The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-8: Lusibari through Snell’s Window


Kanai and Nilima arrive in Lusibari, which is about a mile and a quarter long. It is clear that the residents of Lusibari have had to work to create a livable space in such a watery area; some buildings are on stilts, while an embankment protects from the high tide. Kanai goes to Nilima’s house and recalls his visit as a child. He remembers being offended as a child when Nirmal thought he didn’t know what a bathtub was, further underscoring Kanai’s pride in his more metropolitan and Westernized lifestyle.

As Piya surveys the water from Mej-da’s boat, she sees a fishing boat after hours without seeing much of interest. Piya is confused by the lack of dolphins, since she knows the area contained many of them, at least at one point. But Piya is happy to see a fisherman, since she thinks he may be able to ask him for advice, especially since she can see he looks old and very experienced. She attempts to tell Mej-da to stop the boat and move towards the fisherman. As they travel towards the fishing boat, Piya realizes that the man is not alone—there is a young boy with him as well. To Piya’s surprise, the man and boy seem afraid and attempt to escape on the boat, which confuses her. She thinks that they may be in an area off-limits to fishermen, and is shocked when the guard raises his rifle. The guard calls the fisherman a poacher, though Piya is sure he is just fishing, which confirms her suspicion that the area is off-limits. When they reach the fishing boat, Piya realizes that the fisherman she thought was elderly is actually only in his twenties or so. She’s oddly touched when he wraps his sarong around his body, surprised to see a woman. She shows him the drawings of the dolphins, and she’s surprised when he points to the rarer of the two species, the Irrawaddy dolphin, and holds up six fingers. Piya looks up and sees that the guard has come onto the fishing boat and is taking money from the boy. After the guard returns to their own boat, Piya tries to give the fisherman some of her own money, standing on a chair to reach the top of the boat, but when she cries out to get the fisherman’s attention, the guard notices what she is doing and crashes into the chair, inadvertently throwing her into the water.

The narrative returns to when Kanai visited Lusibari as a child. Nirmal tells Kanai that just as people see mirages in deserts, they often do in the Sundarbans as well. He says this happened to Sir Daniel Hamilton, an educated Scottish man who sought his fortune in India. After becoming rich, Sir Daniel became obsessed with the tide country and bought 10,000 acres of land there. Nirmal explains that Sir Daniel gave free land to anyone who would come to the tide country to work and attempted to abolish the caste system, attracting thousands of migrants. Sir Daniel also rewarded those who killed the deadly snakes, crocodiles, and tigers of the area. Nirmal tells Kanai that Sir Daniel already had money, but was interested in forming a new society based on cooperatives and was in communication with many of India’s revolutionaries. He also explains that Sir Daniel planned to bring electricity and other infrastructure to the area, but died before this could happen. Kanai is puzzled by the purpose of Sir Daniel’s plan to create a community without exploitation, and Nirmal is taken aback by his cynicism, considering his young age.

As Piya struggles in the muddy water, she tries to orient herself but panics as she feels mud in her nose and mouth and runs into a crocodile’s snout. She is finally saved by the fisherman, who has swam out from the boat to save her. She goes still so he can carry her back to the fishing boat. The fisherman sucks the muddy water out of Piya’s mouth. Piya then sees the guard and the boat’s owner on their own boat, who are beckoning at her to return since it’s getting dark. She has become even more frustrated with them, however, so she instead tries to ask the fisherman if he knows where Lusibari is, and he nods. Piya asks the guard for her backpacks, and he reluctantly returns them to her, though he takes some of her money. He also keeps her Walkman and makes obscene sexual gestures, but Piya is so relieved to be away from the two men that she closes her eyes and ignores him.


The stilts that the buildings stand on and the importance of the embankment again demonstrate the ways in which the natural environment of the area shapes how people live in it, though they try their best to adapt to nature. Piya spotting the crocodiles also shows how dangerous nature in the Sundarbans can be. But nature isn’t the only thing that Kanai and Piya have to be careful about; Piya’s clashes with Mej-da show that humans can be just as dangerous, even when they’re supposed to be allies.

Though the novel has thus far shown the power of verbal communication, the encounter with the fisherman (soon revealed to be Fokir) shows how important nonverbal communication can be as well. The visual of the guard holding the gun is so impactful that it transcends the language barrier between the two groups to intimidate Fokir. Furthermore, Fokir’s actions towards Piya (wrapping himself in the sarong and pointing upriver to the dolphins) convey his benevolence and kindness towards her, though they don’t speak the same language. Piya’s offering of money is a way for her to demonstrate that this respect and benevolence is mutual.

Nirmal’s story of Sir Daniel seeing mirages emphasizes the power of the natural world, which can even alter one’s perception of reality. The fact that Nirmal chooses Sir Daniel’s story to tell makes sense, as his experiment is vaguely communist, and Nirmal’s Marxist sympathies later become evident. Though Sir Daniel is an outsider to the tide country (and the whole country of India, for that matter), he is able to achieve a rare level of equality there. This may be in part because of advantages he had as a white man in colonial times. Nirmal’s admiration of Sir Daniel is wounded by Kanai’s cynicism, which reflects the difference in the two’s ideals and also underscores Kanai’s lack of respect for the tide country.