The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-24: Moyna through Garjontola


Kanai returns to Nilima, who looks happier than she had earlier. Kanai realizes that she’s been absorbing herself in her work, the strategy she uses to distract from her grief over Nirmal’s death and her loneliness. Nilima tells Kanai that Moyna will show him around the hospital. She explains that she initially didn’t realize that Moyna was Fokir’s wife, and while she is glad that Fokir survived the massacre that killed his mother Kusum, she doesn’t think Fokir, an illiterate fisherman, is a good match for the ambitious and brilliant Moyna. She suspects that marital troubles could be the reason why Fokir disappears sometimes.

When Moyna arrives, Kanai can tell she’s been crying, likely due to her worries about Fokir and her son. Nilima tells him—in English, so that Moyna can’t understand—to be careful since Moyna is so upset, then says “righty-o,” an outdated expression that surprises Kanai. Since the two don’t regularly communicate in English, he hadn’t realized the dated way in which Nilima speaks the language, since she rarely uses it.

Kanai mentions to Moyna that he knew Kusum, who Moyna never knew. When he mentions Fokir, however, Moyna becomes more distressed. She cheers up as they approach the hospital, however, since she’s very proud of her work there. Kanai is also impressed by the hospital. Despite her pride in her work, Moyna explains that she’s never brought Fokir to the hospital and that he doesn’t like Lusibari, preferring the village they lived in before. In Lusibari, Tutul, their son, goes to school rather than fishing with his father because Moyna fears that being a fisherman will be an obsolete trade by the time Tutul is an adult. Fokir, however, doesn’t understand the need for a formal education. Kanai is impressed with Moyna, and like Nilima, he begins to think it’s unfortunate that she’s married to Fokir, who he thinks can’t keep up with her ambition. He encourages Moyna, telling her that she’ll soon meet her goals, and uses a familiar form of “you,” which is improper, without realizing it before speaking.

As the dolphins begin to disperse around the middle of the day, Piya watches the water from the front of the boat. Fokir and Tutul sit in the back fishing. Piya is initially worried that dolphins could get caught in the fishing lines until she sees how flimsy they are. She wonders how long they’ll stay at their location. Though she was initially eager to return to land, she now wants to observe the dolphins more. She gives Tutul a nutrition bar in hopes of making him and Fokir stay longer, but neither of them say anything about when they will leave.

Anxious, Piya decides to distract herself by mapping the riverbed, wondering if there is an underwater pool where the Orcaella gather. But this process requires taking depth soundings along a grid, and she isn’t sure how to explain this process to Fokir. She wakes up Fokir, who’s napping, and manages to explain what she wants to do using a drawing. Fokir happily agrees, and Piya realizes he wants to fish. She’s confused by the type of fishing line he uses, though, and doesn’t understand how it attracts fish. As they travel across the river, however, Piya realizes the line catches crabs, not fish. She also discovers that she is right about an underwater pool being present. Piya is pleasantly surprised that her job and Fokir’s are so compatible.

Kanai has lunch, then returns to Nirmal’s study, beginning to read the notebook again. Nirmal writes that Kanai saw Kusum just before she disappeared. Because such disappearances were common, no one paid much attention to Kusum’s absence. Nirmal also reflects on his life, which he worries has been wasted. For years, he’s lied to Nilima, telling her that he’s been writing when in reality, he hasn’t written a single word in Lusibari, and he rarely reads as well. Nirmal explains that he was invited to visit a school on Kumirmari, another island, and accepted. He misses the ferry that would have taken him to the island, but gets help from Horen, who takes him to his destination. On the way, Nirmal reads aloud from the book Kanai had bought for him in Kolkata, which contains writings about the tide country by a French Christian priest. The priest recounts seeing a rainbow created by the moon, and Horen says he’s seen the same thing and knows the location where the priest must have been. Nirmal is dismissive, however, saying that it’s impossible to know that since centuries have passed since the book was written. The same thing occurs when the priest recalls meeting Portuguese men making salt—Horen says people still make salt on the way to Kedokhali, where the priest must have been, but Nirmal isn’t interested. Next, the priest writes of seeing glow worms lighting up the mangroves with his party, which they think is the work of the devil, and Horen agrees that it must have been the devil. Lastly, when a storm comes out of nowhere, Horen comments that the priest and his party must have crossed into one of Dokkhin Rai’s islands, further frustrating Nirmal. The two agree to disagree. Nirmal changes the focus of the narrative to the then-present, writing that he is sitting with Fokir as Horen and Kusum try to figure out if Morichjhãpi will really be attacked.

Fokir takes the boat to the shallow water near the shore and Piya studies the shore, noticing bits of brick. She points to them, and Fokir says “Garjontola.” He takes the boat to the shore and jumps into the mud, then lifts Tutul out with him and gestures for Piya to follow. She falls, since the mud is deeper than she’d realized, and Fokir catches her. At first, she’s embarrassed to be so close to Fokir, but Tutul laughs and diffuses the tension.

Together, Fokir, Tutul, and Piya walk out of the mud into the forest, and Fokir and Tutul approach an altar with figures Piya doesn’t recognize on it. Fokir performs a ceremony and chants a refrain that contains a word that sounds like “Allah,” which confuses Piya—the altar reminds her of her Hindu parents, but the words seem to suggest that Fokir is Muslim. All three return to the boat. Fokir draws Piya’s attention to a paw print in the mud, likely from a tiger. Piya is confused—she hadn’t seen the tiger, and Fokir would be less calm if he thought there was one nearby. Piya is distracted by the return of the Orcaella, however.


When Nilima discusses Fokir with Kanai, it’s clear she has very different values from Fokir. Despite making a home for herself in the tide country, Nilima is dedicated to ambition and formal education, and she admires this same dedication in Moyna. Thus, despite having assimilated into the culture of the Sundarbans far better than her husband Nirmal, Nilima arguably still views the world through the values she developed from her metropolitan, higher-class upbringing. Moyna, despite her different background, has similar values, shown in her conflict with Fokir over Tutul’s education.

Nirmal’s contribution of the cyclone shelter to the hospital shows that he did contribute something valuable to the island, despite often being lost in theory. The shelter thus demonstrates that if Nirmal had been more practical or more willing to work with Nilima, he may have been able to be very helpful to the people of the Sundarbans. Had he done so, he may have had fewer regrets than he expresses in the notebook.

Piya’s concern over the fishing lines harming dolphins shows how dedicated she is to nature, a quality that can lead her to disregard the human costs of preserving nature. After all, fishing is Fokir’s livelihood, and he wouldn’t be able to survive without it. Yet in the moment, Piya doesn’t take the importance of fishing for Fokir into consideration despite the help he’s given her. Piya’s concern is also somewhat limited—she cares about preserving the dolphins, but not about the crabs that Fokir is catching.

While Nirmal, like Kanai, sees the myths of the Sundarbans as simply stories, they are very real to Horen. Though the two men share a language, their approaches to the local culture are thus extremely different, demonstrating that language is only one aspect of culture.