{I received this book as a gift from Nilanjana 

I am, these days, enjoying a fabulous selection of books, which includes “The Hungry Tide” by Amitav Ghosh, a lovely parting gift from Nilanjana, who is an avid reader. I started reading this book in the flight back home, post a few months of pleasant morning walks by the sea side, innumerable hours filled with a sense of emptiness at the work table, a whole string of earthy-humane-yet depressing evenings filled with many a kind of existential questions and a plenty of precious moments of solitude and introspective conversations by the sea. The book, as declared by Nilanjana, is enthralling and poised to be a pleasant getaway where I can put my turbulent mind at rest.

 

The book jacket summary reads as “Amitav Ghosh has discovered another new territory, summoning a singular, fascinating place, another world, from its history and myth, and bringing it to life. The book also explores another and far more unknowable jungle : the human spirit. It is a novel that asks at every turn : what man can take the true measure of another?

 

I, especially, liked this part of the first chapter, where the author introduces “the tide country” to the reader and felt a compelling need to upload the content, soon after which, I would vanish from the world to submerge under the intense tales of water-bodies. As you read, you can feel the voice rich with the most authentic Indian-ness singing Ode to the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature through string of words, which captured powerfully evocative images of the territory.

 

 

 

 

 

Amitav Ghosh wrote …….In our legends it is said that the goddess Ganga’s descent from the heavens would have split the earth had Lord Shiva not tamed her torrent by tying it into his ash-smeared locks. To hear this story is to see the river in a certain way : as a heavenly braid, for instance, an immense rope of water, unfurling through a wide and thirsty plain. That there is a further twist to the tale becomes apparent only in the final stages of the river’s journey – and this part of the story always comes as a surprise, because it is never told and thus never imagined. It is this : there is a point at which the braid comes undone; where Lord Shiva’s matted hair is washed apart into a vast, knotted tangle. Once past that point the river throws off its bindings and separates into hundreds, maybe thousands, of tangled strands.

 

“Until you behold it for yourself, it is almost impossible to believe that here, interposed between the sea and the plains of Bengal, lies an immense archipelago of islands. But that is what it is : an archipelago, stretching for almost three hundred kilometers, from the Hooghly river in West Bengal to the shores of the Meghna in Bangladesh.

 

“The islands are the trailing threads of India’s fabric, the ragged fringes of her sari, the achol that follows her, half-wetted by the sea. They number in the thousands, these islands; some are immense and some no larger than sandbars; some have lasted through recorded history while others were washed into being just a year or two ago. These islands are the rivers’ restitution, the offerings through which they return to the earth what they have taken from it, but in such a form as to assert their permanent dominion over their gift. The rivers’ channels are spread across the land like a fine-mesh net, creating a terrain where the boundaries between land and water are always mutating, always unpredictable. Some of these channels are mighty waterways, so wide across that one shore is invisible from the other; others are no more than two or three kilometers long and only a few hundred meters across. Yet, each of these channels is a “river” in its own right, each possessed of its own strangely evocative name. When these channels meet, it is often in clusters of four, five or even six: at these confluences, the water stretches to the far edges of the landscape and the forest dwindles into a distant rumor of land, echoing back from the horizon. In the language of the place, such confluence is spoken of as a mohona – a strangely seductive word, wrapped in many layers of beguilement.

 

“There are no borders here to divide fresh water from salt, river from sea. The tides reach as far as three hundred kilometers inland and every day thousands of acres of forest disappear underwater only to re-emerge hours later. The currents are so powerful as to reshape the islands almost daily – some days the water tears away entire promontories and peninsulas; at other times it throws up new shelves and sandbanks where there were none before. When the tides create new land, overnight mangroves begin to gestate, and if the conditions are right they can spread so fast as to cover a new island within a few short years. A mangrove forest is a universe unto itself, utterly unlike other woodlands or jungles. There are no towering, vine-looped trees, no ferns, no wildflowers, no chattering monkeys or cockatoos. Mangrove leaves are tough and leathery, the branches gnarled and the foliage often impassibly dense. Visibility is short and the air is still and fetid. At no moment can human beings have any doubt or the terrain’s utter hostility to their presence, of its cunning and resourcefulness, of its determination to destroy or expel them. Every year dozens of people perish in the embrace of that dense foliage, killed by tigers, snakes and crocodiles.

 

“There is no prettiness here to invite the stranger in: yet, to the world at large this archipelago is known as “the Sundarban”, which means “the beautiful forest”. There are some who believe the word to be derived from the name of a common species of mangrove – the sundari tree, Heriteria minor. But the word’s origin is no easier to account for more than is its present prevalence for in the record books of the Mughal emperors this region is names not in reference to a tree but to a tide – bahti. And to the inhabitants of the islands this land is known as bhatir desh – the tide country – except that bahti is not just the “tide” but one tide in particular, the ebb-tide, the bhata. This is a land half-submerged at high tide: it is only in falling that the water gives birth to the forest…”

 

“we, who have always thought of joy

as rising….feel the emotion

that almost amazes us

when a happy thing fall…”

 

Isn’t it truly a gorgeous chapter? Next time, when you walk into the book store, do spend some time at this book, at the shelf where the books/works by Contemporary Indian writers (such as

 

 

 

 

Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and a few others), whose magnificent works takes us back to our rich Indian cultural identity which does not have space for petty & trivial regional & religion-al quabbles, the sheer beauty of Indian-ness with a modern-worldly attitude. Do skip the junk notes by Shobhaa Dé and her ilk, it’s like Junk food, extremely unhealthy. Now, I go back to the next chapter “The launch” . Thanking Nilanjana    🙂

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