The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Summary and Analysis of Chapter 37-40: Habits through A Pilgrimage


Kanai continues reading Nirmal’s journal. Nilima was upset by Kusum’s visit and, as Nirmal expected, she is convinced that there’s nothing that they can do to help the settlers. Nirmal argues that Sir Daniel did almost the exact same thing, squatting on what is legally government property, and he sees the settlers’ dreams as just as noble. But Nilima is afraid that the settlers remaining will set a precedent of everyone being allowed to take land, destroying the forest, and that she doesn’t want to fight with the government. She accuses Nirmal of living in his imagination and not understanding that compromise can be necessary in order to build real change. She points out that she came to Lusibari for Nirmal and made the best of a situation she did not choose, and asks him to cease his involvement with the settlers, especially because it could put her work with the Trust in danger. Nirmal sees her point and tries to forget about the settlers. When Nilima goes away to New Delhi, Nirmal considers writing a book about the tide country but instead spends days looking outside, realizing that the amount of wildlife has decreased over the years. He thinks that the tide country will disappear soon, and that this might not be entirely bad, but is reminded of the settlers and their dreams. He’s torn between Nilima and Kusum and the settlers.

The sun begins to set, and Piya goes up to the study to find Kanai. They watch the sunset together, and Kanai points out prominent areas in Lusibari. Piya says that the meeting in the morning went well, and tells Kanai that Fokir isn’t typically sullen when out on the water, which surprises him. She then asks Kanai to tell her more about Kusum, and Kanai explains that she died in a massacre, which shocks Piya. Kanai summarizes the settlers’ conflict and tells Piya that Horen brought up Fokir. Piya points out that like Fokir, she grew up without a mother, since hers died of cancer when she was twelve and was depressed before then. She’s surprised by the sympathy Kanai feels for her when he has little for Fokir, and Kanai explains that he’s instead sympathetic to Moyna. Piya jokes about Kanai being in love with Moyna, but he says he’d rather have someone like Piya for a partner, and they flirt awkwardly until Fokir interrupts from downstairs, telling Piya through Kanai’s interpretation that Horen will bring a boat tomorrow and they can leave the day after. Piya rushes away to pack, and Kanai returns to Nirmal’s notebook.

In the middle of January, Horen invites Nirmal to go to Garjontola with him and Kusum to see a shrine to Bon Bibi. Though Nirmal had not wanted to associate himself with religion due to his professional reputation, he feels that doing so is all right now that he’s retired. He and Horen leave for Morichjhãpi, and Nirmal is surprised by how tense the island is. Kusum explains that the government has been threatening the island, making everyone afraid. The group goes into Horen’s boat, bringing figurines of Bon Bibi and Shah Jongoli. On the way, Kusum marks the point when she believes that they’ve crossed over the line between Bon Bibi and Dokkhin Rai’s realms, and Nirmal is surprised by how much she and Horen believe in this myth. Nirmal ponders the many different ways people think of the land depending on their background or interests—for example, he thinks of the jungle as static when the reality of it is very different. He also notes, deviating from the narrative, that the attack by the government will occur the next day.

Moyna brings Piya a plain dinner, having realized that she doesn’t like most of the local food, and Piya is touched. Kanai asks about dolphins, and Piya explains that the first river dolphins were discovered in Kolkata. The man who found the Gangetic dolphin initially thought it was a new species of pilot whale, but twenty-five years later, when a skeleton was sent to the British Museum, scientists discovered that it was actually a relative of the orca, or killer whale, and called it Orcaella brevirostris. Kanai begins to feel more attached to Piya and asks if he can accompany her on her trip as a translator. Though Piya isn’t convinced that it’s a good idea, she agrees.


Nirmal has a valid point in bringing up Sir Daniel, but he does ignore the advantages Sir Daniel likely had as a white and wealthy man in colonial India, far different circumstances than those of the impoverished refugees. Nilima’s fear that the forest will be destroyed aligns her with Piya, who has demonstrated a care for nature that arguably ignores the human cost of conservation.

Though Kanai has behaved condescendingly towards Fokir, his emphasis on Fokir’s sullen demeanor shows that Fokir’s attitude has also negatively affected their relationship. Though Fokir has not verbally disrespected Kanai, nonverbal aspects of communication have thus increased the tension between them.

Nirmal’s shock that Kusum and Horen truly believe in the local religion shows that he has risked seeing himself and his friends as superior to believers. Because of the academic distance he’s kept from religion, he lacks an understanding of how important it is to the people of the Sundarbans. Yet the fact that he maintains his respect for Kusum and Horen rather than getting aggravated as he did before shows that he has grown and his views towards religion have evolved.

Kanai’s tenderness towards Piya and his desire to accompany her demonstrates that he feels closer to her after she talks about the things she loves. This moment represents a shift for Kanai, who has often been focused on talking about himself.