The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Summary and Analysis of Chapters 53-56: Interrogations through Signs


The group returns to the Megha as the morning begins, and they leave quickly because Horen fears retaliation from the police in the wake of the tiger’s killing. Later, Kanai finds Piya, who’s been crying. He tells her that they couldn’t have done anything to save the tiger, and Piya says that he was right that she and Fokir are too different, though she understands why he involved himself in the tiger’s killing. Soon, a boat of forest guards approaches the Megha, and Kanai sends Piya to the ship’s cabin, since she doesn’t have a proper permit for being a foreigner. When the guards leave, Kanai tells Piya that they had heard that a foreigner was in the village, and that he had to pay them off because they recognized that Fokir had been with Piya before. He tries to convince her to turn back, but she refuses. By the middle of the day, Piya is still troubled by the tiger’s killing, but she understands that it’s a part of everyday life for Horen and Fokir. She feels that they are part of this “horror,” which Kanai sharply disagrees with, saying that Piya is part of it as well. Kanai argues that the people of the Sundarbans are too poor to attract sympathy and that wildlife protection detrimentally affects their lives. Yet Piya remains convinced that it’s vital to preserve animals and nature and argues that killing them will only lead to killing people, especially the poor and vulnerable. Kanai points out that Piya isn’t the one suffering due to animal conservation, but she insists she would if necessary. Kanai says that saying that is easy, but Piya is offended by the suggestion that her life is easy, given how unstable it is. Kanai apologizes to her.

Late in the afternoon, the group finally reaches Garjontola. Kanai, Piya, and Fokir approach the area in Fokir’s boat. Piya sees the mother dolphin and calf again, which makes her happy, but Kanai doesn’t understand the appeal of the dolphins, which he thinks are boring. Piya explains that she became interested in them while in Cambodia, where she fed and cared for a dolphin stranded in a small reservoir. When she finishes her story, Piya asks Fokir through Kanai how he understands dolphins so well. Fokir explains that he learned about dolphins through Kusum’s stories in which they were the messengers of Bon Bibi, and that he’s been coming to Garjontola ever since Kusum died. In fact, when Piya met Fokir, he was taking Tutul to visit Kusum’s spirit. He says that Kusum’s spirit told him to take Tutul home, then return in order to be together with her again, concerning Piya. He then begins to chant the Bon Bibi story, which Kanai claims he can’t interpret.

The tide rises, and the dolphins begin to leave the area. Fokir rows the group back to the larger ship. Piya and Kanai discuss their past romances, and Piya confesses that since she’s alone so often because of her job, she’s only had one serious relationship in recent years, in Cambodia with a man named Rath who spoke English. They discussed their childhoods and past and told each other intimate secrets, but when Piya left for a conference, Rath stopped communicating with her. When she returned to Cambodia, she found out that he had married another woman and told her secrets to others. Later, she learned from friends that encounters like that were common, and she’s learned to be happy alone. Kanai, however, feels that Piya is a special person and shouldn't have to settle for being alone.

Throughout the night, Kanai has nightmares. In the morning, Piya asks if he can help her watch for the dolphins leaving the pool, and he agrees. Fokir and Kanai observe one entrance, while Piya watches the other. Kanai feels very distant from Fokir even though they’re together, especially since Fokir doesn’t talk much. When Fokir finally sees a dolphin, Kanai tries to talk to him, asking if he remembers Nirmal or Kusum. Fokir says that he doesn’t remember Nirmal, but sees Kusum in his mind everywhere. Kanai then asks Fokir if he’d like to visit a city, using the informal form of address instead of the formal one, which Fokir doesn’t comment on. Fokir says he isn’t interested in cities. As the two row back to the main ship, Kanai sees visions of Fokir going to Seattle on a plane with Piya, which makes him very uncomfortable. As the boat approaches Garjontola, Fokir points to tiger tracks in the mud and suggests that a tiger came near the water to look at them. Kanai thinks this idea is unlikely, but Fokir insists that tigers like to watch people. Kanai is convinced that Fokir is being dramatic and perhaps exaggerating his knowledge of nature, but Fokir shows Kanai the goosebumps on his neck and asks if he can also feel the fear he has. Kanai isn’t afraid, however. The two men decide to take a closer look at the tracks. Fokir says that Kusum had alway told him that Garjontola is a place for fears to be overcome, and then asks Kanai if he’s a “clean man,” telling him that Bon Bibi protects everyone who is good inside, which disturbs Kanai. Fokir gets his machete and goes to enter the mangroves, but Kanai refuses to go with him. Then, Kanai falls into the mud, and is angry when Fokir tries to help him. Fokir returns to the boat, leaving Kanai in the mud, terrified. Kanai tries to get away from the water and collapses in the middle of the mangroves, closing his eyes, then opening them to see a tiger sitting across from him. Slowly, he steps back into the mangroves and then the mud. Piya, Fokir, and Horen carry him into the boat, and he tries to tell them about the tiger, but Horen and Fokir insist that there isn’t one there.


Piya’s feelings that she and Fokir have nothing in common in the wake of the tiger killing illustrate the limitations of the nonverbal communication in their relationship, which has perhaps allowed the stark differences between them to go unnoticed for too long. Yet her statement is also a bit short-sighted, considering the many commonalities that she and Fokir do share, and how well they’ve worked together and gotten along. Kanai encourages Piya to take a more nuanced viewpoint towards conservation. After all, conservation was the motive behind the massacre of the refugees, and the reason why the forest guard was harassing Fokir for fishing at the beginning of the book.

The fact that the forest guards don’t want word of the attack on the tiger to spread shows that they likely don’t want to interfere in the issues that tigers create for the people of the Sundarbans, as seriously as these issues are. This failure on their part reinforces Nilima’s earlier statement that no one is doing anything to stop tiger attacks, and also illustrates the manners in which the government dismisses and ignores problems facing the poor.

For Fokir, the dolphins have an appeal very different from the scientific curiosity Piya has towards them. He associates the dolphins with stories from his mother Kusum, and with his religious beliefs, since Kusum told him they were Bon Bibi’s messengers. Kusum’s spirit telling Fokir that they will be reunited soon is an ominous bit of foreshadowing.

Piya’s story about Rath shows that, as independent as she is, she isn’t committed to being alone. Though her relationship with Rath ended poorly, she is willing to find a romantic partner. Furthermore, as Piya opens up about her past, Kanai begins to see her as more of a full person rather than a prize to be won, as he has often viewed women in the past.

Kanai not feeling the fear that Fokir does highlights how differently they understand the world around them. For Fokir, who’s very connected to the natural world, the fear is obvious, but Kanai doesn’t pick up on it. Fokir’s insistence that the tiger Kanai believes he encounters isn’t real is believable, given how much Fokir knows about nature, but either way, the encounter with the tiger illustrates both the sheer power the natural world wields—after all, Kanai may have had a complete mental break causing him to see a mirage of the tiger—and also the power that people have to overcome it, since Kanai was able to escape.