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The Hungry Tide: A Portal to History

The author is a development consultant. He is interested in writing research-based articles.

Cover page of the book

Cover page of the book

The author, Amitav Ghose

The author, Amitav Ghose

The Book and the Author

Amitav Ghosh is Bengali, but who earned his fame writing in English. He created the plot for The Hungry Tide centring on Sundarbans and nearby estuary. His power of ingenuity is incomparable. He is a master of creating imaginary setting for his novel. His genus of bringing authentic historical evidence in his book's plot is remarkable. Like his epic novel, The Glass Palace, he mesmerises the reader of The Hungry Tide weaving history skilfully. Lucidity of his writing can intoxicate you to read the novel from first to last, and this apparently happened to me when I read the book. Here, however, I am not going to review the novel but to highlight few of convincing historical happenings what he mentioned in the book.

His mastary of bringing historical evidence into life

While I was reading the book, I found he weaved two historical events in the novel. Both laid a clear path towards learning about the history around Sundarbans. I followed the path doing a short research and found it fascinating the way he blended couple of historical events. Both the events took place around the middle of 20th century. One was a huge cooperative-based development, initiated by Sir Daniel Hamilton, a Scottish businessman, which found Rabinranath Tagore as Mahatma Gandhi as its admirers. Another was about the unfortunate plight of the misplaced people who migrated to West Bengal as refugees due to a flawed agreement between newly independent India and Pakistan in 1947.

Sir Daniel Hamilton, the founder of a unique development.

Sir Daniel Hamilton, the founder of a unique development.

Sir Daniel Hamilton and his dream

Gosaba is a large island in the south of Sundarbans in West Bengal. In 1903, Sir Daniel Hamilton bought the island from the British Colonial Government intending to rehabilitate the people who had been suffering in lower echelon of societies. He provided them with a unique development initiative: Cooperative Movement. He introduced cooperative systems in almost all adopted development activities. Few of them were Credit Society, Consumer Cooperative Society, Central Model Farm, Cooperative Paddy Sales Society, Cooperative Rice Mill and Gosaba Central Cooperative Bank, and an institute, naming Rural Reconstruction Institute. To more independence of the Cooperative Movement, he introduced one rupee note to run the activities unhindered, smoothly.

Rabinranath Tagore

Rabinranath Tagore

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

Sir Daniel Hamilton's bungalow in Gosaba where Rabinranath Tagore used stay during his visit.

Sir Daniel Hamilton's bungalow in Gosaba where Rabinranath Tagore used stay during his visit.

Side view of the bungalow, having Rabinranath's statue.

Side view of the bungalow, having Rabinranath's statue.

Two eminent admirers: Rabinranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi

Sir Daniel Hamilton's developmental activities attracted two famous personalities of the time, Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. At that time, Rabindranath was implementing the similar kind of innovative development activities among the poor tenants of his Jamindaries in Shilaidaha and Shahajadpur areas in East Bengal. Some of the Rabindranath's activities were Decentralised Management, Credit Programme, Awareness Building, Welfare System and Welfare Fund Generation.In 1932, Rabindranath Tagore visited Gosaba to exchange his development ideas with Daniel Hamilton, and both of them continued were corresponding regularly.

While Mahatma Gandhi was unable to manage time to visit the Cooperative Movement. In 1935, he sent his secretary, Mahadev Desai to Gosaba see the Cooperative Movement activities. Mahadev Desai spent about a week with Daniel Hamilton and observed the developmental activities. His high regards for the movement made him to write on its activities in four instalments in the Harijan, a Gandhian weekly. He regarded Daniel Hamilton as "a remarkable man" of "lofty idealism", who was the driving force behind all the activities. He surprisingly noticed how 10,000 people developed lands for their housing and 25 villages linked to cooperative societies, run dispensaries and schools. The villagers were mitigating their own disputes and restrained themselves from consuming alcohol.

The refugees collecting their charred parts of their houses after the massacre.

The refugees collecting their charred parts of their houses after the massacre.

How the plight of destitute refugees was mentioned in the book

Amitav Ghosh most appropriately depicted the plight of refugees of Marichjhapi island. The refugees, made out mainly of the Independence of Pakistan and India in 1947. Then the central newly formed governments of India and Pakistan failed to resolve the problem following a mutually agreed agreement. As thousands of them inundating West Bengal, the central government of India dispatched them to Dandakaranya in the Central-Eastern part of India, they were struggling for a long time in the confinement of this dry area and deprived of livelihoods. In 1977, in spite of a prohibition, 40,000 refugees came from Dandakaranya and settled in Marichjhapi island. On 31 January, 1979, instructed by the government of West Bengal, the police opened fire on the refugees and killed 1,700 of them while actual number may not be known as all media was barred from the area.

The skillful depiction of historical evidences increased the value of the book

Unless Amitav Ghosh had done the thorough research before writing The Hungry Tide, the reader would not learn about these two important pieces of historical events. Writing the book, he turns the 'The Hungry Tide' into a window for seeing history and learning from it. And, it makes the book valuable to the reader. Gleaning information from history tediously, Amitav Ghose proves to be a praiseworthy, popular writer. History is an ocean with vast knowledge. It is indeed important we gather knowledge from history because such knowledge enriches our sense of judgements for the present and the future. Amitav Ghose makes it easy for the reader writing novels providing historical evidences.

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