I just finished reading The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh and totally loved the book. Though my plan was to read the book for an hour every night and finish it over a few days, I just could not put it down and spent three hours one night, and six hours the next night, staying up until 4 am to finish the book. The writing is beautiful, it’s almost lyrical in some parts and weaves some Bengali (translated into English) and English poetry into the prose.
Except knowing the geographical location on the map, I was a a total stranger to the Sundarbans and the Bay of Bengal until I read this book. However, Amitav’s words brought alive the tidal country for me. I could feel the peacefulness of the river and the misty mornings as well as the fury of the cyclone; the beauty of the constantly transforming tiny rivers and islands as well as the constant fear of animal attacks; the presence of the powerful Royal Bengal tiger as well as the playful yet emotionally sensitive dolphins; people’s love for the tidal country as well as their constant struggle for survival. To top it all, the descriptive narrative is beautifully intertwined with the complex emotions of the main characters.
At the outset, Amitav builds stereotypical characters which most of us would typecast people into. Then, there is a gradual addition of the finer nuances that mold a person’s beliefs and behaviors, and make him/her who they are. At different points in the book, I could empathize with each character, understanding their emotional agonies in dealing with life and relationships. I could relate to so many questions brought up by this book – the cost of life of the most marginalized and poor people, the struggle between preserving environment and providing for human needs, the exploitative agendas of governments in the name of environmental conservation, the meaning of love and if it changes with class and economic strata, the rationale behind believing in the dreams and principles of a Utopian world, the growing cynicism with age and experience, and the struggles and fears resulting from choosing a different path in life.
Here are a few quotes from this book that are stuck in my mind (maybe because they were towards the end).
“‘Easy?’ There was a parched weariness in Piya’s voice now. ‘Kanai tell me, do you see anything easy about what I do? Look at me: I have no home, no money, and no prospects. My friends are thousands of miles away and I get to see them maybe once a year, if I’m lucky. And that’s the least of it. On top of that is the knowledge that what I’m doing is more or less futile.'”
“‘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 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?”
“‘Kanai, the dreamers have everyone to speak for them'”, she said. ‘But those who’re patient, those who try to be strong, who try to build things – no one ever sees any poetry in that, do they?'”
What did you think of the book, if you have read it? If not, would you want to?
Song on my mind – Heera from Highway
P.S. I’m quite excited since this is the first book review I have ever written!!