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The Representation of Rural Life
|by Prof. Dr. A. K. chaturvedi|
Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide
Amitav Ghosh rose to eminence as a contemporary Indian English novelist with the publication of his second novel The Shadow Lines, winner of The Sahitya Academy Award. His popular novel The Hungry Tide, which won the Hutch Crossword Award in 2004 and was adjudged 'the best work in English fiction', is a wonderful piece of fiction that extensively deals with the local rhythms of contemporary Indian life as lived in the remote rural areas cut off from the hustle bustle of city life.
Kanai Dutt, a Delhi based translator and Piya, an American biologist of Indian origin, come close to the rural life of the tide country through Neelima who has been running a hospital in a village named Lusibari since her husband's death. On being diagnosed with a fatal disease, Neelima's husband, Nirmal Bose, a retired school headmaster, shifted from Calcutta to Lusibari with his wife for availing of the benefit of pollution free environment of Sunderbans spread between the sea and plains of Bengal on the easternmost coast of India. After Nirmal's death, Neelima is left alone in Lusibari with Kanai Dutt as her only close relative on whom she can rely during difficulty.
The story of the novel revolves around the tide country that includes a couple of villages such as Lusibari, Garjontola, Canning, Gosaba, Satjelia, Morichjhapi and Emilybari. These villages, off and on, undergo the threat of inundation. As these villages remain surrounded by the seawater throughout the year, they are known as islands of the tide country. About these islands, Kanai says:
Canning is the first village of the tide country to have found mention in the novel as the name of a chapter. As is true of all villages, Canning is prone to unhygienic conditions. The area near the Canning Railway Station is most polluted. The passengers from abroad in particular feel uncomfortable with the stench emanating from the filth and dirt lying on the railway track. Expressing his anguish at this unhygienic atmosphere of Canning Railway Station, Kanai Dutt ruefully says:
The market place of Canning is not a place that has anything of attraction for a man like Kanai who considers his stay in a village a kind of severe punishment due to unhygienic conditions. The gloomy look of the bazaar of Canning drives him to observe:
Deep in the interior of Canning bazaar is situated the Forest Departments'office. Piya visits this office to seek guidance of the forest staff in her research on dolphins. With the help of the forest guards of Canning, Piya conducts the survey of Irrawady river so as to sight the dolphins. The inhabitants of this village depend on boating & fishing for their livelihood. Both men and women engage themselves together in daily activities and spend their time amidst mud and water. Neelima was astonished to see-
Lusibari is the farthest of the inhabited islands of the tide country. As for the surroundings of Lusibari, the novelist remarks:
Lusibari was named by Sir Daniel Hamilton, a Scotsman, after his niece, Lucy. After leaving his native land to seek his fortune in India, Sir Daniel Hamilton came to Calcutta, joined Mackinnon and Macknezee Shipping Company and as a result of his hard labour shortly became "the head of the company and master of an immense fortune, one of the richest men in India". Having an immense wealth at his command, Sir Daniel Hamilton purchased from the British government ten thousand acres of land surrounding Lusibari and decided to develop this village as a model for all of India, a new kind of country.
But for reasons unknown, Lusibari is still a backward place which, for Kanai, is a rat eaten island where "there is nothing, no electricity, no roads, nothing". Like thousands of other villages of Bengal, this village is a tightly packed settlement of palm thatched huts and bamboo walled stalls and shacks. The village is rich in natural beauty but suffers from lack of means of transportation. Sir Daniel Hamilton's contribution to the development of this village is unforgettable. It is due to his efforts that there is a good market and grand school building which distinguish Lusibari from other villages. With regard to the infrastructural richness of Lusibari, the novelist observes:
Not very far from Lusibari is Satjelia, a village where Horen and Kusum, who play key roles in the novel as rustic characters, were born. As is the norm, the boys and girls of this village are tied in nuptial knots before they reach the age of fifteen. The girls in particular, if remain unmarried after this age, have to bear the brutality of the rouges. To protect them from being raped or kidnapped, they are put into the care of Women's Union. About this cultural pollution characterizing the life of Satjelia, Neelima tells Kanai:
Garjontola is an inaccessible small settlement, deep in the jungles of the tide country. Kusum's father built a shrine here as a tribute to the presiding deity, Bon Bibi. It is in the tidal pool of this village that Piya realizes her dream of sighting the dolphins. This village is called Garjontola because of the garjon tree which is grown in abundance here. On being asked about her association with this village, Kusum tells Nirmal;
This incident leads the people of Garjontola to strengthen their trust in the power of Bon Bibi. Having been protected from a great danger by the grace of Bon Bibi, Kusum's father becomes a staunch devotee of the goddess and in her respect he builds shrine. While living at Morichjhapi, Kusum pays visits to this shrine every year. Her father died while foraging for firewood and her mother, left alone after her husband's death, leaves Garjontola to find a job in the city. Finding herself unsafe in the village, Kusum goes to Dhanbad where she marries Rajen, a seller of food items on the railway station of Dhanbad.
Morichjhapi is an eco-sensitive village, a couple of hours from Lusibari by boat. It falls within a part of the Sunderbans reserved for tiger conservation but like many villages it is relatively easily accessible from the mainland. In 1978 it happened that a great number of people suddenly appeared in Morichjhapi, cleared the plants and trees, built dams and put up huts. It happened so quickly that in the beginning none even knew who these people were but in time it came to be learnt that they were refugees from the government settlement camp in Dandakaranya, deep in the forests of Madhya Pradesh, hundreds of kilometers from Bengal.
A few months after their settlement in the village, the government authorities declared the village and the area surrounding it as a protected forest reserve and made an announcement that as settlers were squatters and land grabbers, they would have to leave the village at the earliest. The government authorities spread the message in the area that all that was possible to evict the settlers would be done and if anyone was found helping them was sure to get into trouble. As the settlers were courageous and well-organized, the police did not succeed in evicting them from the village.
An announcement of this message by the policemen hurts the sentiments of the settlers. Kusum expresses her anguish at this announcement in a very emotional manner. She represents the sentiments of the settlers when she says:
The gangsters, at the behest of the policemen, sink the settlers' boats, set their huts ablaze and destroy their harvest. They also forcefully took away a group of women of Morichjhapi, used them and threw them into the sea to be washed away by the tide. A couple of men were beaten mercilessly and some of them were hacked to death. The news of brutal murders of the people of Morchjhapi committed by the gangsters at the provocation of the policemen appeared in the leading newspapers of India and the massacre was recorded in the history of the country.
In spite of being illiterate, the inhabitants of this village have their plans, their programs for erecting a new future for themselves and determination to create a new land to live. Nirmal Bose is astonished to see the developments rapidly taking place in Morichjhapi. To quote him:
Under the leadership of the group leader of Morichjhapi, a grand feast is scheduled to be organized. A couple of distinguished writers, intellectuals and journalists from Calcutta are invited to participate in this feast. The purpose of organizing this feast is to tell these people about the achievements of the settlers so as to enlist the support of public opinion. The invited guests attend the feast, fully enjoy it and make their presence felt by way of making speeches. With regard to the success of the feast, Nirmal says:
Of the villages described above, while Lusibari and Gajrontola are fictitious settings, Canning, Satjelia and Morichjhapi indeed exist in the tide country. The novelist has disclosed this fact in author's note where he says:
To sum up, the novel presents the ground realities of rural life as lived in the villages of the tide country, aesthetically known as Sunderbans. These villages are hungry for economic development and technological advancement. Deprived of the benefits of modern development, the inhabitants of these villages still depend on boating and fishing for their livelihood, live in huts, shanties and shacks. They ungrudgingly bear the vagaries of nature and brutalities of policemen. The novelist has succeeded to arouse in the reader a deep sense of sympathy towards the rural people afflicted with extreme poverty.
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05/07/2013 23:08 PM