The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Summary and Analysis of Chapters 41-44: Destiny through Intermediaries


In his writing, Nirmal asks why the island they’re going to is called Garjontola, wondering if the name comes from the Bengali word garjon, meaning "roar." Kusum explains that her father was in a storm and tied himself to a tree with a scarf on the island, then heard a tiger’s roar after the storm passed. He dreamed of Bon Bibi promising to protect him if he is good at heart, so he later returned to construct the shrine. Nirmal is baffled by Kusum’s belief in such a fantastical story. Suddenly, Nirmal hears a sound, and Fokir points to dolphins in the water, who Kusum calls Bon Bibi’s messengers. One of the dolphins looks directly at Nirmal, and he feels as if Rilke himself is looking at him.

The next morning, Kanai and Horen meet, and Horen looks just as Kanai remembers, though older. Horen introduces his grandson, Nogen, who is coming with them, then leads Piya to the boat, called the Megha. Horen explains how reliable the boat is, but Piya is unsure how well it will perform at tracking dolphins through narrow creeks. Horen says that they’ll bring Fokir’s boat, too, and they agree on payment and prepare to leave. Kanai tells Nilima that he’s going away with Piya, promising to keep Nirmal’s notebook safe. Nilima is startled and tells him that the jungle is very dangerous, and that around a hundred people are killed by tigers a year there, though the government won’t admit that there’s a problem. Kanai reads that between 1860 and 1866, over 4,000 people were killed by tigers, but Nilima can’t explain why. Though she suspects the tigers in the tide country may be more aggressive than those in the rest of India, they haven’t come up with a way to stop the attacks. Furthermore, since tigers can swim, they regularly attack boats as well. When Nilima realizes that Kanai wants to go because he’s romantically interested in Piya, she calls him a predator worse than a tiger and shows him out, telling him to be careful.

In the notebook, Horen asks Nirmal if he’s afraid as they approach the shore. Nirmal isn’t, but he can tell that Horen is, and Horen mumbles words meant to protect them from tigers. Though Nirmal might have been amused under normal circumstances, he’s begun to be afraid as well, and he feels comforted by Horen’s mantras. Horen and Fokir push the boat to shore, and Kusum proudly says that the river is in Fokir’s blood. Next, Nirmal follows Horen, Kusum, and Fokir to the shrine, where they place the figures. Nirmal is surprised to hear Horen recite words in Bengali that seem to be influenced by Persian and Arabic, a synthesis of Hinduism and Islam. These words tell Dukhey’s story of being rescued by Bon Bibi. Back in the boat, Horen explains that though he knows the words by heart, there’s also a book with them written in it. Nirmal examines this book, which opens like an Arabic book and is written in an unusual combination of poetry and prose. Nirmal guesses it was written in the nineteenth century, when Bengali and Arabic influences were prominent. He gives the book to Fokir and asks Fokir to read it out loud so he can copy down passages. Fokir does, but then Nirmal remembers he can’t read and is confused. Kusum explains that Fokir has already memorized the recitation. Horen and Fokir plan to leave for Fokir’s protection, and Kusum and Nirmal remain.

Piya finishes getting ready for the trip, then goes downstairs. Nilima welcomes her in Bengali, but then apologizes, remembering that despite her Bengali heritage, Piya doesn’t speak the language. Piya explains that her father was descended from Bengalis who had immigrated to India from Burma/Myanmar, and that it was important for him not to remain too focused on his homeland, as he felt his ancestors had made that mistake. She explains how her parents fought in Bengali, and Nilima comments on how sad their marriage sounds. Nilima is reminded of Kanai staying with her and Nirmal and says he played a similar role as an intermediary in their marriage, just as Piya did with her parents. She says that Kanai is selfish and too focused on his own life rather than others, and warns Piya that he likes women too much.


The fact that the frequency of deadly tiger attacks hasn’t warranted an official government response shows how neglected the people of the Sundarbans are due to their poverty. Even the records of the attacks are created by Nilima of her own volition, rather than a government agency. People like Nilima, who voluntarily help others, are required to protect the island’s people.

Nirmal feeling comforted by Horen’s mantras again shows the evolution of his views towards local religion. Though he once scoffed at these beliefs, he’s come to appreciate them, at the very least for the value they hold for others. Furthermore, Horen’s recitation shows how cosmopolitan the culture of the Sundarbans is, drawing on influences from several languages as well as local legends.

Meanwhile, young Fokir’s behavior shows how connected he’s been to the water from a very early age. The recitation he can already perform is another way for him to feel power over the natural world through the story of Bon Bibi, which he believes will protect him in times of danger.

Nilima’s comment on how much Kanai’s visit meant to Nirmal helps illuminate the reason why Nirmal left the notebook to Kanai, who only visited him once. Nirmal may have seen Kanai as a fellow lover of language, especially poetry.