The Hungry Tide – Book Review

Set in the land of beautiful woods of the east India – Sundarbans; The Hungry Tide is a great fictional work by Amitav Ghosh. While Sundarbans is one of the rarest places on earth to home a few tigers on the verge of extinction, the book describes the precarious life of people who lived in the islands of the tide country with frequent tiger-attacks on the human habitat.

Nirmal and his wife Nilima has been living in the tide country for over the last 3 decades serving the original inhabitant of the land. While Nilima ran a hospital and a trust to serve the people of Lusibari and those of the neighbouring villages; Nirmal took up teaching in the Hamilton school. A long lost and found note written by Nirmal, before he died in 1979 under mysterious circumstances lands Kanai Dutt a business man and a linguist from Delhi in the Lusibari village. Kanai couldn’t resist his aunt Nilima’s request to take a look at Nirmal’s diary which was addressed to him; probably which was his last wish.

Piyali an American cetologist ends up in the same woods to conduct a study on Dolphins; knowing neither the local language nor the geography. She finds Fokir a local boatman to help her navigate through the woods to reach out to the Dolphins. They become very close separated by the language. Kanai being a linguist translator offers to help in Piya’s venture of studying the Dolphins and gets on to the boat of adventure sailing through the tough tides of the mangrove forest converging into the Bay of Bengal.

The Hungry Tide Amitav Ghosh
The Hungry Tide
Amitav Ghosh

Hidden in the notes of Nirmal is the truth about Morichjhapi evacuation, a scar in the deep rooted Indian history. Several Bangladeshi refugees were killed who found peace in this land. The land and water gets tainted with blood of several innocent humans who lost their lives in the process of resisting the then Leftist government of West Bengal. With Marxist ideology Nirmal hopes for the revolution, before he died.

Ghosh’s two pronged approach towards the story of Piyali and Kanai; makes it difficult for a normal reader to enjoy continuity. Every chapter introduced is a different scene which makes it a difficult visualisation. The reader should not be surprised if you find subtle editing errors. He also has inserted a lot of local terminologies in Bengali which needs reference to the dictionary for translation and a long paragraph followed to describe the term.

Otherwise, this book takes us through social, human and aquatic history, love, Politics, ecology, migration and grief. The usage of the local folk tale of Bon Bibi (The Goddess) and Dokkhin Rai (The Tiger) helped Ghosh re-build the story telling experiences of the past; which is mixed with Indian mythology, drama and the grandma style tactic to capture the minds of the readers. This acts as a brilliant digressional strategy from the main plot depicting the child who still lives within the author. A lot to read and understand if one wishes to dive into the depths of this book – “The Hungry Tide”.