraordinary and that’s what makes it interesting enough.
This book won the “Hutch Crossword Book Award” for fiction. The Author has been awarded the “Padma Shri” in 2007 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009.