Academic journal article ARIEL

Fixity amid Flux: Aesthetics and Environmentalism in Amitav Ghosh's the Hungry Tide

Academic journal article ARIEL

Fixity amid Flux: Aesthetics and Environmentalism in Amitav Ghosh's the Hungry Tide

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay explores the formal means by which Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide (2004), a novel set in the Sundarbans islands, articulates an environmental politics that reconciles social justice and ecological concerns. However, the novels internal contradictions surface in its treatment of South Asian fisherman Fokir as an idealized peasant whose fixity is in marked contrast with the fluid subjectivities of the metropolitan characters. I argue that Fokir's idealization is a problematic way in which the novel mourns the loss of peasant culture in the context of neoliberalism's destruction of rural ecologies.

Keywords: rural, neoliberalism, dispossession, environmentalism, network narrative, fixity


I do think that writers of my generation have a duty to address issues of the environment. When we look at writers of the Thirties and Forties, we ask "where did you stand on fascism?" In the future they will look at us and say "where did you stand on the environment?" I think this is absolutely the fundamental question of our time.

Amitav Ghosh ("Amitav Ghosh in Conversation" 137)

In his October 2004 essay "Folly in the Sundarbans," novelist Amitav Ghosh opposes a corporate plan to make a beach resort and "eco-village" on the Sundarbans archipelago off the northeast coast of India. (1) The plan, proposed by the Sahara India Pariwar, was under review by the West Bengal state government at the time. Ghosh criticizes the government's and capitalists' "folly" in thinking the Sundarbans could become a site for beach tourism. The region, he argues, is made up of "mud flats and mangrove islands," home to sharks and crocodiles, and particularly vulnerable to cyclones and tidal waves. It is therefore not only unfit for a beach resort but also extremely dangerous. (2) Ghosh also considers the potential ecological costs of the project: "The floating hotel and its satellite structures will ... disgorge a large quantity of sewage and waste into the surrounding waters," which will in turn affect the population of crabs and fish as well as endangered species such as the Irrawaddy dolphin. Moreover, he suggests, while " [t]he Sahara Parivar (3) claims that it will open 'virgin' areas to tourists ... the islands of the Sundarbans are not 'virgin' in any sense." The Indian part of the Sundarbans alone "supports a population of close to four million people," many of whom have suffered eviction by the state government in the name of the very ecological concerns that it would ignore were it to permit the proposed plan. In 1979, West Bengal's government violently displaced tens of thousands of mostly Dalit or lower caste refugee settlers from the island of Morichjhapi in order to make room for a conservation project called Project Tiger. Ghosh warns that the business plan would exacerbate the injustices of the past by turning "large stretches of this very forest, soaked in the blood of evicted refugees, into a playground for the affluent."

According to Ramachandra Guha, Project Tiger--which Ghosh invokes as a precedent for the Sahara Pariwar plan--is a "network of parks hailed by the international conservation community as an outstanding success" and is "managed primarily for the benefit of rich tourists" (75). Indeed, funded by environmental groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature and backed by the Indian government, Project Tiger exemplifies Rob Nixon's argument that "[t]oo often in the global south, conservation, driven by powerful transnational nature NGOs, combines an anti-developmental rhetoric with the development of finite resources for the touristic few, thereby depleting vital resources for long-term residents" (18). (4) Although the Sahara Pariwar plan is more explicitly profit-driven, it resembles Project Tiger in its use of conservation rhetoric to justify the takeover of land and natural resources. Both the business plan and state led conservation project directly or indirectly fuel an economic logic that David Harvey calls "accumulation by dispossession," or

   the continuation and proliferation of accumulation practices
   that Marx had treated as "primitive" or "original" during the rise
   of capitalism. … 
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