The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide

by

Amitav Ghosh

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Kusum Character Analysis

Kusum was the person who brought the Morichjhãpi conflict to life for Nirmal. Though nobody knows exactly what happened, she died during the conflict in 1979 and never appears directly in the novel; Nirmal only writes about her in his notebook and other characters talk about her. As a young teen in 1970, Kusum was put in the care of the Lusibari Women's Union after Kusum's father was killed by a tiger and Kusum's mother was sold into sexual slavery. At the Union, Kusum met ten-year-old Kanai, and the two developed a close friendship. Right before Kanai returned to Calcutta, Horen took Kusum away for her safety. The reader later learns that Horen took her to a train station so she could find her mother. Horen describes Kusum as entirely independent, with no need for male protection at this point. She finds her mother working in a brothel and also meets Rajen, whom she marries and later has Fokir with. After Rajen's death, Kusum learns about the refugee march to Morichjhãpi in the Sundarbans and joins them, where she reconnects with Horen and Nirmal. Kusum believes fully in the settlement project on Morichjhãpi, and believes the people who support evicting the refugees in favor of the animals on the island are inhumane. She crystallizes many of Nirmal's radical ideas and though Nirmal never admits it himself, Horen later shares that Nirmal was in love with Kusum. In Nirmal's eyes, he saw her as a symbol of revolution. Though Kusum refused to leave the island, she did send Fokir away with Horen. Kusum is the one who impresses upon Fokir the importance of the Irrawaddy river dolphins, as she believes they're messengers of Bon Bibi, the local goddess.

Kusum Quotes in The Hungry Tide

The The Hungry Tide quotes below are all either spoken by Kusum or refer to Kusum. 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:
Language Theme Icon
). 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: Dreams Quotes

I felt something change within me: how astonishing it was that I, an aging, bookish schoolmaster, should live to see this, an experiment, imagined not by those with learning and power, but by those without!

Related Characters: Nirmal Bose (speaker), Kusum
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: A Feast Quotes

I was tempted to tell him what I thought of him, but it struck me with great force that I had no business to be self-righteous about these matters. Nilima—she had achieved a great deal. What had I done? What was the work of my life? I tried to find an answer but none would come to mind.

Related Characters: Nirmal Bose (speaker), Nilima Bose, Kusum
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Habits Quotes

"Nirmal, you have no idea of what it takes to do anything practical," she said. "You live in a dream world—a haze of poetry and fuzzy ideas about revolution. To build something is not the same as dreaming it. Building is always a matter of well-chosen compromises."

Related Characters: Nilima Bose (speaker), Nirmal Bose, Kusum
Related Symbols: Cyclone Shelter
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

The sight was almost unbearable for me at the moment; I felt myself torn between my wife and the woman who had become the muse I'd never had; between the quiet persistence of everyday change and the heady excitement of revolution—between prose and poetry.

Most haunting of all, was I overreaching myself even in conceiving of these confusions? What had I ever done to earn the right to address such questions?

Related Characters: Nirmal Bose (speaker), Nilima Bose, Kusum
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Transformation Quotes

I realized with a sense of shock that this chimerical line was, to her and to Horen, as real as a barbed-wire fence might be to me.

Related Characters: Nirmal Bose (speaker), Fokir, Kusum, Horen Naskor, Bon Bibi, Dokkhin Rai, Shah Jongoli
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Crimes Quotes

"Who are these people, I wondered, who love animals so much that they are willing to kill us for them […] it seemed to me that this whole world had become a place of animals, and our fault, our crime, was that we were human beings, trying to live as human beings always have, from the water and the soil."

Related Characters: Kusum (speaker), Nirmal Bose
Related Symbols: Tigers
Page Number: 216-17
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:
Get the entire The Hungry Tide LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Hungry Tide PDF

Kusum Character Timeline in The Hungry Tide

The timeline below shows where the character Kusum appears in The Hungry Tide. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Canning
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Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...a fisherman with three children, though he wasn't yet twenty. He was also caring for Kusum, a teenage girl. Kanai didn't understand Nilima's euphemisms as she explained that Kusum may have... (full context)
Part 1: The Trust
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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 killed long ago. She declines to... (full context)
Part 1: The Letter
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The Human Cost of Environmental Conservation Theme Icon
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...writing utensils, and his copies of Rilke's Duino Elegies. He's in a small hut that Kusum owns. Nirmal wonders if the beauty of this place makes up for the horrors Kusum... (full context)
Part 1: Kusum
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...of the bungalow several times per week, and it was there that Kanai first met Kusum. One night, while eavesdropping on the meeting from the study, he listened to a woman... (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... (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. This left Kusum's... (full context)
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Idealism and Theory vs. Practicality and Action Theme Icon
Kanai and Kusum soon became friends. Kusum showed him around, and they told each other stories of their... (full context)
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Kanai and Kusum sat together to watch the performance. The story began in Arabia, where the Muslim man... (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. He tried to reach for her hand on the ground, but... (full context)
Part 1: Morichjhãpi
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Kanai asks if Kusum had anything to do with Nirmal's obsession with Morichjhãpi, noticing that Nilima flinches. Nilima isn't... (full context)
Part 1: Moyna
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...the hospital. It took Nilima years to realize that Moyna was the wife of Fokir, Kusum's son. Nilima was thrilled to learn that Fokir survived the massacre. She explains that Moyna... (full context)
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As Kanai and Moyna walk, Kanai mentions that he knew Kusum. When Kanai mentions Fokir, Moyna's face falls. Kanai admires the scale of the hospital and... (full context)
Part 1: Travels
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Idealism and Theory vs. Practicality and Action Theme Icon
...begins to read. Nirmal explains that Kanai was one of the last people to see Kusum in 1970; she disappeared without a trace. As Nirmal's retirement approaches, he begins to think... (full context)
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...addresses Kanai directly again to explain that he's sitting with young Fokir, while Horen and Kusum are out trying to discover if Morichjhãpi will actually be attacked. (full context)
Part 1: Blown Ashore
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...young woman opens the door and recognizes Nirmal, though she has to explain that she's Kusum before he recognizes her. Nirmal calls Horen inside and they make small talk about her... (full context)
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Kusum's mother was in a town called Dhanbad, so Kusum boarded a train and went there.... (full context)
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When Kusum and Rajen went back, Rajen suggested that he and Kusum marry so that they could... (full context)
Part 1: Dreams
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Back in Nirmal's notebook, Horen and Nirmal decide to stay the night in Kusum's hut. Late at night, Kusum wakes Nirmal from a feverish dream. In the morning, Nirmal... (full context)
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...Morichjhãpi, which doesn't interest the leader at first. Finally, he agrees. Nirmal returns to tell Kusum the news. She's perplexed and asks what Nirmal intends to teach the illiterate children who... (full context)
Part 2: Storms
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Nirmal's writing picks up after his retirement. One day, Horen brings Kusum to Lusibari to speak with Nilima and ask for help. Nirmal says it won't do... (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 nothing they can do—the settlers are squatters on government property. Nirmal... (full context)
Idealism and Theory vs. Practicality and Action Theme Icon
...a bad thing for the tide country to disappear, but then thinks of Morichjhãpi and Kusum's tale. He wonders what he could write that might do justice to the settlers’ hopes... (full context)
Part 2: A Sunset
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...says he's not like that on the water. She asks Kanai to tell her about Kusum and is shocked to hear that she died in a conflict with police. Kanai briefly... (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, where there's a shrine to Bon Bibi. Nirmal had been careful throughout his... (full context)
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...clay figurines of Bon Bibi and Shah Jongoli. As they cross a mohona, Horen and Kusum act as though they're entering a temple. Kusum explains that they crossed over the dividing... (full context)
Part 2: Destiny
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...called Garjontola—he wants to know if it comes from the Bengali word for "roar," garjon. Kusum explains that long ago, Kusum's father was caught in a storm. He tied himself to... (full context)
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...sound like someone blowing their nose. Fokir points to dolphin backs in the water, and Kusum smiles and says she calls them "Bon Bibi's messengers." One looks right at Nirmal, and... (full context)
Part 2: Memory
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...shocked to see young Fokir jump out to push the boat to shore. With pride, Kusum says that the river is in Fokir's veins. Nirmal feels uncomfortably like an outsider. (full context)
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Nirmal follows Horen, Kusum, and Fokir to the shrine, knowing he'd be the first one dead if a tiger... (full context)
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...says that Horen wants to leave with Fokir, but Nirmal wants to write more first. Kusum invites Horen down to his boat. (full context)
Part 2: Besieged
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...government plans to take action against Morichjhãpi. Nirmal wonders if he can pass information to Kusum. Soon, the government announces that nobody may go in or out of Morichjhãpi. Rumors of... (full context)
The Human Cost of Environmental Conservation Theme Icon
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...the schoolmasters try to pull people onto their bhotbhoti, and one man tells Nirmal that Kusum and Fokir weren't on the boat. When the police tell the schoolmasters to leave, they... (full context)
Part 2: Crimes
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...Horen head for the island. They expect to find celebrating settlers but instead, they find Kusum looking malnourished and weak. She explains that she came down with dysentery, though Fokir managed... (full context)
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Kusum refuses the food that Nirmal brought, insisting that it needs to be divided up among... (full context)
Part 2: Alive
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Nirmal comes home sick from Morichjhãpi, struck by Kusum's insight. He spends days experiencing visions and reading Rilke. Nilima is angry with Horen, but... (full context)
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When Horen and Nirmal find Kusum, they find her happy and entirely unwilling to leave the island. She agrees to let... (full context)
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...happened next is just rumors: the gangsters burned dwellings, sank boats, and did unimaginable things. Kusum was possibly taken away with a group of women, raped, and then thrown into the... (full context)
Part 2: A Post Office on Sunday
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...the notebook, inspecting the tiny Bengali writing. Kanai explains that it's partially about Fokir and Kusum, whom he believes Nirmal was in love with—though he'd never admit it. Kanai explains that... (full context)
Part 2: Mr. Sloane
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...he knows the dolphins so well. Kanai translates that he heard about the dolphins in Kusum's stories, where they figured as Bon Bibi's messengers. Fokir came to Garjontola for the first... (full context)
Part 2: Signs
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The Human Cost of Environmental Conservation Theme Icon
...try to talk to him. He asks if Fokir remembers Nirmal and if he remembers Kusum. Fokir doesn't remember Nirmal, but says he sees his mother's face everywhere. Kanai understands that... (full context)
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...and suggests they go take a closer look. Kanai reluctantly agrees, and Fokir explains that Kusum always told him that Garjontola is a place to learn to not be afraid. He... (full context)
Part 2: Fresh Water and Salt
The Human Cost of Environmental Conservation Theme Icon
...in love. Horen says that Nirmal was the same way—he was absolutely in love with Kusum but wouldn't admit it. (full context)
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Horen says he's five or six years older than Kusum. He comforted her when Kusum's father was killed, and he tried his best to protect... (full context)