Magazine 2012
Understanding Tidal Rhythms: Ecological  
Symbiosis in Amitav Ghoshb s The Hungry  
Tide and Dhruv Bhattb s Samudrantike  
Dr. Rupalee Burke  
Shree Sahajanand Vanijya Mahavidyalaya, Ahmedabad  
There is no prettiness here to invite the stranger in: yet, to the world at large  
this archipelago is known as b the Sunderbanb , which means, b the beautiful forestb .b   
The Hungry Tide)  
Enliven the Earth with your energy . . . as long as you donb t meddle with  
othersb  affairs this world will seem worth living in.b  (Samudrantike)  
The ecological crisis is one of the most formidable challenges before us today. Claiming responsibility for the  
ecological degradation, humankind has started making efforts to remedy the ecological malaise that has set  
in. With the initiatives range from mobilizing green awareness, adopting a green way of life in a plethora of  
ways, to taking concrete policy measures at various levels, the green campaign has spilled over into literature  
as well giving rise to what may be called b literary ecologyb  or b nature-oriented literatureb .  
This paper attempts a comparative study of Amitav Ghoshb s English novel The Hungry Tide and Dhruv Bhattb s  
Gujarati nouvella Samudrantike, wherein the writers, both contemporary, adopt the stance of b ecocultural  
activistsb  since they define, explore and attempt to resolve the specific ecological problems that they portray.  
Both works, as their respective titles suggest, are about coastal regions; while the former is set in the Sunderbans  
of Bengal, the latter is based on the Saurashtra coastline of Gujarat.  
An attempt is made in this paper to study the similarities and differences in the perspective of each  
writer as he maps a specific coastal territory, progressing from urban indifference culminating in a deep rooted  
desire for ecological symbiosis at the micro level. Their desire for ecological symbiosis may be seen as a  
cultural experiment, since they are attempted through literary discourse and constitutes the primary stage of  
mobilization of environmental awareness. It is this cross-fertilization between literature and the environmental  
discourse in this paper that makes the analysis an b ecocriticalb  one. According to Cheryll Glotfelty :  
. . ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the  
physical environment. Just as feminist criticism examines language and literature  
from a gender-conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness  
of modes of production and economic class to its reading of texts, ecocriticism  
takes an earth-centered approach to literary studies. (Glotfelty, xviii)  
Glotfelty offers some interesting alternative terms for the term b eco-criticismb  (first coined in 1978 by William  
Rueckert) such as b eco-poeticsb , b environmental literary criticismb  and b green cultural studiesb .  
Defining a broad cultural ecocriticism, Richard Kerridge says:  
The eco-critic wants to track environmental ideas and representations wherever  
they appear, to see more clearly a debate which seems to be taking place,  
often part-concealed, in a great many cultural spaces. Most of all, ecocriticism  
seeks to evaluate texts and ideas in terms of their coherence and usefulness  
as responses to environmental crisis. (Kerridge, 1998: 5 qtd. in Garrard, 4)  
With the passage of time pastoral/idyllic themes in world arts/literature have begun to give place to apocalyptic  
themes of environmental/ecological catastrophe/s, nerve-shattering Hollywood films like b 2011b  or Al Goreb s  
powerful documentary b An Inconvenient Truthb  notwithstanding. What with unprecedented devastating climate  
change consequences that the global community has lately been helplessly suffering? Ghosh and Bhatt through  
the readership of their novels create within larger cultural space, an ecocentric niche encompassing the ecological  
problems that contemporary society at the local level faces and through the medium of comparative literature  
this paper attempts to make it glocal.  
The most obvious similarity is the eco-centric theme albeit with points of difference in the position that each  
writer takes. Both writers write engagingly about b tidal ecologyb  based on their physical trips to the respective  
coastal regions. Ghosh makes it amply clear in the b Authorb s Noteb  that he did his solid groundwork by consulting  
one of the worldb s leading cetalogists, Professor Helene Marsh of James Cook Universityb  and b her student,  
Isabel Beaseley, a specialist in the study of Oracella brevirostrisb  (Gangetic dolphin) who allowed him b to  
accompany her on a survey expedition on the Mekongb  and introduced him b to the ways of the Irrawaddy  
dolphin and to those of the cetalogistb  and b the privilege in being able to travel in the tide country with Annu  
Jalais, one of those rare scholars who combines immense personal courage with . . . research into the history  
and culture of the region . . . .b  (Ghosh, 401). Ghoshb s uncle, the late Shri Chandra Ghosh who was actually  
headmaster in the high school founded by Daniel Hamilton in the tide country and had started a small NGO  
and his wife, are clearly discernable in the characters of Nirmal and Nilima Bose, Kanaib s uncle and aunt in the  
novel. This as he acknowledges is responsible for his b earliest linkages of memory with the tide countryb .  
Ghosh 410) In a similar vein Bhatt mentions in his note that the nouvella is the result of his many sojourns in  
the coastal areas commencing from Gopinath via Jhanzmer-Mahuva-Jafrabad-Diu-Somnath-Porbandar-ending  
at Dwarka. And although like Ghosh, he too clarifies that many events/characters/places are fictitious, there is  
much that is realistic. The intimate brush of both the writers with the topo/demography of the mangroves/  
coastline is evident throughout their works.  
Both writers bring in the myths that dominate the respective region that they depict. Ghosh dwells at length  
and repeatedly on the pre-historic cult of Bon Bibi, the elemental goddess of the forest who b rules over all the  
animals of the jungleb , one of the living b littleb  traditions of nature as the primordial mother goddess, and her  
brother Shah Jangoli as well as the demon deva Dokkhin Rai. Bhatt brings in along with the elemental Dariya  
Pir, the sea itself as in elemental worship, Lord Krishna and Goddess Rukmini in specific connection to the  
landscape b  the rocks and fresh water springs along the sea coast. Thus, both the literary works emerge as  
hybrids located at the point of intersection of several discourses related to history, mythology, anthropology,  
philosophy, science, geography and sociology.  
Another relevant issue dealt with in both the works is that of animal rights. Ghosh depicts the brutality and  
insensitivity with which Mr. Sloanne, the stranded dolphin, falls victim to the b flourishing clandestine trade in  
wildlifeb  for being b a valuable commodityb  it would b fetch as much as one hundred thousand US dollars in the  
marketb . b Piya was not inclined to be sentimental about animals but the idea that Mr. Sloanne would soon be  
sold off to an aquarium as a curiosity, made her stomach churn.b  (Ghosh 306) In a similar vein Bhattb s protagonist  
recalls a childhood incident of his uncleb s friend Nirmalb s research on eagles. b He used to roam the jungles and  
mountains and sit in his university room and write. My uncle was full of praise for him and believed that he was  
a scholar in the field. Once, my uncle and I visited him. We saw two eagles languishing in a cage. Shocked to  
see the birds in contrast to my childish imagination of them I asked, b Why are they like this?b  He explained,  
They are both being starved for research . . . Then they talked at length in English. I couldnb t understand a  
word.b  (Bhatt, 34) Both these incidents point to the anthropocentric attitude that humankind tends to have  
towards Nature, resulting in more harm than good especially when it comes to seemingly pro-environment  
activities like conservation, research and documenting of environment by human interference, animal cruelty,  
etc. which are being angrily protested against round the world.  
The striking difference in the two works under study is the narrative technique. In Ghoshb s novel the narrator is  
both b extradiegeticb  (i.e. a narrator who is above or superior to the story he narrates) and b heterodiegeticb  (i.e.  
who does not participate in the storyb ) (Rimmon-Kenan, 95-96) whereas the narrator in Bhattb s nouvella is  
intradiegeticb  and b homodiegeticb  (i.e. a narrator who narrates the story and participates in it as a character)  
Rimmon-Kenan, 97) As a result the narratorial authority of Ghosh is much stronger than Bhattb s. Moreover,  
Ghoshb s novel is extremely rational and scientific in tone while Bhatt sounds more sentimental and philosophical.  
Ghoshb s anthropological angle dominates his novel whereas Bhattb s novel is pervaded by literariness.  
Ghosh assumes the role of cultural ecologist in taking a comprehensive view of the combination of environmental  
influence and the specific cultural history of the Sunderbans. Through Kanaib s concern in contradistinction with  
Piyab s, he brings into perspective another current environmental problem faced in various parts of the world,  
the human-animal conflict, in this case the well-known humans-tigers conflict in the Sunderbans where humans  
and tigers are victims in turns but where the human mortality rate is unprecedented. Kanai argues with Piya, b It  
happens every week that people are killed by tigers. How about the horror of that? If there were killings on that  
scale anywhere on earth it would be called genocide, and yet here it goes almost unremarked: these killings  
are never reported, never written about in the papers. And the reason is just that these people are too poor to  
matter. We all know it, but we choose not to see it. Isnb t it a horror too b  that we can feel the suffering of an  
animal but not of human beings? . . . We are complicit in this . . . it was people like you who made a push to  
protect the wildlife here without regard for the human costs. And Ib m complicit because people like me b   
Indians of my class, that is b  have chosen to hide these costs, basically in order to curry favour with their  
Western counterparts.b  (Ghosh 301) Ghosh is making a case in all earnestness not only for the cause of human  
rights through Kanaib s perspective but also for animal rights through Piyab s stand especially in the episode of  
the burning of the tiger by the people.  
In Bhattb s nouvella the ecocide brought about by human plunder is poignantly brought out in the lines spoken  
by the character of Noormamad, a native working in the forest department: b There was a time when there was  
a green cover along this entire coast. I have heard that in my fatherb s time this was a forest. Only this solitary  
tree remains and the few orchards. All else has been laid waste.b  (Bhatt 31 translation mine) The narrator in  
Bhattb s novel confesses, b I represent that civilization that all natural resources are created for human use. I fail  
to connect with Nature in the way Noorbhai does. My civilized education is a hurdle.b  (Bhatt 32 Translation  
mine). Explaining the Cartesian concept of nature Vandana Shiva says:  
. . the environment is seen as separate from man: it is his surrounding, not his  
substance. The dualism between man and nature has allowed the subjugation  
of the latter by man and given rise to a new world view in which nature is (a)  
inert and passive; (b) uniform and mechanistic; (c) separable and fragmented  
within itself; (d) separate from man; and (e) inferior, to be dominated and  
exploited by man.b  (Shiva 40-41)  
This attitude is evident when Bhattb s protagonist ruminates, b These peacocks seem to have lost their ability to  
live. The remaining harm will be done by the chemical factory. I wonder if this banyan tree, almond tree and  
the last coconut palms will be able to survive the onslaught. I shall not be here to witness it. Having created a  
world of destruction I shall go away.b  (Bhatt 106 Translation mine) Noorbhai reacts by saying, b Man poses the  
greatest danger to the Earth. He would milk the mother dry if he could.b  (Bhatt 107 Translation mine) The  
protagonistb s viewpoint of the b instrumental valueb  of Nature is juxtaposed with Noorbhaib s viewpoint of the  
intrinsic valueb  of Nature. The anthropocentric worldview which perceives nature in terms of its instrumental  
value (symbolized by the technosphere) is anti-ecologically privileged over its intrinsic value (symbolized by  
the biosphere).The above discussion foregrounds the dangers that rising capitalism in human society is posing  
to mankind in the present century. Natural resources are being exploited in the name of development and may  
result in ecocide. Explaining b instrumental valueb  of nature through Heideggerb s eco-philosophy Greg Garrard  
. . Worse still, things may emerge as mere resources on call for our use when  
required, so that a living forest may show up merely a b standing reserveb  of  
timber (Bestand), no longer trees even but lumber-in-waiting, and even the  
mighty Rhine may be disclosed as just a source of hydroelectric power. . .  
(Garrard 31)  
Through an eco-anthropological view both writers depict the relations between people in their environment  
and how they use technology to utilize that environment. In both the works the b urban outsidersb  and the  
coastal insidersb  are constantly juxtaposed; the outsiders with their naivety and skepticism, the insiders with  
their sense of belonging and instinctive knowledge of their surroundings which brings to mind James Frazerb s  
The Golden Bough which amply testifies to the organic life of various native tribes in the primitive world.  
Ghoshb s focus is the fishing as well as the hunting-and-gathering society whereas Bhatt depicts the fishing and  
farming society. Noormamad and the fisherman Krishna in Bhattb s nouvella like the fishermen Fokir and Horen  
Naskor in Ghoshb s novel epitomize indigenous ecological knowledge and they initiate the narrator and Piya  
and Kanai respectively into it. The insiders b participateb  while the outsiders b observeb . This distinction is also  
brought out in the way Fokir spontaneously connects with Nature against Piyab s way of observing with  
sophisticated binoculars to fill up data-sheets. Piya confesses to Nilima about Fokirb s expertise, b He led me  
straight to the dolphins . . . Ib d never have found the dolphins on my own.b  (Ghosh, 187) The natives and the  
outsiders are the b Otherb  in turn. When Kania asks Fokir whether he would like to visit a city, he replies, b This is  
enough for me . . . whatb ll I do in a city?b  (Ghosh 319)  
Many such instances serve to juxtapose the urban way of life in polarity with the rural way of life. Flummoxed  
by Noorbhaib s ornithological expertise the narrator muses, b I too know names of many orinthologists. In  
school I had read Aangana na Pankhida and other such books. Now I have forgotten everything. Would all  
those orinthologists be keen Nature lovers as Noorbhai is?b  (Bhatt 33 Translation mine) Like in Ghosh, Bhatt  
too privileges the natives over the scientifically trained environmental professionals. Later, the narrator thinks  
to himself, b Here in this arid desolate land for people living a scattered life the span from one monsoon to  
another is a year, from one sunrise to the next is a day and they have no such thing as day and date to trouble  
them. But for me today is a holiday so I shall not open the office . . .What fate it is of mine! From amidst buses,  
taxis, rickshaws I have come to use horses and donkeys for conveyance. Had I not come to this place it would  
have been hard for me to believe that three to four hundred miles away there is a place where no modern  
means of conveyance is used.b  (Bhatt 37 Translation mine) In a similar passage Kanai ruminates about his life  
in bustling Delhi. These passages serve to highlight the charactersb  remove from natural environs.  
As mentioned earlier these works depict a green mission and in keeping with that both the works end with a  
green conversionb  taking place, a pronounced one in the case of the narrator in Bhattb s nouvella. He is  
overwhelmed by the environment and firmly resolves to submit his transfer papers along with the plan and  
report of the chemical factory and ultimately resign if his transfer is not sanctioned. In Piyab s case progressing  
naturally from her passion for the conservation of the Oracellas, she decides to stay back in Lusibari as she  
decides b home is where the Oracaellas areb . In The Hungry Tide the movement is that of b inclusionb  i.e. from the  
city to the coast since Piyab s is the role of the conservator while in Samudrantike it is that of b exclusionb  i.e. from  
the coast to the city since the protagonist must refrain from becoming an agent of destruction. The urge for  
ecological symbiosis in both the works while it sensitizes the urban reader it strikes a chord in the eco-sensitive  
reader. Both the writers can be said to have done an important service to the cause of b eco-consciousnessb , as  
Glotfelty says, b In an increasingly urban society, nature writing plays a vital role in teaching us to value the  
natural worldb  (Glotfelty xxiii) for it cannot be denied that there is, as she foregrounds, a b dynamic interconnection  
between the material world (human world) and the natural world (physical world).  
Thus, it can be said by way of conclusion as William Rueckert explains that b a very complex process occurs  
when humans and literature interact within the symbiotic arrangement in which the energy provided by literature  
is transmuted into information and thence into meaning through a process called apperceptionb . He goes on  
to say the b the central endeavour of ecological poetics would be to mobilize the concerns of eco-literature by  
reading, teaching or writing and finally to its application in an ecological value system leading to the creation  
of a fit environmentb . (Glotfelty 79 emphasis mine) And this precisely what this paper in all earnestness seeks to  
Works cited:  
Bhatt, Dhruv. Samudrantike. Ahmedabad: Gujar Granth Ratna Karyalaya, rpt. 2009. Print.  
Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.  
Ghosh, Amitav. The Hungry Tide. New Delhi: Harper Collins Publishers India, 2005. Print.  
Glotfelty, Cheryll and Harold Fromm, ed. The Eco-criticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, Athens  
and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1996. Print.  
Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. London: Routledge, 2005. Print.  
Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India. New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2010.