The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-12: The Trust through The Boat


Though Lusibari is very small, several thousand people live there, including both those descended from the first settlers, who arrived in the 1920s, and those who have come more recently. The badh, the embankment that holds back the high tide, is essential to life there. Nilima lives in a small house owned by the Babadon Trust, which also functions as a guest house. As they ride to her house, Nilima explains that a trainee nurse named Moyna will have prepared food for Kanai, but the driver interrupts when he hears Moyna’s name, telling them that Moyna’s husband, Fokir, and son have gone missing and that Moyna is distraught. Nilima expresses concern about Moyna and disapproval of Fokir. She explains to Kanai that Fokir is the son of Kusum, the teenager that Kanai met as a child. Nilima tells Kanai that Kusum was killed, but doesn’t elaborate, and that Fokir was only around five years old at the time. Kanai drops the subject, distracted by the sight of the hospital. Nilima explains that it’s the only building on the island that has electricity, thanks to a benefactor who donated a generator.

We return to Piya's narrative, where the fisherman introduces himself as Fokir and his son as Tutul, and Piya introduces herself as well. Tutul gives Piya the flashcards with the dolphin drawings and squeezes her fingers as a gesture of kindness, which both touches Piya and makes her uncomfortably aware of her own vulnerability. She hugs Tutul, then realizes that she hasn’t mentioned paying Fokir. She takes out her wallet and both Fokir and Tutul are fascinated, which makes Piya suspect they’ve never seen that much money before. Fokir refuses to take the money, but Piya insists. He ends up accepting one note.

Kanai goes up to the guesthouse, where Moyna has left him dinner despite the disappearance of her husband and son. He goes outside to watch the sunset, then enters Nirmal’s office, where a packet with Kanai’s name on it awaits him, wrapped in layers of plastic. He uses a razor blade to cut through the plastic and finds a small notebook full of Bengali writing inside. The first page notes the date of composition and contains Kanai’s name, suggesting that it’s a letter despite the lack of pleasantries or formalities. Nirmal writes that he is on an island called Morichjhãpi. Nirmal writes that time is passing slowly and he is waiting in fear for something unspecified. He says that all he has with him is the notebook, a pen and pencil, and his copies of Rilke's Duino Elegies in both English and Bengali. He is staying in a hut that Kusum owns, and writes that he hopes the beauty of the place makes up for the horrors Kusum and Fokir have had to live through. He quotes the Duino Elegies, choosing a passage about beauty being “nothing/but the start of terror,” and wonders what he’s afraid of (58). Nirmal states that he believes what is happening will be forgotten, and is writing in hope that it may not be if he can preserve the memory.

Fokir drapes an old sari between him and Piya, which confuses Piya until she realizes that he’s giving her privacy to change out of her wet clothes. The concept of modesty seems old-fashioned to Piya, who is used to spending time at sea with men, but she is still touched by the gesture. The texture of the sari reminds Piya of the ones her mother wore, and she wonders who this sari belongs to. Coming out from behind the sari, Piya notices that Fokir has changed and combed his hair as well, which makes him look more youthful. Piya looks at the water through her binoculars and reflects on what she loves about her job. As she watches the water, the GPS monitor records all her movements.


The novel again emphasizes that Lusibari is dependent on the embankment to prevent flooding, and that these floods present a very real danger to the people of the area. This danger underscores the extent to which the people of the Sundarbans are at the mercy of the environment. Furthermore, the fact that some people have come to Lusibari from islands evacuated to preserve wildlife hints at the conflict between conservation and human lives that will be significant as the novel progresses, an example of foreshadowing.

Nilima’s reluctance to speak about Nirmal, which reflects the painfulness of recalling her memories of him, again demonstrates the significance of language, showing that what goes unsaid can be just as meaningful as what is said. The fact that Nirmal chose to address his notebook to Kanai also emphasizes the importance of what is not said: though he doesn’t mention Nilima at all in his dedication, his choice to write to Kanai instead of to her demonstrates the extent of the distrust and conflict in their marriage at that point.

Nirmal’s fear that what happened on Morichjhãpi will be forgotten has proven to be valid: after all, even Kanai didn’t initially want to visit to read the notebook. Yet Nirmal also recognizes that being able to communicate through the written word is a privilege that many of the Morichjhãpi settlers, who are mostly illiterate, do not have. Nirmal thus recognizes the ways in which verbal and written communication privilege select narratives over others: while his perspective may survive, it’s likely not representative of that of the islanders.