51 pages • 1 hour read
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The Hungry Tide, Indian author Amitav Ghosh’s 2004 epic, is set in the Bay of Bengal, a remote corner of eastern India that is home to the Sundarbans, a collection of tiny islands linked by rivers. The novel is told from two perspectives: that of Piya Roy, an American scientist researching river dolphins, and Kanai Dutt, a New Delhi translator on a trip to see his aunt.
Kanai and Piya first meet on a train. They strike up a conversation and learn they are both travelling to similar locations: Kanai is going to Lusibari, one of the Sundarban islands, to see his aunt and take a look at the journal his recently deceased uncle, Nirmal, left him. Piya is traveling to obtain a research permit and conduct research on river dolphins. Kanai departs the train but extends an invitation to visit him and his aunt in Lusibari, should Piya make it there. Kanai travels to Lusibari and visits with Nilima, his aunt, who runs the local hospital. She gives him his uncle’s journal.
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Meanwhile, Piya, obtaining a research permit through family connections and bribery, sets off in search of dolphins, with an escort of local authorities. She distrusts these men, and her distrust extends to horror and disgust when they come upon a fisherman and his son. The fisherman is fishing in a restricted area, so the local authorities attempt to steal his money, as a bribe. Piya tries to stop them, but ends up falling overboard and is caught in the river’s undertow. The fisherman rescues her. She shows him a picture of the dolphins, and he indicates, wordlessly, that he knows where they are. Moreover, he can take her to Lusibari afterwards. Piya decides to go with the fisherman, named Fokir.
On Lusibari, Kanai meets Moyna, Fokir’s wife, who is fed up with her childlike husband’s inability to do anything but fish. She is a trainee nurse and wants better for their son. Piya, on the other hand, develops a strong bond with Fokir as they travel the rivers and inlets. He helps her find the dolphins. Piya realizes that previous knowledge of the dolphins was incomplete—there is so much more to discover, and she believes she can get a grant to do so. She has found her life’s purpose.
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After several misadventures, including lurking tigers and a crocodile attack, Piya and Fokir leave the dolphins and travel to Lusibari. She reconnects with Kanai, who has been reading his uncle’s journal. His uncle was writing directly to Kanai to tell him about the events on an island called Morichjhapi, where government soldiers killed Fokir’s mother, Kusum, when Fokir was very small.
Having reached Lusibari, Piya is eager to take a sturdier boat out to see the dolphins, and Kanai decides to accompany them as a translator, along with a local man named Horen.
While they travel, Kanai notes the intense relationship between Piya and Fokir and, feeling jealous, tells her that she’ll never truly understand Fokir. Piya is hurt, but later decides he is right after watching Fokir help local villagers brutally kill a tiger. After he is left on an island and encounters a different tiger, Kanai decides that he should return to Lusibari. He and Horen set out with the expectation that Horen will return the next day to meet up with Fokir and Piya again. However, halfway back, Horen and Kanai hear that a catastrophic storm is approaching. They race back to find Fokir and Piya but are unable to locate them before they must head back to Lusibari or risk being caught in the storm themselves. As the storm hits, Fokir and Piya take refuge on a tiny island. Still unable to communicate with words, Fokir and Piya tie themselves to a tree’s highest branch to ride out the storm. They survive a massive tidal wave, but when the wind changes, Fokir is crushed by a heavy object and killed. Piya survives, protected by Fokir’s body.
Traumatized, Piya leaves the Sundarbans, but returns some time later with a carefully thought out plan, which she presents to Nilima. Piya has received a research grant and will set up her research camp on Lusibari, employing Fokir’s widow as her assistant. Kanai is also set to return, having quit his job to focus on recreating his uncle’s journal, which was lost in the storm. Nilima agrees to Piya’s plan.
By Amitav Ghosh