Piya was so startled that she looked at the picture again, with fresh eyes, wondering what he might be thinking of […] Like an optical illusion, the picture seemed to change shape as she looked at it; she had the feeling that she was looking at it through his eyes.
"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."
"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.
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.
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.
It was not just that he had thought to create a space for her; it was if he had chosen to include her in some simple, practiced family ritual, found a way to let her know that despite the inescapable muteness of their exchanges, she was a person to him and not, as it were, a representative of a species, a faceless, tongueless foreigner.
It shamed them to think that this man—a foreigner, a burra sahib, a rich capitalist—had taken it upon himself to address the issue of rural poverty when they themselves, despite all their radical talk, had scarcely any knowledge of life outside the city.
But for these women the imagining of early widowhood was not a wasted effort: the hazards of life in the tide country were so great; so many perished in their youth, men especially, that almost without exception the fate that they had prepared themselves for did indeed befall them.
How do you lose a word? Does it vanish into your memory like an old toy in a chest, and lie hidden in the cobwebs and dust, waiting to be cleaned out or rediscovered?
"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."
The two of them, Fokir and she, could have been boulders or trees for all they knew of each other, and wasn't it better in a way, more honest, that they could not speak? For if you compared it to the ways in which dolphins' echoes mirrored the world, speech was only a bag of tricks that fooled you into believing you could see through the eyes of another being.
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!
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.
"My friend, not only could it happen again—it will happen again. A storm will come, the waters will rise, and the bãdh will succumb, in part or in whole. It is only a matter of time."
"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."
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?
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.
"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."
"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."
"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."
[…] 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.
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?
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.
"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.'"