The Hungry Tide’ is a Hutch Crossword book award winning novel by Indian-Bengali writer Amitav Ghosh. The talented and p author has many award winning works to his credit like The Shadow Lines (Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award), The Glass Palace(Grand Prize for fiction, Frankfurt International e-book Awards), The Calcutta Chromosome (Arthur C.Clarke Award), In an Antique land, Sea of Poppies and various others. The Hungry Tide was the sixth novel by the author.
The story is set in the majestic land of Sunderbans where it is difficult to distinguish the land from water. The water and the woods have been described vividly by Ghosh. The description brings reader closer to perceiving the beauty of the rivers and the mangroves of the tide country. There are clusters of islands that emerge one day and get washed away the next day. The life of the people living in these pockets is a challenge. Frequent attacks by tigers, limited or almost nil power supply and healthcare facilities, food supply depending on daily catch from the river, eviction from the land by political goons are a day to day threat to their life.
The book outlines the journey of two protagonists who arrive in Sunderbans which is a totally different world for them. Piya Roy is an American cetologist with Indian parentage. She is an intelligent a tough woman. She comes to Sunderbans to study Orcaella brevirostris, a species of dolphins. Kanai Dutt is a polished businessman from Delhi who visits his aunt Nilima in Lusibari, an island amongst many in Sunderbans to know what his uncle Nirmal left in his diary for him before dying. Piya and Kanai befriend each other on a train and they meet at his aunt’s place in Lusibari whenever she gets time from her field study in Sunderbans.
On her first expedition on water, Piya suffers an accident and she is recued by Fokir who is another important character in the story. Fokir is an illiterate inhabitant of the islands who knows best about the labyrinth of backwaters in Sunderbans.
Piya and Fokir seem to communicate beautifully despite not knowing each other’s language. There is a strong and powerful connection between the two and Fokir seems to understand Piya almost right after they meet. He proves very helpful for her study. Later she takes Kanai as the interpreter between the two during their voyages on water. On the island, Nilima or ‘Mashima’ as she is fondly called has devoted her life trying to make a difference in the lives of the people at the island.
The lives of these and various other characters are interwoven and the book unfolds the experiences excellently. The relationships and the emotions of love, humanity, courage and faith are very well narrated by Ghosh. The story moves constantly between past and present for the first half of the book. The Morichjhapi incident when the settlers of islands in Bay of Bengal were evicted by the government of West Bengal in 1978-79 is also in the background. Several other historical stories and places have been included along with the fictional ones. The details of dolphins and their behavior are also quite interesting. Hence it was quite informative for me as well. It’s a promising and beautifully crafted novel that delivers drama and mystery besides taking through the journey of human relationships, survival and lives along the river.
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