Devoured by the Hungry Tide of Language
“It is as though the word itself were an island, born of the meeting of two great rivers of language…” (69)
“…the Bengali language was an angry flood…” (79)
“river of words” (83)
“…her words have come flooding back to me in a torrent.” (134)
I was most struck by metaphors such as those quoted above, which depict language as the tide. By paralleling the qualities of water with that of language, these metaphors function in several ways. The mutating tides invoke the fluidity of language; and it’s ability to harbor complexities, as the sea becomes home to many intertwining, complex, ecosystems. Badabon, the word loved by Nirmal for it’s cohesion of Arabic and Sanskrit languages, embodies these aspects of mutation and complexity. The metaphors portray the power that language has, which, like the rivers that braiding through the islands and tides reshaping the earth, can mold and recreate the world we live in. When Kanai returns to Lusibari, he is submerged in memories of the words of his uncle, words that shape his interactions with and understanding of the environment. At times, Ghosh lends a similar power of creation to particular words, such as “Lusibari” and “Mashima”- the only words that Piya can think to utter to Fokir. However, these are the only words that she needs, as it is enough to communicate her desire to get away from the guard. Like the cyclones and storms that render the tide country at times, inhabitable, words can also be a force of destruction. Fear of this destructive capability is evident in the refusal of tide country people to even speak the name “tiger”- as the very act of uttering the word is believed to call upon the living animal. Words so powerful that they are believed to perform actions merely by their enunciation.
The tide is given further human likeness in Ghosh’s metaphors that depict it as a part of the body:
“limb of the sea” “mouths of other rivers” “body of water” (31)
“shore curved like the inside of an arm” (95)
“rivers elbow” “kidney shaped basin” (124)
These connections between the tide and human qualities implicate language and the body as both a source of creation and destruction upon the land. Though my first leap was to view the consequences of human invention and interaction as becoming synonymous with the destruction of the environment… I recognized that the tide is considered “natural” and so human life and it’s influence in creation and destruction is also part of nature.
I’m still making sense of some of the connections above, and there are many pieces still floating on the peripheries of this post, not yet mentioned - such as the multilayered meaning of “hunger”; the relationship of hunger to the body; the juxtaposition of “hunger” as greed and “hunger” as starvation….