Monday, November 30, 2009

The Hungry Tide

I finished “Hungry Tide” in the morning today.
This is not intended to be an extended book review. I was not underlining passages and never paused to ruminate over the motifs and themes – and simply, I do not have the stature to do so.
In this plethora of so much self-indulgent fare, and I include the Banvilles and Rushdies partly here, it is wonderful to have a writer like Amitava Ghosh. HT reveals the story of the Sunderbans from the eyes of so many stakeholders – a foreign ecologist, the fishermen who know every creek and shallow of it and believe in the miracles of the guardian of the forest Bon Bibi, the idealist revolutionary, the pragmatic wife who builds an institution, the cynical townsman, a community of the displaced, the long-dead Englishmen who came to conquer the tides – and reveals it in songs, poems, massacres, typhoons, history, legends. It is amazing how each of these narratives stands distinct – only an utmost humility and complete detachment of the self from the message could have made this possible. The story gives the bans the immortality it deserves – and the author never aims to bask in it; he’s merely the translator.
Wrapped as I was in the beautiful descriptions – the mohanas literally alive in my imagination – I wondered if the story of the men is not merely a wrapping around the store of the tide country. Of all the characters, Kanai, on whom every alternative chapter in the first quarter of the book is focused, stood as a weak link – his motives, other than those of sexual conquests, nebulous; the man himself half-sketched. In sharp contrast, Piya and Fokir were as flesh and blood as Lusibari itself.
That concern was answered in, from the point of view of the story of these men, the most magnificent chapter when Kanai is briefly left on an island – to be judged by the Bon Bibi. It is one of the most brilliant chapters I have read recently – the sudden juxtaposition of two prominent characters who till now have stood at the opposite ends of personalities, beliefs and motives, drifting in a silent vigil at the ends of a boat, alone. It strangely reminded me of the genius of a climax from “Hazaaron Khwaaishein Aisi” where a city-bred cynic is suddenly pushed into a context where, as the book describes, all words drown and only the primal fear and incomprehension suffuses the man.
This one climax was enough to ensure the book’s greatness but Amitava follows it with another equally brilliant one when Kanai and Piya cling to a tree to ride out nature’s most volatile fury.

Read Hungry Tide. Read it slowly. Savour it. And you’ll fall in love with the tide country – like I did.


Tangled up in blue... said...

You know, I never made up my mind about Amitav Ghosh. First, I read The Glass Palace and cudnt decide if I liked the book or not.

There were moments when I cud see flashes of brilliance, especially in the latter half of the book. But it felt so badly edited.

And anthrax? That part felt like he'd copy-pasted it off of a google link.

You may, of course, have no idea what I'm talking about, but the book really strikes a false note at times.

And then, I read The Shadow Lines and I liked a whole lot more. I love the idea of how people across space and time are linked by tenuous invisible threads.

Well, anyway, I havent read this book. But thank you for giving me a reason to go seek it out.

And I think your blog is very interesting. More spicy than bland.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Ooh and I have an answer to that question, too.

How do you pronounce the 'g' in bologna?

Gee, I dont know.



Bland Spice said...

funny. i also had read only the glass palace and had a similar doubt.

a year back, i read "dancing in cambodia" and then my view changed.

tho' i still feel ghosh is still more of a naturalist/anthropologist than a fiction writer.

Pankaj said...

I love how you describe the final scene of Hazaron Khwaishen....After all these years of having seen it, its the first time ive seen how i felt about it put in words.