Table of Contents
1. Introduction: The Sundarbans
2. Theoretical Framework: The Spatial Turn and Cultural Geography
3. The Construction of Place Through Embedded Narratives
a. Kanai’s Briefcase Narrative
a. Nirmal’s Notebook Narrative
i. The Tide Country
b. The Bon Bibi Narrative
i. Told: Kusum, Horen, Nirmal, Kanai, Fokir
ii. Sung: Fokir & Piya
iii. Performed: Kanai & Collective Audience
iv. Lived: Kusum & Nirmal
v. Written: Nirmal, Kanai & Piya
4. Conclusion and Outlook
“[F]or in those words there was a history that is not just his own but also of this place, the tide country” (Ghosh 2004, 354)
1. Introduction: The Sundarbans
Amitav Ghosh’s 2004 novel The Hungry Tide revolves around the lives of people travelling through or living in the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans, or the tide country as it is referred to by the novel’s protagonists, are a “vast tract of forest and saltwater swamp forming the lower part of the [Ganges] River delta in southeastern West Bengal state, northeastern India, and southern Bangladesh” (Pletcher). A large archipelago of islands, the Sundarbans span over 10.000 square kilometres and are characterized by numerous tidal rivers, channels and creeks with “water covering roughly half [the] area” (Pletcher). The Sundarbans are a place where “the contours of the land constantly change with the ebb and flow of water” (Anand 23) and where “islands are made and unmade in days” (Ghosh 2004, 224). Cyclones, monsoons and storms frequently visit the large archipelago forcing inhabitants to constantly build and rebuild their lives. The people of the tide country have thus grown accustomed to the region’s instability and fluidity which is reflected in their understanding of the space and expressed through the narratives which revolve around the place they inhabit.
The Hungry Tide features embedded narratives which reflect the topographic characteristics of the tide country and simultaneously define the protagonists’ as well as the readers’ perception of the Sundarbans. This paper claims that three selected embedded narratives mirror significant topographical characteristics of the tide country, particularly its fluidity, and thereby reveal how insiders (i.e. Fokir, Moyna, Horen, Tutul) as well as outsiders (i.e. Nirmal, Kanai, Piya) perceive and experience the place of the Sundarbans. Simultaneously, it claims that these three embedded narratives actively construct the place of the Sundarbans since they determine not only the protagonist’s but also the reader’s perception of the tide country. The embedded narratives humanise the space of the tide country and thereby turn it into place.
The three selected embedded narratives feature three different perspectives. The first is introduced early on in the first chapter of the novel and represents an academic perspective in the form of an article read by Kanai reporting on the tide country’s mythological origins. The second is the novel’s second narrative strand in the form of Nirmal’s personal notebook as read by Kanai. The third is the tide country’s most prominent folktale, the legend of Bon Bibi. All three narratives reflect the Sundarbans’ topography and simultaneously construct its place. Yet how exactly can narratives construct place?
The theoretical backdrop of this paper draws both on spatial criticism as well as cultural geography. A brief recap on the history of the “spatial turn”, focusing on major theorists like Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, Edward Soja and Yi-Fu Tuan, seeks to explain the historical evolvement of the increased interest in the concept of space over time. Further, it seeks to define and establish the understanding of place as “enclosed and humanized space” according to Yi-Fu Tuan (Tuan 54). Cultural geography will then help to contextualise this paper’s focus on embedded narratives and thus cultural artefacts which define and construct the place of the Sundarbans for both protagonists and readers primarily based on Russian theorist Jurij Lotman.
Accordingly, the second section focuses on a detailed textual analysis of the three selected embedded narratives. For the sake of brevity, the first subchapter analyses only the essential aspects of the briefcase article, while the second and third subchapters analyse Nirmal’s notebook and the Bon Bibi legend in greater detail. They consider the notebook’s references to both the tide country as a general place and Morichjhapi as a specific place, as well as the folktale’s varied modes of transmission (told, sung, performed, lived or written) and their contribution to the construction of the place of the tide country. The conclusion summarizes major findings and gives a brief outlook.
2. Theoretical Framework: The Spatial Turn and Cultural Geography
The spatial turn of the 1970s disrupted not only cultural and social studies but also literary research as it “dislodged a putative nineteenth-century dominance of time on the humanities” and reintroduced the elements of “space and geography” to 21st century humanities (West-Pavlov qtd. in Arnold 1). Prior to this turn, time and characters were considered to be the essential narrative elements. As the Australian historian Paul Carter points out, history had previously reduced “space to stage, that pays attention to events unfolding in time alone” and did not “focus on the intentional world of historical individuals, the world of active, spatial choices” (Carter, xvi). The elements of space and geography were then (re)introduced to academia by four major theorists, among others: Michel Foucault, Henri Lefebvre, Edward Soja and Yi-Fu Tuan.
Foucault is said to be the first to focus on the “history of the relationship between conceptions of space and the history of science” in his 1967 lecture “Of Other Spaces” (Lüttich 3). Henri Lefebvre, on the other hand, rejects the former conception of absolute space as “container waiting to be filled by a content - i.e. matter, or bodies” (Lefebvre qtd. in Bauer 210) in his 1974 The Production of Space and instead proclaims a social production of space. Lefebvre is thus interested in how space was actively produced socially, for example through the “living body”, rather than simply filled (210). Soon after this, the geographer Edward Soja called for a rethinking of time and space as theoretical concepts in his 1989 study “Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory”. Social beings, as he writes, need to be “actively emplaced in space and time in an explicitly historical and geographical contextualization” (Soja 10). This “socio-spatial dialectic” (Arias 30) indicates that human and therewith social life is constructed not only in relation to time and history, but also to environment and geography. Since more and more disciplines came to focus on the representation and understanding of space and geography, more interdisciplinary approaches came into being. Traditional geography then moved away from its initially physical view of space to a more metaphysical understanding of the construction of (social) space, which resulted in cultural geography.
Cultural geography technically already emerged in the early 20th century under American geographer Carl Sauer, who claimed that a culture could both be influenced by its environment yet could simultaneously also shape the environment resulting in what he then termed “cultural landscape”: “The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a culture group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape the result” (Sauer 46). Sauer’s approach, however, slowly gave way to a more humanistic approach to cultural geography under the spatial turn of the 1970s when scholars looked towards the humanities “for a more sympathetic treatment of human individuality, subjectivity and creativity” (Jackson 20).
This resulted in “new cultural geography” (Cresswell 2010, 170) which no longer considered culture to be an enclosed entity. Instead, new cultural geography also incorporated “less tangible” cultural aspects like “symbolic forms” and “everyday social practice” (Jackson 9) thereby rejecting “a unitary view of culture as artistic and intellectual product of an élite” (1). New cultural geographers are concerned with the multiplicity of various cultures, no longer restricting their research to a few selected elitist texts. Instead, they look into “the social relations through which cultures are produced and reproduced” (23) and how they relate to the place they inhabit. Yet what is place?
This paper follows the definition of space and place introduced by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan in his 1977 Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Tuan claims that space turns into place as “we get to know it better and endow it with value” (6). Space is thus the abstract and place the meaningful understanding of environment. Tuan specifies: “Open space has no trodden paths or signposts. It has no fixed pattern or established human meaning; it is like a blank sheet on which meaning may be imposed. Enclosed and humanized space is place. Compared to space, place is a calm centre of established values” (54). Yet how do humans turn space into place? How do they attribute meaning and value to it? According to Tuan, the answer is multifaceted. Naturally, one assumes culture to be the most important element attributing meaning to a space. Tuan uses the example of an Inuit, claiming that an “Eskimo’s sense of space and place is very different from that of Americans” (5). Human understanding and construction of space and place is thus dependent on individuals as well as on the collective culture (6). Yet how exactly does a “culture” influence spatial understanding?
Russian theorist Jurij Lotman was one of the first scholars to answer this question through a semiotic approach by introducing the concept of the semiosphere, or semiotic space, in his 1990 book Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. A semiosphere, or semiotic space, understands space as semiotic construction. Through verbal signs articulated by humans, spatial understanding is created. Culture is thus a “self-referential system, in which semiotic spaces are embedded in more encompassing isomorphic spaces of cultural semiosis” (Nöth 250). This means that humans constantly aim at adding meaning to the space they inhabit, simply by communicating about it. It is thus through language that humans understand space and construct reality (Lotman qtd. in Ryan). While Lotman focused on spatial opposites in literary texts (like “right-left”, “near-far”) and their respective non-spatial meanings (like “right-wrong”, “accessible-inaccessible”), George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, for example, further focused on “spatial metaphors frozen into ordinary language” in their 1980 Metaphors We Live By (Ryan) supporting Lotman’s argument that space, and thus reality, is constructed and produced through language and verbal signs as expressed by humans. This means that for a space to be constructed socially, it needs to be articulated and talked about. To Lotman, the “structures of the space of a text become the structure model of world space” (Lotman qtd. in Lüttich 6). The way people talk about space thus reflects how it is modelled and mapped in their minds. This cognitive map then solidifies itself and turns into reality defining how people perceive and understand the place they inhabit. Therefore, space is constructed performatively within a culture through its language. This also entails cultural artefacts as performative products like songs or poems which are produced through language (Miller qtd. in Lüttich 7) or simply through, what Hans Krah calls, “rhetorical strategies” (Krah qtd. in Lüttich 7). In other words, social meaning can be imposed upon space and place through cultural and social practices.
It is, however, crucial to understand that “subjective and socio-cultural meanings” can never become a physical “part of the material’s content” (Lüttich 3). This is what Lüttich calls the “space trap”: “in the physical object, materialized chains of action can symbolically indicate social meaning, but not have that meaning” (Lüttich 4). This means that space, as physical location, cannot have social meaning, but can only be understood socially. Even though slightly abstract, being aware of the “space trap” is crucial to understanding the cultural production of space. A culture like the one of the Sundarbans might be able to “construct” its own understanding, yet this understanding never physically “becomes” the place of the tide country.
New cultural geography with its semiotic focus thus sees culture as the predominant force in constructing place. Cultural performances like social practices or produced artefacts, such as texts and songs, construct the spatial understanding of a place like the tide country. These cultural artefacts will now be at the core of the upcoming chapters to find out how the space of the tide country is socially constructed and turned into place for the individual characters as well as the reader. The Hungry Tide ’s embedded narratives, specifically the first chapter’s article describing the tide country, the second narrative strand in the form of Nirmal’s notebook and ultimately the tide country’s Bon Bibi legend will be explored as cultural artefacts and performances that construct and define the understanding of the tide country as space and place.
3. The Construction of Place Through Embedded Narratives
Before analysing the embedded narratives, which construct the place of the tide country for both protagonists and readers, it is worth deliberating the novel’s title and structure since these also mirror the tide country’s topography. The title The Hungry Tide already gives away the Sundarbans’ main topographic characteristic: its violent tides. The tide country is entirely dominated by the tides and subject to both ebb as well as flood. This is reflected in the novel’s binary structure. Part one “The Ebb: Bhatha” and part two “The Flood: Jowar” mirror the tides dominating the Sundarbans and confirm “the fundamental interconnection between human characters and nature in its very form” (Kluwick 68). This underlying structure, however, organizes not only the novel, but also its characters, plot and embedded narratives. The Hungry Tide thus shows “how a landscape can and must be read as a text” (Gurr 70) since these texts, as cultural artefacts emerging from and focusing on the tide country, are both influenced by the tide country’s topography yet simultaneously construct the spatial understanding of the very same place. For this reason, the upcoming subchapters analyse the three selected embedded narratives: the introductory article on the tide country introduced in chapter one, Nirmal’s notebook as second narrative strand and the legend of Bon Bibi.
a. Kanai’s Briefcase Narrative
Even though the introductory article read by Kanai on his way to Canning in the novel’s first chapter might not be as significant as Nirmal’s notebook as second narrative strand or the overarching Bon Bibi legend, it is still essential in providing an early and detached description of the tide country – independent of an individual character. Not further specified than as “a few sheets of paper covered in closely written Bengali script” (Ghosh 2004, 6), the article is thus not an extensive embedded narrative, yet an important one as it poetically explains the tide country’s origin:
In our legends it is said that the goddess Ganga’s descent from the heavens would have split the earth had Lord Shiva not tamed her torrent by tying it into his ash-smeared locks. To hear this story is to see the river in a certain way: as a heavenly braid, for instance, an immense rope of water, unfurling through a wide and thirsty plain (Ghosh 2004, 6)
The first sentence of this passage already beautifully illustrates how the Sundarbans came into being by drawing on mythological language and imagery. The image of Shiva taming the Ganges’ torrent by tying it into “locks” already provides the reader with a specific, mythologically transmitted image of the Sundarbans’ topography. The numerous different waterways and rivers, as portrayed by image 1, could in fact be interpreted as locks, which “lock in” the powerful torrent of the river Ganges coming from the north. It is no coincidence that the Sundarbans, the Bay of Bengal, are also called the “mouths of the Ganges” (“Ganges Delta”).
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Image 1: The Sundarbans as viewed from NASA’s earth observatory (Allen)
It is particularly interesting that the passage also addresses the meta-level of spatial understanding (“to hear this story is to see the river in a certain way”). By listening to stories, understanding of space and place can be influenced if not determined. The story of the article thus has the power to define its reader’s cognitive map of the Sundarbans and his or her perception and understanding of the place. This is further intensified by the image of the “heavenly braid”, which again reflects the Sundarbans as shown by image 1. The closing fragment then leaves the reader with not only an explicit cognitive map, but also with an explicit feeling associated with the topography of the Sundarbans. The tide country resembles an “immense rope of water, unfurling through a wide and thirsty plain” and is thus subject to the powerful Ganges and the Sundarbans’ strong tides.
The article then continues to focus on the Sundarbans’ exact geographical location transmitted through yet another poetic image: “‘The islands are the trailing threads of India’s fabric, the ragged fringe of her sari, the ãchol that follows her, half-wetted by the sea” (Ghosh 2004, 6). In this passage, Ghosh uses the image of the Indian sari to communicate the tide country’s geographical position as located within the wider context of India. The “ragged fringe”, resembling the traditional Indian garment’s hem, again compares beautifully to the Sundarbans’ actual topography as visualized through image 1. The passage’s ending then points to yet another geographic marker. “[H]alf-wetted by the sea” not only describes the tide country’s geographical location as “by the sea” but simultaneously indicates its most common state of being wet. This transmits the tide country’s helplessness and subjection to the power of the tides.
The article then continues, yet moves away from the poetic to the objective:
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There are no borders here to divide fresh water from salt, river from sea. The tides reach as far as three hundred kilometres inland and every day thousands of acres of forest disappear underwater, only to re-emerge hours later. The currents are so powerful as to reshape the islands almost daily – some days the water tears away entire promontories and peninsulas; at other times it throws up new shelves and sandbanks where there were none before. (Ghosh 2004, 6f.)
This passage uses explicit topographical indicators, such as the tides’ length or the acres’ size, to provide objective information for the reader’s cognitive map. Extreme examples (“some days the water tears away entire promontories and peninsulas”) serve to transmit the tide country’s power of fluidity and ultimate ephemerality. This is intensified by the use of active verbs such as “reshape”, “tear away” and “throw up”.
Since Kanai is the focalizer of the novel’s first chapter, introducing a separate embedded narrative is an effective means to transmit a neutral description of the tide country’s history and geography independent of character and perspective. The reader is thus given the chance to cognitively map the Sundarbans as authentically as possible right at the beginning of the novel. The second selected embedded narrative, Nirmal’s notebook, on the contrary, is dependent on his personal perspective and thus entirely subjective.
a. Nirmal’s Notebook Narrative
Nirmal’s notebook narrative is technically not an embedded narrative of The Hungry Tide but in fact the second narrative strand of what Shakti Jaising calls “network narrative” (67). Unlike the article introduced in chapter one, Nirmal’s notebook is presented from his first-person perspective, written by him, and is thus restricted to his individual perspective. It is through the notebook, however, that Kanai as well as the reader learn about the place of the tide country from an outsider’s perspective (Jaising 73). The character Nirmal, as a cosmopolitan outsider from the mainland (70), renders the place of the tide country accessible to readers who are themselves outsiders and unfamiliar with the Sundarbans. Writing the second narrative strand from his perspective is again a powerful narrative choice to communicate the place of the tide country as authentically and accessibly as possible to the reader. This chapter will thus analyse how the topography of the tide country is reflected in Nirmal’s notebook, focusing on his perception of both the tide country in general as well as the factual island of Morichjhapi.
i. The Tide Country
Nirmal’s notebook represents his personal interpretation of the landscape, the place he inhabits and experiences. This fact alone already supports the new cultural geography’s conception that culture is multifaceted since it must “examine the multiplicity of landscapes that (…) plural conceptions of culture inform” (Jackson 177). Nirmal’s perception of the landscape of the tide country is thus only one of many conceptions. As a highly educated, politically conscious and Marxist character, Nirmal naturally has a more academic, substantiated conception of the place of the tide country as expressed through the following passage:
I have seen confirmed many times, that the mudbanks of the tide country are shaped not only by rivers of silt, but also by rivers of language: Bengali, English, Arabic, Hindi, Arakanese and who knows what else? Flowing into one another they create a proliferation of small worlds that hang suspended in the flow. And so it dawned on me: the tide country’s faith is something like one of its great mohonas, a meeting not just of many rivers, but a roundabout people can use to pass in many directions – from country to country and even between faiths and religions” (Ghosh 2004, 247f., italics in original)
This passage describes the reciprocal relationship between landscape and culture. The place of the tide country is not only formed physically by a natural element (“silt”) but also metaphysically by the most important cultural form of expression (“language”). The image of a “language river” is thus particularly powerful in this context as it reflects the tide country’s fluidity on both the topographic level as well as the cultural level. Cultural elements, such as different languages, assume a place’s topographic characteristics and themselves become able to “flow” freely as expressed through the repeated use of the word “flow”. The “proliferation of small worlds” further resembles the archipelago of the Sundarbans and their numerous different islands. Nirmal then realizes how the place of the tide country actively informs its “social practices” (Blair 546) when he reflects on the tide country’s faith to be like “one of the great mohanas”. To him, a place’s future stands in direct connection to its topography. He realizes that the tide country’s culture is in fact “an expression of its physical geography” (Jaising 70), which is further reflected through the powerful image of the roundabout, which lets people, cultures and religions pass through: “the mudbanks of the rivers of the Sundarbans inform the hybrid religion and social life of the region” (70). The tide country is thus “an amphibious location, an environment whose physical geography can be seen as a trope for the fact that the identities of places are not fixed and unitary” (Thieme 36).
The tide country’s fluidity, both in a physical and metaphysical way, is also reflected by Nirmal in a later chapter: “In other places it took decades, even centuries for a river to change course; it took an epoch for an island to appear. But here, in the tide country, transformation is the rule of life; rivers stray from week to week, and islands are made and unmade in days” (Ghosh 2004, 224, italics in original). By contrasting “other” places with the tide country and juxtaposing time categories like “decades” and “epochs” with “weeks” and “days”, this passage successfully transmits that pace and time are different in the tide country, which results in a different understanding of the place. The tide country’s “principal metamorphic nature” (Kluwick 68), its fluidity and flexibility, determines its spatial understanding as focalized through Nirmal. He realizes that nothing is ever stable in the Sundarbans and that everything is subject to change. This change, however, is directly connected to the tide country’s topography: “Change is envisioned by a form of digestion in which the flood devours the land and everything else with which it comes into contact” (68).
Next to Nirmal’s insights on the tide country’s topography and culture in general, his notebook also offers meaningful insights into his perception of Morichjhapi and its historical massacre of 1979.
As early as the 1950s, thousands of Dalit refugees fled resettlement camps in Dandakaranya and settled on Morichjhapi to build a new, communist life in the Sundarbans (Jaising 64). In 1979, the Left Front government declared the island of Morichjhapi as “reserve forest and the refugees as violating the forest Acts” (Sengupta). and announced an “economic blockade” of the island. Shortly after, the police surrounded the island, forcing the settlers to leave and shooting everyone who tried to flee through the waterways (Sengupta). Widely unknown to the public today, yet sometimes even considered as a post-independent India genocide, the Morichjhapi massacre is only slowly being integrated into contemporary narratives. The Hungry Tide gives the representation of the Morichjhapi massacre significant space by dedicating the second narrative strand to it. By choosing a fictional cultural artefact narrating the factual events, Nirmal’s notebook transgresses both place and time and successfully transmits the Morichjhapi story to the present-day reader.
Nirmal’s attachment to the island of Morichjhapi is multifaceted. On the one hand, it is physical and societal since he frequently visits Morichjhapi because he is drawn to the idea of revolution and a Marxist utopia. Ultimately, he is also present at the massacre: “’the reason he got mixed up with the settlers in Morichjhãpi was because he couldn’t let go of the idea of revolution” (Ghosh 2004, 282). On the other hand, it is also emotional since he is attracted to the island particularly because of Kusum, mother of Fokir, whom he admires and for whom he assumedly holds romantic feelings: “Kanai smiled. ‘I think, without knowing it, he may have been half in love with Kusum’” (282).
Nirmal’s strong connection to Morichjhapi also defines the setting in which he writes it as transmitted through the notebook’s first chapter “The Letter”: “I am writing these words in a place you will probably never have heard of: an island on the southern edge of the tide country, a place called Morichjhapi” (Ghosh 2004, 67, italics in original). The setting is thus of extreme importance to him as an author, writing what is to him a “chronicle” of the actual events that took place on Morichjhapi in 1979. He continues to explain his motive behind his writing as follows:
I am afraid because I know that after the storm passes, the events that have preceded its coming will be forgotten. No one knows better than I how skilful the tide country is in silting over its past.
There is nothing I can do to stop what lies ahead. But I was once a writer; perhaps I can make sure at least that what happened here leaves some trace, some hold upon the memory of the world. (Ghosh 2004, 69, italics in original)
Through Nirmal’s first-person perspective, the reader is presented with the tide country’s ephemeral quality in the form of its frequent storm threatening to extinguish the island’s past. The storm in this context, however, is both a meteorological as well as a political one. The storm as tide country image stands for the threat of the surrounding police boats planning their attack on the island to forcefully evict the settlers. The nonetheless ephemeral quality of the tide country is then successfully transmitted through the image of silt, which is also a typical tide country characteristic. The silt does not only cover the island physically, but also metaphysically when it covers its past. A place’s characteristic can thus quite literally be responsible for altering its perception over time. The individual, as Nirmal then stresses, is physically powerless against the tide country’s storms: “There is nothing I can do”. To Nirmal, there is only one way to defeat the tide country’s ephemerality. By writing down the story of the place of Morichjhapi and creating a cultural artefact, he hopes to leave “some trace” in the world and minds of future generations. In his mind, cultural artefacts in the form of narratives have the power to defeat the tide country’s fluid character and transgress time and place. It is ironic and simultaneously tragic, that the notebook is still unable to escape the tide country’s ephemeral nature when it is lost in its waters by the end of novel (“He scrambled to his feet just in time to see the notebook bobbing in the current, some ten metres away” (Ghosh 2004, 376)).
The further course of the notebook retrospectively narrates how Nirmal’s relationship with the island of Morichjhapi evolved over time. This finds its climax in the chapter “Dreams”, which marks a turning point in Nirmal’s perception of Morichjhapi. He experiences an epiphany when his previous expectations are defied, and he ultimately realizes the Morichjhapi project’s greatness:
What had I expected? A mere jumble, perhaps, untidy heaps of people, piled high upon each other? That is, after all, what the word ‘rifugi’ has come to mean. But what I saw was quite different from the picture in my mind’s eye. Paths had been laid; the bãdh – that guarantor of island life – had been augmented. (Ghosh 2004, 171, italics in original)
The first-person perspective is again a useful narrative tool here since it perfectly stages the introductory rhetoric questions, which disclose Nirmal’s realization in an almost comical way (“untidy heaps of people, piled high upon each other”). The juxtaposition between expectation and reality is then further picked up (“what I saw was quite different from the picture in my mind’s eye”), which renders the actual description that follows more authentic. It is then particularly interesting that the Hindu word “bãdh” is used. “Bãdh” originally translates to “flood” or “flooding” (“bãdh”) and thus describes one of the tide country’s most significant topographic characteristics as reflected by Nirmal when he considers the “bãdh” to be the “guarantor of island life”. The one topographic characteristic of every tide country island is thus considered to be the most essential feature for the Morichjhapi project. This again shows that the tide country’s topography is deeply ingrained in its inhabitants’ understanding of the place. Additionally, one could interpret the “bãdh” image as metaphor for Nirmal’s “flooded” mind (Jaising 67), which has only been woken up by the revolutionary nature of the Morichjhapi project as pointed out later in the passage: “It was as though in the course of one night I had cast away the emptiness I had so long held in my arms” (Ghosh, 2004, 171, italics in original). The tide country’s topography is thus responsible not only for Nirmal’s perception of the place but also for his internal state (Jaising 67).
The end of the notebook marks the narrative’s return to its initial setting in the chapter “Alive”. Morichjhapi faces the imminent attack by the police and Nirmal and Horen try to convince Kusum to leave with them. She, however, only agrees to them taking Fokir and bringing him back when “this wind passes” (Ghosh 2004, 277, italics in original). This illustrates the tide country’s native insider Kusum’s understanding of the place and her belief in its fluidity and thus flexibility: winds come and go, and nothing is ever stable. This time, however, this belief is fatal for her in its most literal sense when she dies in the massacre of Morichjhapi. Nirmal, on the contrary, stays with her because he needs to finish his writing (277). Unlike Kusum, he does not give in to the tide country’s fluidity but tries to overcome it by creating a cultural artefact which he hopes will transgress place and time: “I will hand it to Horen in the hope it finds its way to you, Kanai. I feel certain you will have a greater claim to the world’s ear than I ever had” (278, italics in original).
In summary, Nirmal’s notebook as personal cultural artefact shows how he, as outsider originally from the mainland, perceives the tide country. To a Western reader, this narrative strand offers a relatable perspective through which the Morichjhapi incident is presented both fictionally and factually. Even though the notebook disappears in the flood and is thus subject to the tide country’s ephemerality, its contents still echo in Kanai’s as well as the reader’s mind thereby leaving a trace in the world as originally intended by Nirmal. The notebook’s account thus transgresses time and place and offers a social interpretation of the place of the tide country to the next generation. The legend of Bon Bibi, as oral cultural artefact, achieves a similar effect yet represents not an individual but a collective perspective.