A well-off interpreter and translator who owns his own business, Kanai is a native of New Delhi. As his profession suggests, Kanai deeply values language, using it as a tool to empower himself to navigate the world and to learn about others. He travels to the Sundarbans, which he visited once as a child, to read the notebook his uncle left him after his death. Kanai is confident to the point of arrogance and tends to be self-centered, and initially views the Sundarbans as unimportant and inferior to his urban home. Though he believes that he’s a “connoisseur” of women, Kanai repeatedly tries and fails to win Piya’s affection.
Piyali Roy (Piya)
Piya is a marine biologist who travels to the Sundarbans in India to survey the local river dolphins. Though she was born in Kolkata, Piya grew up in the United States and never learned Bengali, her parents’ native language. Piya is brave and confident, unfazed by the prospect of traveling to a relatively remote area where she does not speak the language. When she meets the fisherman Fokir, she is able to nonverbally communicate with him to the extent that they form a meaningful relationship. Piya is intelligent but unambitious and begins the novel with a deep enthusiasm for animals and nature conservation. Yet as she gets to know Fokir and the novel progresses, she begins to learn about the human cost of conservation.
Fokir is an impoverished fisherman who rescues Piya when she falls into the water. Typically seen with his young son, Tutul, Fokir is kind and welcoming to Piya, eager to help her, and dedicated to his family despite his frequent conflicts with his wife, Moyna. Though other characters often dismiss Fokir as an uneducated fisherman, he’s deeply knowledgeable about the waters of the Sundarbans, as well as nature more broadly, and this allows him to help Piya in significant ways.
Nilima Bose (Mashima)
Nilima is Nirmal’s wife and in some ways his opposite. Though she shares his Marxist ideology, she is willing to compromise with the government to improve the conditions of impoverished people and works hard to found and maintain a hospital in the Sundarbans. Nilima disapproves of Nirmal’s involvement in Morichjhãpi, but despite their many disagreements, she still deeply grieves his death decades later.
Nilima’s late husband, Nirmal is a Marxist intellectual who met Nilima when teaching English in Kolkata. Due to persecution for Nirmal’s politics, the two relocated to the Sundarbans, where Nirmal does practically nothing for decades even as Nilima blossoms in the new environment. Retiring in the late 1970s, he is full of regret, which he attempts to assuage through his involvement in the refugees of Morichjhãpi. Though Nirmal’s ideals are noble, he often risks getting too bogged down in these ideals and ignoring their practical application.
Friends with Kanai when she was a teenager and he was a child, Kusum was also close to Nirmal, who may have had romantic feelings for her. Brave and dedicated to her principles, Kusum is passionate about the plight of the refugees of Morichjhãpi and is killed in the 1979 massacre, though no one is sure exactly what happened.
Horen is a fisherman and a friend of Nilima and Nirmal. The father of three by the age of twenty, he cares for Kusum when she’s in danger, though he also becomes romantically involved with her. Unlike Nirmal, Horen believes in the local religion of the Sundarbans, which often surprises Nirmal.
Moyna is Fokir’s wife, as well as a trainee nurse at the local hospital. Ambitious and dedicated to both her own education and that of her son, Tutul, Moyna gets along well with Nilima but often clashes with her more traditional husband, Fokir.
Sir Daniel Hamilton
A Scottish man who got rich in India, Sir Daniel bought land in the Sundarbans in the early 20th century and tried to create an ideal, equal society. His efforts are admired by Nilima and Nirmal, despite his capitalist beginnings.
The forest guard
Piya is required to be accompanied by the forest guard on her trip to the Sundarbans. Though he initially appears to be simply an inconvenience, he reveals himself to be a predator who harrasses local fishermen and forces Piya to bribe him.
Associated with the forest guard, Mej-da is the first boater Piya hires. Like the forest guard, he is a malicious figure, and he sexually harasses Piya.
Bon Bibi is the benevolent goddess of the Sundarbans and along with her brother, Shah Jongoli, she protects the area from evil and from the vicious natural world. Many believe that Bon Bibi will rescue anyone who is good at heart.
Bon Bibi’s evil counterpart, Dokkhin Rai is a tiger demon who haunts the people of the Sundarbans.
The Hungry Tide Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Hungry Tide is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.