The Question of Ideology in Amitav Ghosh's the Hungry Tide

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The Question of Ideology in Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide The stalwarts of Indian writing in English like Salman Rushdie, Khushwant Singh, Mukul Kesavan, Vikram Chandra, Amitav Ghosh and the like, are writing in a postcolonial space using novel as a means of cultural representation. Their novels are generally assumed to be engaged in postcolonial consciousness but a close study of the thematic range proves that the novels also attempt to universalized humanistic gesture, for human nature and social relationships are as important as the interplay of power and national relationships. Twentieth century novelists were preoccupied with the historic past and the unabated interest of the readers in the novels that depicted the past or that treated some event of national importance having wide repercussions, like the freedom struggle of India. The countrymen’s vitality and their devotion to the cause were amply reflected in the novels of Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and K. A. Abbas in the 1930s and the 1940s; but the most historical event of our age, as is evident from the writings of the Indo-English novelists, was the partition of the Indian subcontinent by the English rulers in the year 1947. The Hindu-Muslim religious and political difference climaxed with this event which led to widespread disturbances. Many novels were written on the theme of Partition, the destruction it brought and the plight of the refugees; but a novel is never a mere recapitulation of historical events. To call Amitav Ghosh’s novel as mere political allegory would be facile. Instead what Ghosh shows is the impact of politics on the lives of ordinary people and human relationships. To do that he uses the historical events as raw material in his novels and The Hungry Tide is one such novel Ghosh wrote at the peak of his powers. This novel is limited to quite a narrow geographical area, i.e., to the Sunderbans in the Bay of Bengal, and perhaps by extension Bengal, and the novelist does this on purpose. He wants to throw some light on this tidal country of darkness that is little known within India, even within Bengal. In The Hungry Tide, the various intertwining character-plots revolve around mainly two conceptual plots. The first explores the plight of the displaced people, here specifically a group of refugees from Bangladesh who found themselves in a confrontation with the Indian Government. The other conceptual plot questions how humans share a complex and dangerous ecosystem with animals like dolphins, tigers and crocodiles in the Sunderbans. Both these plots can be assessed from the ideological point of view but the first one bears a more distinct connection to the question of ideology. The undercurrent of ideological conflict in Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide is a very interesting area of study. Although some scholars have talked briefly about this issue in their respective papers, it has not yet been the central focus of any published research paper on the novel. Here, the present reader will try to address the question of ideology in Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide. At the outset, it is important to define ‘ideology’ that has become a key concept in Marxist criticism of literature and other arts, though it was not much discussed by Marx and Engels after The German Ideology which they wrote jointly in 1845-’46. Marx inherited the term from French philosophers of the late eighteenth century who used it to designate the study of the way that all general concepts develop from sense-perceptions. In Marxist criticism it is claimed that Human consciousness is constituted by an ideology – that is, the beliefs, values, and ways of thinking and feeling through which human beings perceive, and by recourse to which they explain, what they take to be reality. An ideology is, in complex ways, the product of the position and interests of a particular class. In any historical era, the dominant ideology embodies, and serves to legitimize and perpetuate, the interests of the...
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