Wednesday, June 6, 2012

[Book review] The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

Better late than never at appreciating India’s cultural diversity on my blog, here I begin…

Having known a few lovely Bengali girls at work/Training; Having loved a few beautiful Bengali actresses - Sharmila Tagore, Sushmita, Bipasha; Having adored the Bengali mammoths Uttam, Feludas and Satyajit Ray. I think the book satisfied my interest on the North East India.

Amitav Ghosh’s “The Hungry Tide” is a the story of Kanai Dutt, a translator turned Entrepreneur and the American cetologist with Indian origin, Piyali Roy; in the forays Sundarbans’ delta. The story evolves as the strangers meet in the Indian railgaadi travelling towards Lusibari and later their roads diverge – his to Lusibari to check on a package which is late uncle had left for him before his death – and hers to where she plans to immerse herself in the study of river Dolphins.

Beginning her journey with a government boat driver who beguiles her and tips her in crocodile infested water, her rescue comes in the form of a native illiterate fisherman – Fokir, who helps her (dramatically?) out of the murky water. She then decides to embark on her research with him, she faces language barrier as either one speaks a different tongue. Although they have a language barrier between them, Piya and Fokir are powerfully drawn to each other, sharing an uncanny instinct for the ways of the sea.

The lengths to which a marine biologist/ cetologist would traverse is portrayed beautifully. The search for Orcaella brevirostris or the Indian river Dolphin, is incredulous but leaves the reader with a LOT of indigestible technical information. Also invariably hues of the Tide country, its behavior during high and low tide – its niche involving crocodiles, murk and royal Bengal tigers are impressively etched. So that is a LOT of information for you to muster! Amidst the information hammock I found this folklore/myth very interesting -

Dakkhin Rai makes a pact with Dhona the honey collector in his Dhonas’ dreams – He agrees to give seven fleets full of honey and wax in turn for Dukhe, a poor shepherded boy. When the fleet reaches Kendokhali cha Dhona fills seven of his vessels with honey and wax after which he asks Dukhe to go and collect firewood, which Dukhe does inspite of knowing he will be left back by the company. The fleet promptly leaves without Dukhe as planned. Dakkhin Rai makes an appearance before Dukhe in the form of a tiger. Dukhe is terrified, he remembers his mother telling me to call for Bon bibi when in peril, he calls for Bon bibi – she along with her brother Shah Jangali defeat Dakkhin Rai and render Dukhe in safe hands.

Kanai comes unwittingly helpful as a translator between Piyali and Fokir, as expected. He is an egoistic know-it-all who flirts and irks the audience more than your average stereotyped-Indian-entrepreneur. He leaves to his hometown to inspect a piece of inheritance his uncle, Nirmal, left for him where he retrospects on the Morichjhanpi massacre incident of 1978-79. This incident where the Marxist Communist party is said to have evicted numerous Bengali refugees, is subdued and largely left for the audience to make up. However, the incidents left a large impact on me. Powdered with quotes from Rilke, those portions are pleasing to read.

The other secondary characters – Nilima, Kusum, Moyna, Tutul are strings of the same piece of fabric, hence don’t stand out like a sore thumb. Though there is lack in character of Piya’s parent and they remain a hallucinated image to you. As you move closer to the end, the muted emotions of Fokir kill the audience from making a relation to him. How and where the trifurcated roads of Piyali, Fokir and Kanai ends is the essence of the book all in all.

You like emotions as opposed to clingontheseat thrillers, there! Then go for it!

Rating 4 of 5

P/s I have discussed NO aspects of the story line, just in case you read it, I don’t want this review to be a spoiler. BUT, how effective is a review with just the outline of the story? First review, please suggest me options to improve! Thanks!!


  1. hmm!! Amitav ghosh is someone i have never read till now..not surprising considering my kind of books are pot-boilers...but i like the excerpt you have quoted there- got a nice folksy ring to it..i guess its time to broaden my horizon too..

  2. You should try out various Ganesh, especially that you read a lot of blogs, reading prosy stuff will come much naturally for you (I believe), BTW in case you start it is also said that his Books - The Glass Palace and Sea of Poppies are good, btw all are set in the Bangla portions of India :)

  3. thanks for sharing this one esply coz i dont think i will be going thru this one... actly it s been a while since i read a book....

    1. Its difficult deeps, I know, to juggle with books and blogs, we are already reading a LOT of material online. Infact I was a VERY fast reader, unfortunately, my eyes tire soon these days. Job at PC, lesiure at PC.

      Mines a freaking sad life with little books ;)