The Sundarbans ("beautiful forest" in Bengali), a region in India and Bangladesh, are surrounded by three large rivers, the Ganges, Meghna, and Brahamaputra, which flow into the Bay of Bengal. Though The Hungry Tide focuses on the Indian part of the Sundarbans, about 60% of the region is part of Bangladesh. The islands constituting the Sundarbans range from minuscule to miles long. Just as the characters in The Hungry Tide often come across mangroves, the region has over 4,000 square miles of mangrove forests.
Though the Sundarbans are geographically marginal, they're home to around four million people. The Sundarbans are also home to a wide range of wildlife, including threatened species of crocodile and python, in addition to the famous Bengal tiger. Bon Bibi, the goddess discussed in the novel, is very real to the people of the Sundarbans, regardless of whether they describe themselves as Hindu, Muslim, or adhering to another religion. Yet due to climate change, which causes rising tides, as well as man-made dangers such as illegal logging, the Sundarbans are in danger. Water-related diseases are also becoming more common, putting the people of the Sundarbans in further danger. Many migrate to cities such as Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, but those cities are often already overpopulated.
The Hungry Tide isn't the only literary work about the Sundarbans—the region also features in the Bengali folk epic Manasamangal Kavya, the novel Padma Nadir Majhi by the Bengali author Manik Bandopadhyay, and the Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.