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Home and Exile in the Hungry Tide

Lisa Marie's picture

So far, I have really enjoyed reading the Hungry Tide and I keep thinking about how the novel ties back to our overarching English/360 conversation of home and exile. The themes of home, belonging, and exile come up quite frequently in the text--Piya, who's heritage and physichal appearance make her look like an insider still feels somewhat siloed from the Indian culture and way of life, and seemingly feels more at home when searching for the rare species of dolphin. Kanai, who is more of an insider than Piya, also plays the role of an outsider as he reads and learns more about Kusum's story. Another way in which home comes up in the text is when Piya recalls the memory of how attached her father was to a towel that had become an old, tattered piece of fabric. "In general, the least sentimental of men [... the cloth] was almost like a piece of his body, like his hair or nail clippings; his luck was woven into it" (73). These themes of home/belonging/exile in the text raise the questions: can one feel like and be an insider and outsider in a space that is supposed to be his or her home? Is it possible for an object to represent home? Can such an object (natural or unnatural) feel like it is a part of us? 


Simona's picture

On science, Pia, and myself

I am completely loving this book so far. There seems to be just enough of the familiar, like how Pia's thoughts/feelings on science and life and perception remind me of myself, mixed with just enough of the foregin, like how I am captivated by imagining the sunderbans as an ecosystem and culture I have never experienced, for me to feel a perfect mix of insider/outsider. I am an insider and an outsider to this book, and it facinates me. But then again, I probably don't totally understand Pia, not just because she is a different human being, but because as Ghosh writes ever so poetically "For if you compared it to the way in which dolphins' echos mirrored the world, speech was only a bag of tricks that fooled you into believing that you could see through the eyes of another human being" (132). 

There were a few points I really felt connected to though, but one specifically about the intersection of "home/self" and "science" on page 106-- "she had been drawn to field biology as much for the life it offered as for its intellectual content-- because it allowed to be on her own, to have no fixed address, to be far from the familiar while still being part of a loyal but loose-knit community." This reminded me a lot of my first essay on finding home in self as I traveled and learned, and almost always my traveling has been by means of field science research. Connections. I wonder if I'll ever find that one thing while on the road, that pool of dolphins, that opens my mind to a life of "purpose" or "progress," or maybe then again I'll be content wandering.

sara.gladwin's picture

I am so struck by your

I am so struck by your recognition of being an insider/outsider to the text itself... I had the same sense while reading but didn't make the connection to the text and piya's status as an insider/outsider in this way. This is making me wondering about Ghosh's intended audience, and whether we are meant to experience the text as an insider/outsider...

in some ways it would seem to strength our inclination to identitify with piya...

jo's picture

having a purpose, making a mark

I, too, was struck by the chapter called Epiphany (I'm realizing that my book's pages are totally different from everyone else's so I'm feeling pretty grumpy about that inconvenience) wherein Piya is elated to discover that she might know exactly what she'll be doing for the rest of her life. However, I felt almost no connection to her in this moment. The idea of undertaking a project that might last up to twenty years and form the better part of my career and even my lifetime would be a terrifying prospect for me. And even just the thought of knowing what I'll be doing for many years into the future feels very overwhelming. To some degree, I understand the desire to feel purpose in one's life. I want to be useful and have an influence as much as the next person.

But at the same time I am wary of this ambition, in myself and in others, especially in light of our recent discussions on making change, marks and scars. I will share again the quote I shared at the cemetary from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: "we're as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we're not likely to do either." Thinking ecologically, how much do scientific pursuits contribute to the world, to the ecosystem as a whole? I'm not saying that scientific inquiry doesn't do some good - it often is the reason for efforts towards conservation and it's how we know about climate change, just to name a few things. But many experiments are invasive and all are to some degree human-centered (it occurs to me that that might be a pretty big claim to make, but how can they not be, when we're human?), and that makes it hard to think ecologically...

smilewithsh's picture

saying sorry to the earth?

I agree with Lisa and Sophia in regards to the connections presented between home and exile. It's always so intriguing when and how people fall into a limbo zone. My book is covered in underlined and starred passages, parts that are so accurate to some things I have thought, it's as if Ghosh had been in my mind. The shifting views we are being presented of Piya and Kanai that are complemented with their own thoughts provide for an engaging read and also thoughtful reflection. Right from the beginning, on page 8, "She had been put in mind of some of her relatives in Kolkata: they too seemd to share that assumption that they had been granted some kind of entitlement (was it because of their class or their education?) that allowed them to expect that life's little obstacles and annoyances would always be swept away to suit their convenience."  This to me is so interesting because I myself have experienced this sort of self entitlment exhibited in Pakistan by upper class especially in their interactions with the poor or lower class. This catering to mentality is something that resides very deeply in the South Asian societies. I go back to Pakistan, and even though my skin and hair and coloring may match the people around me, I too am sometimes treated as Piya had been, simply by the way I walk and talk and hold my demeanor. I think of my father sometimes, who grew up in Pakistan, who holds importance in his family and society back in Pakistan, how his light coloring gives him an advantage. And I compare it to sometimes being here in America and how people react sometimes react to his accented English and appearnace, and how once he was even assumed to be uneducated and that he must automatically own a 7/11 or gas station. Another part that really stood out for me was when Piya was reflecting on herself as a scientist on page 105/106, "...but now at least she could what it was about, how it happened that an idea floated unexpectedly into your mind and you knew in an instant that this was an errand that would detain you for the rest of your life...It would be enough; as an alibi for a life, it would do; she would not need to apologize for how she had spent her time on this earth."  (106/107)  Even that phrasing, having the feeling that in order to feel substantial and useful and not having to apologize for occupying space on this earth, some sort of purpose of a future plan or desire or goal needs to be set. I wonder how many of us have felt like that before.

Sophia Weinstein's picture

I, too, am really enjoying

I, too, am really enjoying The Hungry Tide, and can't help but see all of the connections (and disconnections) that tie everything and everyone together. I like Lisa's question: Is it possible for an object to represent home? I'm also thinking about if a person can represent home. Like the everchanging tides and impermanence of the earth and objects, people too are everchanging and impermanent. I'm not finished part 1 quite yet, but I am seeing so many connections between different characters build on each other. But as Ghosh develops these connections - such Fokir being Kusum's son, and Kusum being Kanai's friend that Nirmal writes to him about - there are many disconnections that we are introduced to. Nilima and Nirmal's marraige was less than perfect: "he has always assumed that Nilima and Nirmal were content in their marraige, that theirs was a happy, if unlikely, pairing. He realized now that it was only because Nirmal never left Lusibari that they had been able to sustain this illusion" (101). The ties that Kanai had to Nirmal and Kusum were really fleeting, yet are now growing after their deaths.  It is also very interesting to see a story of stories and communication and history unfold to be so location-based. In this way, the 'environment' is itself part of the story, and part of the history.