The Hungry Tide

by Amitav Ghosh

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What is the significance of Morichjhāpi island in The Hungry Tide?

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The island of Morichjhāpi is significant in The Hungry Tide as the place where Nirmal wrote entries in the notebook that Kanai reads, where Dalit refugees had settled after they escaped from an Indian camp in the late 1970s, and where Kusum was killed.

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In The Hungry Tide, the island of Morichjhāpi is meaningful in two related ways. From reading his uncle Kanai’s notebook, Nirmal learns that Morichjhāpi was the place he wrote the entries. This information prompts his aunt Nilima to tell him about the island’s history. In 1978, Dalit refugees had made it their place of refuge after they fled the resettlement camp in which the Indian government had confined them. When Kusum visited Nilima, bringing her young son Fokir, she was also living on the island and was later killed there.

In a chapter titled “Morichjhāpi,” Kanai updates Aunt Nilima on his progress with the mysterious packet she had found and asked him to read. Rather than the lost literary masterpiece that Nilima had hoped her husband had secreted there, Kamai finds that the notebook contains a journal written in 1979. This surprises her because that year Nirmal had experienced mental problems and, to her knowledge, had not been writing. Kamai explains that the entries were written in Morichjhāpi over just two days in May.

This information prompts Nilima to explain how Morichjhāpi, another one of the Sundabar islands, became significant beginning in 1978. She tells him the story of the arrival of impoverished Dalit people, formerly often called Harijan (and prior to that, untouchables), who were originally from Bangladesh. They had come via India, where the government had interned them in the Dandakaranya resettlement camp, which resembled a concentration camp. Their settlement in Morichjhāpi was not allowed to continue, however, as the government tried to evict them based on the island’s status as a protected forest reserve. May 1979 had been the month when the final clash occurred. Furthermore, Kusum, the mother of Fokir, had been living there, and died in that massacre.

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