What do you do when you finish reading a good novel? You know it’s over and you can no longer remain drenched in its satiating outpour and yet you are left thirsting for more. That is exactly the feeling Amitava Ghosh’s “The Hungry Tide” left me with. Yes for those of you who are dropping jaws at my late rising. I finally ended up reading the book. I have probably realized the true meaning of the adage “Better late than never” now.
The mesmerizing strength of his prose, the seductive literature he uses and his account of human interaction with the forces of nature amazingly expressed in words has left me awestruck.
Yet once again it raises several questions in my mind. Are we just readers of a passive prose? Is literature created to be read, admired and forgotten or does it demand more from us?
The author’s account of the tide country – the Sundarbans have made me look at it with a new perspective altogether. It is no longer a mere tourist destination, infested with mosquitoes where we can hire a motorboat to watch (or at least try to watch) the Bengal tigers or at least their pug marks. To me that was what it was before I turned the covers of Ghosh’s book. Not any more.
Now, the land of the mangroves is life (or should I say death )in all its entirety.. It is a place where humans subsist with nature in its fiercest forms. We have all been enamored by the stories of the Sundarbans and its Royal Bengal tigers. Have we really paused to think of the people who live with these tigers day in and day out. Have we wondered at the immense risk they subject their meager lives to. They are the real heroes who despite knowing the dangers that lurk within the mangrove vegetation, brave it all just to feed themselves and their families. Have we honored them with bravery awards for just being alive?
We all cry out for the preservation of the tiger. It is true we do need it for our future generations. However have we ever cried out for preserving the human lives who live with these adversities? In the novel, Kusum one of the characters, who is a refugee and settles in Marichjhanpi, a disputed island which was later massacred raises a potent question. While discussing their future with an acquaintance she questions as to who are these people who are concerned about preserving the wildlife and the flora of this place and not bothered about human beings? Who are these people denying the basic need of every human- the right to live? A group of living breathing humans is being denied their fundamental right to food, water and shelter and all the authorities are crying hoarse about is how the reserve is being affected? Is that what the value for human life has been reduced to?
As I turned the last pages of the account, I questioned myself what next? The book is riveting no doubt. Ghosh’s excellent characterization of the people and the places seen through the eyes of two urban individuals makes it more contextual. It has therefore succeeded in achieving its objectives. It has triggered thought processes. At least it has for me. As I write this account, I continue to wonder whether we have a responsibility? The answer probably is – Yes we do.
To begin with we can start valuing our lives a wee bit more. We can thank the almighty for giving us a warm bed and a sturdy roof to weather the storm that is raging outside. We can thank our parents for giving us this life where our existence is not questioned or threatened. We can thank ourselves for not to cutting it short and living it through for very few people get the opportunity to do so.
Amitava Ghosh I wish to thank you for this wonderful experience. Your Hungry Tide has truly left me hungry for more. Not just in words but in life itself.
Friends, send me your comments on the book, your thoughts and on my thoughts as well.