The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide

by

Amitav Ghosh

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Hungry Tide can help.

The Hungry Tide: Part 1: The Tide Country Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Immediately upon stepping onto the train platform, Kanai spots a young woman (later revealed as Piya) who looks out of place with her dress, haircut, and stance. Kanai thinks he's a connoisseur of women and is intrigued by Piya, especially when she realizes she's a foreigner. He wonders why she's taking a train to Canning, where tourists never go. As he watches her speak, he's gripped with the desire to listen. He's a translator, so this desire is normal for him, and he discovers that she speaks no Bengali. Kanai is also an outsider on the platform, as he looks reasonably affluent.
That fact that Kanai is a translator immediately brings the issue of language to the foreground. Notice how much more power Kanai has on the platform, just because he's able to speak the language and Piya isn't: he can learn a great deal about her, while she's unable to get the information she needs. Meanwhile, Kanai’s belief that he's a "connoisseur of women" suggests that he arrogantly believes he also has power over them.
Themes
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Kanai watches Piya board the train, noting that she seems accustomed to traveling like this. He loses sight of her in the crowd as he finds his seat, which he doesn't find to his liking. He wants to read, and his seat isn't next to a window, so Kanai persuades the man with the window seat to swap seats. Settling in, Kanai pulls out some copied pages of Bengali writing.
Kanai's ability to get the man to move is a further indicator that Kanai doesn't just see himself as powerful; he truly is able to create change (at least on this small scale) because of his affluence and appearance. For Kanai, his power is directly tied to his grasp of language, and specifically the spoken word.
Themes
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Kanai’s reading materials talk about the Sundarbans, an archipelago of islands in the Bay of Bengal. The writer calls the island the "ragged fringe" of India's sari and explains that the islands vary greatly in size, and the waterways that run between them range from tiny creeks to miles-wide rivers. Where multiple rivers meet, it's called a mohona. Salt and fresh water mingle, and the tides create new islands and destroy others overnight. Tigers, snakes, and crocodiles kill dozens every year. "Sundarbans" means "the beautiful forest," though the etymology of the word is questionable. The writer says the area is also known as "tide country," and specifically in Bengali, the country of the ebb tide. The writer ends by quoting a passage from the poet Rilke's Duino Elegies.
It will come to light later that what Kanai is reading here was written by his late uncle Nirmal, a deeply poetic man. This is reinforced by Nirmal's decision to quote Rainer Maria Rilke, an influential German poet. Nirmal quotes Rilke often and by doing so, is able to pull meaning from Rilke's poetry to add meaning and nuance to his own life and writing. This shows that language isn't static; it can function in many ways and have many layers of meaning.
Themes
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