Book Review: The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

For Book Club Meeting: Saturday, 3rd October 2009.
Venue: Ms. Madhavi Murthy’s residence. Time: 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Every book is different from the other and having stated the obvious, I must say that after I finished reading The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh, I somehow faced a stage where I was searching for outlets… outlets to play, or, rather ‘feel’ the parts of the main characters. Knowing not whether this is an individual or a general thing, possessing any scientific value or not in the literary world – I needed to dig into my functioning thoughts: deeper… to find the compensation I required as a reader. Partly, I point to my own failure because a complete surrender to places like Morichjhapi, Garjontola, appeared and then withdrew themselves away, like the tide in the tide country. I am also running my concentration on Piya-Fokir relationship, the way the author implies. Anything is possible in life, but my imagination is thrown into a very raw trough, and for me the answers do not come out right.

I got a high chance to learn certain facts of significance, especially on the historical level. Absorbing the words of the author, I felt Ghosh’s strength was in his actual effects of the storm, the restless calm before the storm. He regularized the view of the mangrove swamps and the Matala River like a devoted surveyor. I feel, he is on a better wicket with the descriptive narrations versus the conversational dialogues.

The picture that emerges out of The Hungry Tide, is the general scene of our universe. We are walking on very thin edges of delicate issues. The thrusting demands of growing populations everywhere: encroaching into the kingdoms of the animal world. The depleting wealth in the rivers and oceans which were once roaring domains of whales, fish, dolphins, crabs and turtles. The terrible prospect of winning one race and losing three. And the shame of corruption at all levels. Isn’t that the scene around us?

Moving on with the book, it is a widely acknowledged fact that readers will connect or remember about themselves while reading a book. This can prove to be a factor of weight when certain books will. stay on with you, sometimes, ever-lasting. A scene on page 332 and 333 matches this label for me.

Page 332 (Para 2) line 3.
In the dying light the island seemed to be drifting peacefully to sleep. But just as Piya was stepping up to the bow, the dark blur was lit up by tiny points of phosphorescence. The illumination lasted only an instant and then the island went dark again. But a moment later the lights twinkled once more, in perfect synchrony: there were thousands, possibly millions, of glowing pinpricks of light, just bright enough to be seen across the water. As her eyes grew used to the rhythm of the flashing, she was able to make out the sinuous shapes of roots and branches, all outlined by the minuscule gleams.

Page 333. line 9
The lights flashed on and Kanai gasped, ‘My God,’ he said. What are those? ‘They’re just glow-worms, flashing their lights in rhythm’. ‘I’ve read about it: they say it happens mainly around mangroves’.

The read portions took me back when I as a child watched the jugnoos – fireflies in my home-town Amritsar, Punjab (India). Such has been my fascination for the glow-worms, that in 2001 I described it in my poem: A Wish.

Last, but not the least, being a font-size-oriented reader, I may mention, The Hungry Tide would have been far more enjoyable if attention had been paid to the size of the print which is too small. From my angle, this aspect is a critical piece, though it has nothing to do with the style of Ghosh’s writing. The real experience of his book is lost even more when you pick up midpoint Nirmal’s expansive descriptions in italic font, which too deserved to be bigger.

Making it back to the author – would I read another book of his? Yes, I will go for Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies which was short-listed for the 2008 Booker Prize.

Geeta Chhabra

A Wish

The time when I was a little child,
something serving to celebrate,
was watching those lightning bugs,
descending into our favoured lawns
at summer’s peak;
those dumpy drops of gliding glow,
floating in the airless heat of dusk and night.

In hours of darkness: luminous specks,
dancing to the likeness of a fairy’s spell,
flashed bluish, yellow phosphor sparks.
Undeniably apt, it was a childlike thing
to wish and wonder,
with a hundred eyes,
if I could fly and light up as fireflies.

May 2001

Geeta Chhabra

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