The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Summary and Analysis of Chapters 49-52: An Interruption through A Killing


That afternoon, Kanai tries to discuss Nirmal’s notebook with Horen, but Horen isn’t very interested. Soon, the Megha’s engine dies, and Kanai tells Piya that they’ll have to stop at a nearby village to have it fixed, then return to their route the next morning. In the village, a relative of Horen’s and a mechanic work on the engine. Later, in the evening, Piya and Kanai hear an animal in pain, but don’t recognize what exactly the sound is. Horen explains that his relative’s water buffalo is giving birth. Piya goes to bed early, and Kanai returns to reading Nirmal’s notebook.

In his notebook, Nirmal returns from Morichjhãpi, under the weather and moved by Kusum’s words. Over the next few days, he reads Rilke and has strange visions. Though Nilima is angry with Horen, she’s surprisingly gentler with Nirmal, but does ask if he’s in a relationship with Kusum, which he denies. She then asks Nirmal to bring Kusum to Lusibari to work for the Trust, but Nirmal is afraid that he can’t do anything effective for the trust, while he knows he can make a difference on Morichjhãpi.

When Nirmal begins to feel better, he overhears Nilima talking with the doctor. The two discuss Morichjhãpi and decide to sedate Nirmal and not tell him about the upcoming attack on Morichjhãpi. In response, Nirmal sneaks out in search of Horen, who explains that the government has brought criminals to attack Morichjhãpi. The two men decide to travel to Morichjhãpi that night, and they manage to avoid police boats on the way. They find Kusum again, but she refuses to leave Morichjhãpi, though she does let them take Fokir. Horen decides to leave the next day with Fokir, but Nirmal insists that he will stay. The next day, he writes in the notebook and says that he hopes Kanai will know what to do with it. Kanai is stunned as he finishes the notebook. He approaches Horen, who says that he doesn’t know for sure what happened after he left, but he’s heard that the criminals hired by the government burned the settlers’ homes and that Kusum may have been raped and thrown into the river. Nirmal was sent to central India, but left in Canning instead. Kanai asks why Nirmal was so fascinated by Morichjhãpi. Horen theorizes that Nirmal was a bit mad, dismissing the possibility that he was in love with Kusum.

Piya wakes up late at night and finds Kanai reading. She asks him about the notebook, and Kanai explains that part of it concerns Fokir and Kusum, who he thinks Nirmal was in love with. He also explains that Nirmal was a radical Marxist and that Nilima thought he was so dedicated to the plight of the settlers because he was wedded to the idea of revolution. He also emphasizes the influence that Rilke’s poetry had on Nirmal. He explains historical materialism, using the example of the history of Canning as an example. Lord Canning had wanted to create a new port city on the Matla river, ignoring that Matla means “mad” in Bengali. A shipping inspector, Henry Piddington, desperately wrote to officials to urge them that a city in such a location would be too vulnerable to extreme weather, but no one listened. In five years, however, the city was flattened by a storm. He compares Canning to a post office on Sunday—nice in theory, but worthless in reality.

Kanai wakes up in the middle of the night, hearing voices, and discovers Horen and Nogen on the deck of the ship. On the shore, there are flames. Horen, Kanai, Piya, and Fokir go ashore to investigate. The voices sound angrier as they approach, and Kanai suggests not going further. When they reach the shore, Horen spots tiger footprints going towards the village and tracks the footprints to the top of the embankment, where people are stabbing into a mud structure with sharp bamboo poles. Horen says that a tiger may have heard the water buffalo giving birth and had crashed through the roof of the structure. He adds that the tiger has already killed two people in the village, and it being trapped presents a unique opportunity to attack it. Piya is horrified and wants to intervene to protect the tiger and heads into the crowd, even as Kanai and Horen try to explain the destruction the tiger has caused. She grabs a spear from a man and breaks it in half, and he yells at her. Then, Fokir drags her out of the crowd just as people are starting to throw torches onto the structure. Through Kanai’s interpretation, Fokir tells Piya that tigers only go into settlements when they want to die, which makes Piya feel betrayed.


The engine dying and the significant detour required to fix it is a reminder of the illusory and temporary nature of the power that humans are able to use to take advantage of the natural world. Though they’ve managed to control nature to some extent, they’re ultimately still at mercy to its whims. Piya’s sympathy for the tiger shows that her instinct is to preserve nature even when people suffer as a result—after all, the tiger has already killed two people, and as Nilima pointed out to Kanai earlier, nothing is being done to stop these attacks. Though Fokir is portrayed as being connected to nature, his decision to join the people attacking the tiger shows that he has a more thorough understanding of the human costs that conservation can have.

Though Nirmal’s notebook humanizes Kusum, she is ultimately one of many relatively faceless and unknown individuals killed in the massacre, familiar to only a few people. As dedicated as Kusum and Nirmal were to their principles, they were unable to prevent this massacre, and ultimately couldn’t protect the refugees. The massacre thus demonstrates the power of the government and the limits of written language to give voice to people—though Nirmal gives Kusum a legacy, the refugees themselves are largely invisible. Furthermore, the massacre is another instance of impoverished people being sacrificed to preserve nature.

The English people’s choice to ignore the meaning of the name of the Matla river shows the consequences of not considering the power and implications of language, as well as the danger of creating a hierarchy of language in which English is prioritized over local languages and the knowledge that comes with them.