The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Part 1: The Glory of Bon Bibi Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In 1970, Kanai learned that Kusum's father died while foraging for firewood in a place off-limits to villagers. This left Kusum's mother in dire poverty, and she accepted an offer of help from a wealthy landowner named Dilip Choudhury. She left Kusum at home and went to Calcutta, and Dilip later told Kusum that her mother was doing housework. At this point, Horen learned the truth: Dilip worked with a gang that trafficked women, and Kusum's mother was probably trapped in a brothel. Knowing that Kusum would be extremely valuable to Dilip, Horen brought Kusum to Lusibari and left her with the Women's Union.
For women in tide country especially, life is hard because they not only have to wage a constant war against nature; they also have to watch out for the men around them. This begins to break down the man versus nature dichotomy that the novel sets up and suggests that though the system certainly holds true, fellow humans can also be threatening.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Kanai and Kusum soon became friends. Kusum showed him around, and they told each other stories of their life. Kanai was shocked once when Kusum asked to go to the city with him, knowing she'd be mistaken for a maid. Kusum introduced Kanai to The Glory of Bon Bibi, and Nirmal encouraged Kanai to go to a local stage performance of the tale.
Kanai's shock when Kusum asks to come to the city suggests that just as Piya is learning to humanize Fokir in the present, Kanai learned to humanize Kusum in the past and even decided to look into the local legends he once found silly (remember he laughed at Horen for believing in a goddess).
Themes
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Idealism and Theory vs. Practicality and Action Theme Icon
Kanai and Kusum sat together to watch the performance. The story began in Arabia, where the Muslim man Ibraham became the father of blessed twins, Bon Bibi and Shah Jongoli. The twins were sent to the Sundarbans to make them fit for human habitation. There, they met Dokkhin Rai, a demon king. Bon Bibi drew a line through the tide country delineating his side from theirs, and humans soon settled in her half. Things were good until a man named Dhona assembled a fleet to go into the jungle to make a fortune. He ended up taking a boy named Dukhey with him. Dukhey's mother instructed him to call on Bon Bibi if he needed help.
It's important to keep in mind that in the tide country, this story is a major guiding force and is thought of as being absolutely real. This shows how stories can mean different things to different people; to Kanai, who doesn't believe in the mythology, the story is nothing more than a fun distraction. For locals, however, the stage performance is a way for them to connect to their history and their way of live in the tide country.
Themes
Language Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
When the fleet reached an island in Dokkhin Rai's territory, they didn't know that the demon was ready for them. Dhona saw strange things and finally, Dokkhin Rai came to him in a dream. He promised riches in exchange for Dukhey. The forest creatures loaded Dhona's boat with honey and wax. Finally, Dhona sent Dukhey to shore and left without him. Dokkhin Rai, disguised as a tiger, stalked the boy, who called out 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.
Bon Bibi is very much a way for people in the tide country to believe that they have some power over the natural world, given how she protects Dukhey from a tiger. This shows that part of life in tide country rests on relying on stories like this, where it is possible to overcome the natural world with the help of local spirits. This is all rooted in a fear of the natural world, however.
Themes
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Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Get the entire The Hungry Tide LitChart as a printable PDF.
The hungry tide.pdf.medium
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 his hand caught in her dress and then touched her genitals on accident. Kusum cried out and ran away, and Kanai waited before pursuing her. When he caught up, Kusum explained that she called for Bon Bibi when Kusum's father died, but she never came. He'd gone out looking for firewood, and the entire village helplessly watched a tiger stalk and kill him across the river. Kanai was gripped with the desire to comfort and defend her, but Horen interrupted them. He explained that Dilip was looking for Kusum and swore Kanai to silence before leading Kusum away.
The fact that Kusum's village was helpless to do anything about the tiger stalking and killing her father reinforces that humans in the Sundarbans live life entirely unable to effectively gain the upper hand against nature. In this situation, even Bon Bibi wasn't enough to help—and given Kusum's emotional reaction here, it's possible she may put less stock in the legend when Bon Bibi was unable to help her. This may make Kusum even less convinced of her ability to live in tide country.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon