The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Set amidst the lush foliage of mangrove forests,"The Hungry Tide" tells us about the history and lives of people who inhabit the numerous islands of Sunderbans in the Bay of Bengal, the river dolphins, the man-eaters of the tide country, the sea and the legends that float in these waters and forests. It reminds us of the fragility of human life and the helplessness that comes with it.
The story revolves around American born Bengali descent, Piyali Roy a.ka. Piya, a cetologist who comes to India to study the river dolphins; Fokir a reticentilliterate boatman with an impeccable knowledge of the tide country; Kanai the middle aged translator who thinks of himself as an urban Casanova;Nilima or Maashima,Kanai’s aunt, a matriarch with a keen eye for business who single-handedly run a hospital in the fictitious island of Lusibari; and Nirmal ,Kanai’s late uncle with flawless Communist idealogies.
Ghosh spins a tale whose fabric is dyed with realities of the lives of the islanders, yellowed by the passage of time and embroidered by the tales of Bon Bibi and Shah Jongli.He relates to us the massacre of Morichjhanpi, which otherwise is a much suppressed black episode of Indian history, through the diary of Nirmal.The lives of the then dwellers of Morichjhanpi,the event that lead to the massacre and the struggle of the dwellers as they fight for their right-the right to stay alive.
Ghosh boldly questions the atrocities dealt out on the poor in the name of protecting nature. One of the character voices out,
“Saar,” she said, wiping her face, “the worst part was not the hunger or the thirst. It was to sit here, helpless, and listen to the policemen making their announcements, hearing them say that our lives, our existence, were worth less than dirt or dust. ‘This island has to be saved for its trees, it has to be saved for its animals, it is a part of a reserve forest, it belongs to a project to save tigers, which is paid for by people from all around the world.’ Every day, sitting here with hunger gnawing at our bellies, we would listen to these words over and over again. Who are these people, I wondered, who love animals so much that they are willing to kill us for them? Do they know what is being done in their name? Where do they live, these people? Do they have children, do they have mothers, fathers? As I thought of these things, it seemed to me that this whole world had become a place of animals, and our fault, our crime, was that we were just human beings, trying to live as human beings always have, from the water and the soil. No one could think this a crime unless they have forgotten that this is how humans have always lived — by fishing, by clearing land and by planting the soil.”
When the books end, in most cases, the characters end with it. But with “The Hungry Tide”, the characters linger around the corners of your heart posing profound questions on human rights, our role as protectors of nature and the inherent frailty of human nature.
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