Tuesday, 22 January 2008

In Pursuit of Truth: Insights beyond whales and dolphins

She had never high aspirations for herself as a scientist. Although she liked cetaceans and felt an affinity for them, she knew it was not just for the animals that she did what she did. As with many of her peers, she had been drawn to field biology as much for the life it offered as for its intellectual content – because it allowed her to be on her own, to have no fixed address, to be far from the familiar, while still being a part of a loyal but loose-knit community. This would not change any of that; for the most part it would be the usual grind of writing applications, trying to find funding and so on. Whatever came of it in the end, it was a certainty that it was not going to create an upheaval in science. But at the same time, who would have thought that it would be so intensely satisfying to have your future resolved, to know what you were going to be doing next year and the year after that and so on and son on, until who knew when? And yes, it was true that whatever came of it would not revolutionize the science, or even a minor branch of them, but it was also true that if she were able to go through with it – even a part of it – it would be as fine a piece of descriptive sciences as any. It would be enough; as an alibi for a life, it would do; she would not need to apologize for how she had spent her time on this earth.

The passage was taken from Amitav Gosh’ The Hungry Tide (2004), page 126-127, as Piya the heroine contemplated her way of life onboard a simple and rustic fishing boat. Piya was an Indian-descendant American, a cetologist, who did research on riverine dolphins in the Sundarban, the great mangrove forest regions in the Bay of Bengal, between India and Bangladesh.

Interestingly, the book is not only about the life of a cetologist who is out of place in her own ancestral country. In line with Gosh’ previous book (The Glass Palace), the book also talked about India’s socio-politics, notably during the problems of India and Bangladesh way back in the 70s. But Hungry Tide is not merely about social conflicts. It’s also about respect, showing how Hindus and Moslems of the Sundarban worships similar deities while retaining their traditional believes. It’s also about love that bloomed between Piya, a woman of science and Fokir, a man of the sea, an ordinary crab fisher, with the modern and dashing Kanai – typical smart Indian guy he was – in the middle.