Saturday, June 24, 2006

Different Individuals, Different Tides

Never judge a book by its cover, but this time I did…the sea green cover caught my eye and I picked the book without too much second thought. I heard of the author, but didn’t care to verify the success of this book. The outline of the story appealed to the writer within me and this appeal kept me going through the entire length of the book. And that too, to such an extent that I finished four hundred pages in one and a half days.

Unfortunately The Hungry Tide wasn’t as charming to other who had read the book. But somehow, the book, which doesn’t have all that fascinating a storyline, kept me gripped through and through. I guess this was more to do with the way in which Ghosh has dwelled on each of the elements in the book. The characters, the river, its tides, the forests, in fact even the tigers and the dolphins. The novel takes you through the lives of different people whose existence was centred around this small island, in the Sundarbans. While some come from the comparatively wealthy lifestyles, there are others who have seen nothing beyond the dense forests that guard the island. Their beliefs source from the raw fears of tigers and floods. Their stories are spun to tell tales of men who survived cyclones of and others who had experienced the ‘Bon Bibi’ (the local deity) miracles. The story begins with the narration of the lives of two independent individuals which then Ghosh has tactfully merged through incidences that almost seem coincidental or mere quirks of fate. Of course, there isn’t a direct relation established between circumstances, as one would expect, especially after the over-exposure to mainstream Hindi Cinema; but while the story takes turns according to the writer’s imagination (and moods), he gives the reader’s mind an opportunity to find a different, yet parallel, trail as well.

Let’s take for one an instance where Kanai is reading his uncle’s diary which makes a mention of the Bon Bibi temple on a particular island. Chance happens to bring Kanai to that very island. Now ordinarily, you’d think that Kanai would set foot on the island and probably look out for the temple, or atleast reminisce a connection between the island and the temple. However, none of this happens and story takes a different stroke with a series of events that leave the reader curious with a parallel stream of thought. That is to say, what if, he had figured his way to the temple? OR Was it actually the spiritual forces mentioned in the diary that saved him?

One of my most favourite characters in the story is Fokir. A fisherman, Fokir leads a simple life, but that of solitude. Ghosh has spoken about ‘who’ Fokir is, but not about ‘why’ he is the way he has been portrayed. Silent and reclusive, Fokir displays a different - more enthusiastic and warm - shade of his personality when he is in the river. Not much conversation transpires between Fokir and Piya, or between Fokir and Kanai; but his body language, his eyes and his overall behaviour tends to say a lot. Unfortunately for the reader, it is almost impossible to find any reason to his acts. To give the story a happier shade, I reasoned with most of his behaviour with a hue of optimism. But I guess, the exact opposite holds true of somebody who is more radical.

I must admit that I have been much too happy with this read. The satisfaction still lingers. Each time I think of Lusibari, Kanai or Fokir, I wonder what happened next. Though the end seemed ‘fit’ to the book, I wonder if Ghosh intends to write a sequel. Or on second thoughts, he probably shouldn’t attempt something like that, probably my mind will wirte its own conclusion to this story…