Friday, August 14, 2009

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh: A Few Impressions

THE HUNGRY TIDE by Amitav Ghosh is a novel to remember. All along, while reading it, I had this strange feeling that Ghosh was pushing a story little too far, and that too, unnecessarily. Rather, he was trying to stretch a 'story' into the frame of a novel. But once I had finished reading it, my view changed radically. It is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest novels I remember having read. And now I'm sure, it's going to stay with me much longer than most novels do with us, often. In a way, this novel belongs to the ultra-Bengali tradition of a river novel, and in a way. it is our answer to Melville's MOBY DICK, Mark Twain's THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLE BERRY FINN or Hemingway's OLD MAN AND THE SEA. It certainly ranks with some of the best sea-narratives that have ever been created in the world. A reductive reading might tell us that it is a novel about the dolphins, the Sunderbans, ecology et al. It's all this and yet much more than all this. It's one of the most sombre, if not poignant, tributes, ever paid, through a narrative, to the resilient spirit and triumphal march of the 'dispossessed of the earth.' It is the story of the 'dispossessed,' their endless struggle against the hostile forces of nature, and an unjust, manipulative human and social order. It is an anthropological exploration into the myths, legends, customs, life-style and struggles of the anonymous, unsung inhabitants of the Sunderbans. It is a complex narrative that weaves personal memoirs with several strands of local histories, juxtaposes past and present to create a mosaic of human lives which are remarkably memorable and unheroically heroic. Piya and Kanai, Nirmal and Nilima are only fishing nets that help Ghosh trawl vast, sea-like surge of humanity. The real hero of this narrative is the most unheroic figure of them all, the least articulate and the most stoically silent of them all -- who else but -- the inimitable FOKIR.
This novel is strongly recommended to Aravind Adiga and the likes of him, so that they could learn a lesson or two, if not more, into how one could create a sensitve, engaging, compassionate and heart-wrenching narrative about the dispossessed, too. In such matters, one doesn't always have to be gimmicky the way Adiga was in his first novel THE WHITE TIGER.