The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide

by

Amitav Ghosh

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Kanai Dutt Character Analysis

Kanai is a wealthy middle-aged translator who works in New Delhi. When he was ten, he was sent to the Sundarbans to live with his aunt Nilima and uncle Nirmal as punishment for misbehaving in school. He returns to the Sundarbans as an adult to deal with a notebook left to him by his late uncle Nirmal, which helps Kanai and Nilima unravel some of the mysteries of Nirmal's life. Kanai is self-centered and believes that his way of thinking about the world is far superior to how the locals think. He attempts to make advances towards Piya throughout much of the novel, though he's unable to do so due to his habit of treating Piya like an object to be won. This changes when he's the only one who can explain to her why a village would want to kill a tiger—because he doesn't live in the Sundarbans, he has an easier time seeing both sides of the conservation issue. Kanai is forced to confront his own privilege when he and Fokir stop on the remote island of Garjontola, where Fokir finds fresh tiger tracks. There, Kanai falls in the mud, loses his temper, and realizes that people like him are one of the major reasons why poor people like Fokir aren't cared for. After this, he sees a tiger. His terror is so great upon seeing the tiger that he actually loses the ability to form language and instead, feels as though his unspeakable knowledge of how terrifying the tiger is is far more powerful than spoken language. After this, Kanai's self-importance wanes. Nilima explains in the epilogue that following these events on his trip, Kanai decided to restructure his business so he could take more time off and spend time on Lusibari.

Kanai Dutt Quotes in The Hungry Tide

The The Hungry Tide quotes below are all either spoken by Kanai Dutt or refer to Kanai Dutt. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Mariner Books edition of The Hungry Tide published in 2006.
Part 1: S'Daniel Quotes

"It is common knowledge that almost every island in the tide country has been inhabited at some time or another. But to look at them you would never know: the specialty of mangroves is that they do not merely recolonize land; they erase time. Every generation creates its own population of ghosts."

Related Characters: Nirmal Bose (speaker), Kanai Dutt, Sir Daniel Hamilton
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

"What he wanted was to build a new society, a new kind of country. It would be a country run by cooperatives, he said. Here people wouldn't exploit each other and everyone would have a share in the land.

Related Characters: Nirmal Bose (speaker), Kanai Dutt, Sir Daniel Hamilton
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1: The Trust Quotes

But these elements of an ordinary rural existence did not entirely conceal the fact that life in Lusibari was lived at the sufferance of a single feature of its topography. This was its bãdh, the tall embankment that encircled its perimeter, holding back the twice-daily flood.

Related Characters: Kanai Dutt, Nilima Bose
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1: The Letter Quotes

There is nothing I can do to stop what lies ahead. But I was once a writer; perhaps I can make sure at least that what happened here leaves some trace, some hold upon the memory of the world. The thought of this, along with the fear that preceded it, has made it possible for me to do what I have not been able to do for the last thirty years—to put my pen to paper again.

Related Characters: Nirmal Bose (speaker), Kanai Dutt, Nilima Bose
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1: Moyna Quotes

"Why else?" she said. "Because there's a lot of money in prawns and the traders had paid off the politicians. What do they care—or the politicians, for that matter? It's people like us who're going to suffer and it's up to us to think ahead."

Related Characters: Moyna (speaker), Kanai Dutt, Nilima Bose, Fokir, Tutul
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: A Post Office on Sunday Quotes

"He loved the work of Rainer Maria Rilke […] Rilke said 'life is lived in transformation,' and I think Nirmal soaked this idea into himself in the way cloth absorbs ink. To him, what Kusum stood for was the embodiment of Rilke's idea of transformation."

Related Characters: Kanai Dutt (speaker), Piya Roy, Nirmal Bose, Nilima Bose, Kusum
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Interrogations Quotes

"Because it was people like you," said Kanai, "who made a push to protect the wildlife here, without regard for the human costs. And I'm complicit because people like me […] have chosen to hide these costs, basically in order to curry favor with their Western patrons. It's not hard to ignore the people who're dying—after all, they are the poorest of the poor."

Related Characters: Kanai Dutt (speaker), Piya Roy, Fokir
Related Symbols: Tigers
Page Number: 248-49
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Signs Quotes

[…] He had become a token for a vision of human beings in which a man like Fokir counted for nothing, a man whose value was less than an animal. In seeing himself in this way, it seemed perfectly comprehensible to Kanai why Fokir should want him dead—but he understood also that this was not how it would be. Fokir had brought him here not because he wanted him to die, but because he wanted him to be judged.

Related Characters: Kanai Dutt, Fokir, Bon Bibi
Related Symbols: Tigers
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

Wasn't this why people who lived in close proximity with tigers so often regarded them as being something more than just animals? Because the tiger was the only animal that forgave you for being so ill at ease in your translated world?

Related Characters: Kanai Dutt, Fokir
Related Symbols: Tigers
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

The words he had been searching for, the euphemisms that were the source of his panic, had been replaced by the thing itself, except that without words it could not be apprehended or understood. It was an artifact of pure intuition, so real that the thing itself could not have dreamed of existing so intensely.

Related Characters: Kanai Dutt
Related Symbols: Tigers
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: The Wave Quotes

"Yes," said Nilima. "Making us build it was probably the most important thing he did in his whole life. You can see the proof of that today. But if you'd told him that, he'd have laughed. He'd have said, 'It's just social service—not revolution.'"

Related Characters: Nilima Bose (speaker), Kanai Dutt, Nirmal Bose
Related Symbols: Cyclone Shelter
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Hungry Tide LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Hungry Tide PDF

Kanai Dutt Character Timeline in The Hungry Tide

The timeline below shows where the character Kanai Dutt appears in The Hungry Tide. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: The Tide Country
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Immediately upon stepping onto the train platform, Kanai spots a young woman (later revealed as Piya) who looks out of place with her... (full context)
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Kanai watches Piya board the train, noting that she seems accustomed to traveling like this. He... (full context)
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Kanai’s reading materials talk about the Sundarbans, an archipelago of islands in the Bay of Bengal.... (full context)
Part 1: An Invitation
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...cup of tea through the bars of the window, the man sitting across from her (Kanai) flips his pages, jostling her hand in the process, and some of her tea spills... (full context)
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Piya feigns admiration and asks how Kanai knew she's American. He explains that he's a translator, knows six languages, and knew from... (full context)
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...her parents when she was a year old, which is why she never learned Bengali. Kanai introduces himself formally and says that he's visiting his aunt. Piya pulls out a map,... (full context)
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Kanai says that Nilima's husband, Kanai’s late uncle Nirmal, was similarly known just as Saar (sir),... (full context)
Part 1: Canning
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Kanai watches Piya walk away, hoping she'll visit—he's unmarried but has had a long string of... (full context)
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Kanai also thinks about the last time he saw Nirmal in Calcutta in the late 1970s.... (full context)
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Back on the platform, Kanai spots Nilima sitting, surrounded by admirers and well-wishers. When she spots Kanai, she snaps her... (full context)
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When Kanai and Nilima reach the river, Kanai sees what she meant—at low tide, the half-mile wide... (full context)
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Kanai starts to reminisce about Nirmal, but Nilima stops him. She explains that they "found" him... (full context)
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Kanai says that that was surely a reference to Nirmal's favorite story about Henry Piddington and... (full context)
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...had offered to take them all back to Lusibari, and Nilima accepted. She explained to Kanai that Horen was a fisherman with three children, though he wasn't yet twenty. He was... (full context)
Part 1: Lusibari
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When Kanai and Nilima arrive in Lusibari, it's low tide. Kanai climbs to the top of the... (full context)
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Kanai walks around to the back door, which leads into a bathroom. He remembers his offense... (full context)
Part 1: S'Daniel
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Going back to when Kanai first visited Lusibari, Nirmal tells Kanai that like in deserts, people often see mirages in... (full context)
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...a new society, based on cooperatives. He kept contact with Gandhi and Rabindranath Thakur. When Kanai expressed disbelief that the tide country is a real country, since there's no electricity or... (full context)
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Nirmal handed young Kanai a banknote, signed by Sir Daniel himself. Nirmal explained that what Sir Daniel wanted was... (full context)
Part 1: The Trust
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...Trust, which has a guesthouse on the second floor. On their way there, Nilima tells Kanai that dinner will be upstairs for him, courtesy of a nurse trainee named Moyna. Upon... (full context)
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Nilima clicks disapprovingly about Moyna's husband and then tells Kanai that her husband is Fokir, Kusum's son. Nilima sighs as she says that Kusum was... (full context)
Part 1: The Letter
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Kanai goes up to the guesthouse, noticing that Moyna still left him dinner despite her worries.... (full context)
Part 1: Kusum
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Kanai looks to where Nirmal's house once stood. It had been a two-room bungalow, and Kanai... (full context)
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The next morning, Kusum approached Kanai, angry, and accused him of listening in on the meeting. Kanai was a little afraid,... (full context)
Part 1: The Glory of Bon Bibi
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In 1970, Kanai learned that Kusum's father died while foraging for firewood in a place off-limits to villagers.... (full context)
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Kanai and Kusum soon became friends. Kusum showed him around, and they told each other stories... (full context)
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Kanai and Kusum sat together to watch the performance. The story began in Arabia, where the... (full context)
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...for Bon Bibi. She came immediately to hold Dukhey, while Shah Jongoli punished the demon. Kanai was shocked by how much he loved the performance, and he saw it several times. (full context)
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At the final performance, Kanai fell asleep for the first half and awoke to find Kusum next to him, crying.... (full context)
Part 1: Morichjhãpi
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After Kanai wakes in the morning, he goes downstairs and finds Nilima looking very unwell. She insists... (full context)
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...out of it. In a pained voice, Nilima wonders why Nirmal left the notebook to Kanai instead of her. Kanai thinks that it's possible Nirmal wanted to hurt Nilima, and realizes... (full context)
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Kanai asks if Kusum had anything to do with Nirmal's obsession with Morichjhãpi, noticing that Nilima... (full context)
Part 1: Moyna
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Kanai goes back to Nilima after noon, at which point she looks alert and happier. She... (full context)
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Moyna knocks on the door and enters. Kanai can tell she's been crying, and Nilima tells him in English to be careful. Kanai... (full context)
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As Kanai and Moyna walk, Kanai mentions that he knew Kusum. When Kanai mentions Fokir, Moyna's face... (full context)
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Kanai asks if Moyna has ever brought Fokir to the hospital, and she explains he doesn't... (full context)
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Kanai thinks that Moyna has a nuanced grasp of how the world works and thinks it's... (full context)
Part 1: Travels
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Kanai eats his lunch and then returns to Nirmal's study. He opens the notebook and begins... (full context)
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...territory. Nirmal snaps that that's nonsense, and Horen suggests they agree to disagree. Nirmal addresses Kanai directly again to explain that he's sitting with young Fokir, while Horen and Kusum are... (full context)
Part 1: A Disturbance
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At night, Kanai is still in Nirmal's study when the generator goes out, and the room goes dark.... (full context)
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Kanai asks in a teasing tone if Moyna didn't know Fokir before they married. She says... (full context)
Part 2: Beginning Again
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Kanai resumes reading Nirmal's notebook. On the way back to Lusibari, Nirmal feels invigorated and refreshed.... (full context)
Part 2: Landfall
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...of the house. Piya hastily introduces herself to the woman, whom she assumes is Nilima. Kanai comes downstairs just as Piya begins to explain how she got to Lusibari. He seems... (full context)
Part 2: A Feast
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Resuming his reading, Kanai reads that Horen invites Nirmal to Morichjhãpi for a feast where there will be journalists... (full context)
Part 2: Catching Up
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...crocodiles, but makes herself look out the window. When she hears a woman's voice and Kanai's, she goes downstairs to investigate. There, she finds Kanai with a woman who looks her... (full context)
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Kanai insists that Moyna is a truly remarkable woman: she's struggled to educate herself and is... (full context)
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Kanai begins to dish up the food, but Piya only accepts white rice. Kanai talks about... (full context)
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Kanai says that while he might want to translate literature at some point, he likes running... (full context)
Part 2: Negotiations
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Moyna is waiting outside her home when Kanai and Piya arrive in the morning. Piya asks after Tutul, who is in school, and... (full context)
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Piya asks Kanai if he could pull Fokir into the conversation. Kanai's attempt doesn't go over well; Piya... (full context)
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Kanai tells Piya that Moyna wants to know why a scientist like her needs Fokir's help.... (full context)
Part 2: Habits
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Kanai reads in Nirmal's journal that Nilima was very upset by Kusum's visit. She insists there's... (full context)
Part 2: A Sunset
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...sun begins to set, Piya goes up to the study and knocks on the door. Kanai comes out to watch the sunset and point out the sights of Lusibari. Piya comments... (full context)
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...she was twelve, and was depressed and isolated long before that. Piya is surprised when Kanai seems to feel genuine sympathy for her but not for Fokir. Kanai explains he's sympathetic... (full context)
Part 2: Transformation
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Kanai resumes his reading. In mid-January, Horen invites Nirmal to accompany himself and Kusum to Garjontola,... (full context)
Part 2: A Pilgrimage
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Piya is touched when Moyna brings her dinner that's plain. When Kanai asks about dolphins, Piya insists that he should be interested in river dolphins because the... (full context)
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Kanai feels tender towards Piya and asks if he can accompany her as a translator. She's... (full context)
Part 2: Destiny
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Kanai returns to the notebook. Nirmal asks why the island they're going to is called Garjontola—he... (full context)
Part 2: The Megha
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In the morning, Kanai notices that Horen looks just like he remembers, though he's older and looks distinguished now.... (full context)
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Kanai goes to Nilima and tells her that he's going away with Piya. He promises to... (full context)
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...file down and reads that between 1860 and 1866, 4,218 people were killed by tigers. Kanai wants to know why, but Nilima can't answer. She says that the tigers in tide... (full context)
Part 2: Intermediaries
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Nilima says that when Kanai came to stay, it meant a lot to Nirmal to have someone to pass on... (full context)
Part 2: Besieged
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Returning to the notebook, Kanai reads that Nilima returns from her trip with news that the government plans to take... (full context)
Part 2: Words
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Kanai forgets about dinner as he reads. He's suddenly plunged into darkness when the generator goes... (full context)
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Kanai asks who Moyna would choose—him or Fokir—but Moyna just insists that she cannot talk to... (full context)
Part 2: Leaving Lusibari
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Kanai and Piya take their bags down to the embankment on a rickshaw, but are held... (full context)
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The Megha pulls away a little later, towing Fokir in his boat behind. Kanai sits on deck, watching Piya watch the water despite the wind and blinding glare. They... (full context)
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Envious, Kanai notes that Fokir and Piya can't even talk to each other, and he reminds Piya... (full context)
Part 2: An Interruption
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In the afternoon, Kanai tries to talk to Horen about Nirmal's notebook. Horen isn't interested in chatting, but does... (full context)
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As night falls, Piya and Kanai hear the sound of an animal in pain on the shore. Kanai asks Horen about... (full context)
Part 2: Alive
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...He spends the next day filling this notebook and finally, runs out of time. Addressing Kanai directly, he suggests that maybe he'll know what to do with the notebook. (full context)
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Kanai's hands are shaking when he finishes. He finds Horen sitting outside and sits down with... (full context)
Part 2: A Post Office on Sunday
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Piya wakes up around midnight and goes on deck, where she finds Kanai still reading. She sits with him and asks about the notebook, inspecting the tiny Bengali... (full context)
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Kanai says that Nirmal was a historical materialist, which he defines as a belief that everything... (full context)
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...wait five years before proving him right and flattening the city with a tidal surge. Kanai said that Nirmal always closed with a Rilke quote, using it to compare Canning to... (full context)
Part 2: A Killing
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Kanai wakes at three in the morning to excited voices. He finds Horen and Nogen on... (full context)
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...learn that there's a tiger in the structure and decides they need to do something. Kanai and Horen try to lead her away and explain that the tiger is a known... (full context)
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...as people begin to throw torches onto the thatch. Piya feels angry and betrayed when Kanai translates Fokir's words: that tigers only go into settlements when they want to die. (full context)
Part 2: Interrogations
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Horen, Fokir, Kanai, and Piya make it back to the Megha by dawn and start off immediately—Horen doesn't... (full context)
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An hour later, a boat of forest guards pulls up by the Megha. Kanai sends Piya to her cabin for safety, as she's foreign and doesn't have the correct... (full context)
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At midday, Piya sits next to Kanai, looking troubled. She explains that she's still horrified by the tiger killing, but she recognizes... (full context)
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...deciding it's fine to kill them will only lead to killing certain groups of people. Kanai retorts that Piya's not the one dying for animal conservation, though she insists she would.... (full context)
Part 2: Mr. Sloane
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The Megha reaches Garjontola late in the afternoon. Kanai, Piya, and Fokir take Fokir's boat closer. Piya is delighted to see the mother and... (full context)
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...Orcaella along the Mekong. She's been studying Orcaella ever since. When she finishes, Piya asks Kanai to ask Fokir how he knows the dolphins so well. Kanai translates that he heard... (full context)
Part 2: Kratie
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...to the Megha. Piya showers and then sits by the rail to watch the landscape. Kanai joins her, and they begin talking about their past romances. Piya says that being alone... (full context)
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...laughed—apparently, that sort of thing is common. They counseled Piya to be happy being alone. Kanai feels as though Piya is truly extraordinary, and he suggests she doesn't have to be... (full context)
Part 2: Signs
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Kanai has nightmares all night. At dawn, Piya approaches him and asks if he'd be willing... (full context)
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Kanai asks Fokir if he'd ever like to visit a city, noticing only after he says... (full context)
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Kanai finds this idea far-fetched, but Fokir says that the tigers tend to like to watch... (full context)
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Fokir leans forward and suggests they go take a closer look. Kanai reluctantly agrees, and Fokir explains that Kusum always told him that Garjontola is a place... (full context)
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Fokir offers Kanai a hand, but Kanai insults him and sends him away. Fokir goes to the boat... (full context)
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Slowly, Kanai backs into the mangroves and then crashes back out to the mud. Piya, Fokir, and... (full context)
Part 2: Lights
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...to the rail and sees flashing lights in the mangroves. She races to knock on Kanai's door and is shocked to see him dressed in a lungi (a sarong-like garment) and... (full context)
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Haltingly, Kanai invites Piya to visit him in New Delhi after her survey ends. Piya finds Kanai's... (full context)
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Kanai nods and says that he can't put his thoughts into words, just like Moyna can't... (full context)
Part 2: A Search
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In the morning, the fog is so thick that Piya nearly trips over Kanai. He's busy writing something for Piya, so Piya makes preparations to spend the day with... (full context)
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On the Megha, Kanai and Horen see no boats until they reach a major channel. There, there's a great... (full context)
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They reach the island by one o’clock in the afternoon and wait. Kanai feels as though the low tide looks especially low, and there are no dolphins in... (full context)
Part 2: Casualties
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...the search after three hours and insists they need to turn back to conserve fuel. Kanai asks Horen what will happen when the cyclone hits and asks about the cyclone Horen... (full context)
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...littered with human and animal corpses. Finally, they snuck back to India. As Horen and Kanai reenter the Garjontola pool, it's clear that Fokir and Piya aren't there. (full context)
Part 2: A Gift
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...the rainbow brought something in their relationship to an end. After dinner, she pulls out Kanai's letter and begins to read. He begins with a question of what it means for... (full context)
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Kanai begins the story at the part where Dhona sacrifices Dukhey to Dokkhin Rai. Dokkhin Rai... (full context)
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...does, and Piya feels as though she's surrounded by Fokir's voice and the meaning that Kanai gave it. She turns over the final page, where Kanai left a Rilke quote about... (full context)
Part 2: Fresh Water and Salt
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Kanai barely sleeps again that night. Early in the morning, he gets up and finds that... (full context)
Part 2: Horizons
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...can only wait for thirty minutes more or they won't make it back to Lusibari. Kanai protests, but Horen says they'll go down with bhotbhoti if they stay. He motions to... (full context)
Part 2: Losses
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Kanai notices that the water almost glows as they approach Lusibari. As they enter the huge... (full context)
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Kanai climbs backwards down the gangplank into the hip-deep water, clutching the notebook to his chest.... (full context)
Part 2: Going Ashore
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Kanai makes it over the embankment and slowly walks towards the island's compound. There, he sees... (full context)
Part 2: The Wave
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Kanai races for the guesthouse and knocks on the door. As soon as Nilima unlatches it,... (full context)
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Nilima is horrified, but composes herself and asks if Kanai read it. Kanai says it was mostly about Morichjhãpi and what Nirmal experienced in the... (full context)
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Kanai hears the tidal surge coming and peeks out the window. He sees people at the... (full context)
Part 2: The Day After
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...day after the storm passes, the Megha is most of the way to Garjontola when Kanai and Horen see Fokir's boat in the distance. The boats slowly approach each other and... (full context)
Home: An Epilogue
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...Moyna's old saris, and the two women looked uncannily alike after Moyna cut her hair. Kanai had tried to talk Piya into going home, but she wouldn't budge. Kanai returned to... (full context)
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...to Fokir. She invites Piya to have a cup of tea, and Piya asks about Kanai. Nilima explains that Kanai is restructuring his business so he can take time off. He... (full context)