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Melding of Currents


Meenakshi Mukherjee

THE HUNGRY TIDE
By Amitav Ghosh
Ravi Dayal, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 400, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 9 September 2004

While travelling in a country boat in the delta region of the Sunderbans, a man whose world had so far been shaped by books, has a sudden revelation : …it occurred to me that a landscape too is not unlike a book … People open the book according to their taste and training, their memories and desires: for a geologist the compilation opens at one page, for a boatman at another, and still another for a ship’s pilot, a painter and so on. On occasion these pages are ruled with lines that are invisible to some people, while for others as real, as charged and as volatile as high voltage cables.   Sometimes an entire book can begin to throb with life when a current passes through its different pages, melding the marine biologist’s page with that of the fisherman, superimposing the local legend of Bonbibi on the rationalist world-view of a Marxist intellectual and making a smug city-slicker’s certainties flounder in the treacherous mudbanks at the edge of ghostly mangrove forests.   Those familiar with Amitav Ghosh’s work know that each of his books explores new territories, not only geographically—e.g., Burma, Egypt, Cambodia—but also areas of the mind, effortlessly weaving strands of scientific and historical research with folklore, fantasy, ecology and political events into one seamless narrative of human relationship as seen against the larger forces of change. No place in the world is too remote to escape the flood of history, but some regions are more vulnerable than others to devastation by the elemental forces of nature. The Hungry Tide focuses on one such area; the archipelago where the Ganga and the Brahmaputra divide themselves into countless channels before they meet the ocean , “creating a terrain where the boundaries between land and water are always mutating, always unpredictable.” In Bangla there is a tradition of riverine novels—Padma Nadir Majhi by Manik Bandopadhya, Ganga by Samaresh Basu and Titash Ekti Nodir Naam by Advaita Mallabarman easily come to mind, but not all of them deal centrally with the tide country. In English fiction the only example is that of Midnight’s Children, but Sunderban is an allegorical trope there, signifying a dark underworld that an epic hero must traverse—not an actual region populated by men, women and children.   Life is precarious in this marshy land : dangers of storm, flood and tidal waves are as ...


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