Texte d'Amitav Ghosh


« The train was at a standstill, some twenty minutes outside Kolkata(1), when an unexpected stroke of luck presented Piya with an opportunity to avail herself of a seat beside a window. She had been sitting in the stuffiest part of the compartment, on the edge of a bench, with her backpacks arrayed around her: now, moving to the window, she saw that the train had stopped at a station called Champahati. A platform sloped down into a huddle of hutments before sinking into a pond filled with foaming grey sludge. She could tell, from the density of the crowds on the train, that this was how it would be all the way to Canning: strange to think that this was the threshold of the Sundarbans, this jungle of shacks and shanties, spanned by the tracks of a commuter train. Looking over her shoulder, Piya spotted a tea-seller patrolling the platform. Reaching through the bars, she summoned him with a wave. She had never cared for the kind of chai(2) sold in Seattle, her hometown, but somehow, in the ten days she had spent in India she had developed an unexpected affinity for milky, overboiled tea served in earthware cups. There were no spices in it for one thing, and this was more to her taste than the chai at home. She paid for her tea and was trying to manœuvre the cup through the bars of the window when the man in the seat opposite her own suddenly flipped over a page, jolting her hand. She turned her wrist quickly enough to make sure that most of the tea spilled out of the window, but she could not prevent a small trickle from shooting over his papers. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" Piya was mortified: of everyone in the compartment, this was the last person she would have chosen to scald with her tea. She had noticed him while waiting on the platform in Kolkata and she had been struck by the self-satisfied tilt of his head and the unabashed way in which he stared at everyone around him, taking them in, sizing them up, sorting them all into their places. She had noticed the casual self-importance with which he had evicted the man who'd been sitting next to the window. She had been put in mind of some of her relatives in Kolkata: they too seemed to share the assumption that they had been granted some kind of entitlement (was it because of their class or their education?) that allowed them to expect that life's little obstacles and annoyances would always be swept away to suit their convenience. "Here," said Piya, producing a handful of tissues. "Let me help you clean up." "There's nothing to be done," he said testily. "These pages are ruined anyway." She flinched as he crumpled up the papers he had been reading and tossed them out of the window. "I hope they weren't important," she said in a small voice. "Nothing irreplaceable – just Xeroxes." For a moment she considered pointing out that it was he who had jogged her hand. But all she could bring herself to say was,"I'm very sorry. I hope you'll excuse me." "Do I really have a choice?" he said in a tone more challenging than ironic." Does anyone have a choice when they're dealing with Americans these days?" Piya had no wish to get into an argument so she let this pass. Instead she opened her eyes wide, feigning admiration, and said, "But how did you guess?" "About what?" "About my being American? You're very observant." This seemed to mollify him. His shoulders relaxed as he leaned back in his seat. "I didn't guess," he said. "I knew." "And how did you know?" she said. "Was it my accent?" "Yes," he said with a nod. "I'm very rarely wrong about accents. I'm a translator you see, and an interpreter as well, by profession. I like to think that my ears are tuned to the nuances of spoken language." "Oh really?" She smiled so that her teeth shone brightly in the dark oval of her face. "And how many languages do you know?" "Six. Not including dialects." "Wow!" Her admiration was unfeigned now. "I'm afraid English is my only language. And I wouldn't claim to be much good at it either." A frown of puzzlement appeared on his forehead. "And you're on your way to Canning you said? "Yes." "But tell me this," he said. "If you don't know any Bengali or Hindi, how are you planning to find your way around over there?" "I'll do what I usually do," she said with a laugh." I'll try to wing it. Anyway, in my line of work there's not much talk needed." And what is your line of work, if I may ask?" "I'm a cetologist," she said. "That means" She was beginning, almost apologetically, to expand on this when he interrupted her. "I know what it means," he said sharply. "You don't need to explain. It means you study marine mammals. Right?" "Yes," she said, nodding. "You're very well informed. Marine mammals are what I study – dolphins, whales, dugongs and so on. My work takes me out on the water for days sometimes, with no one to talk to – no one who speaks English, anyway." »
Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, Harper Collins, 2004

1. In the first two paragraphs, what details are typical of Indian life? Mention at least five details.
2. Explain why Piya moves to a seat by the window. Quote the text to justify your answer.
3. Sum up the incident that takes place in the compartment between Piya and the man sitting opposite her. (30 words)
4. What is the man's attitude towards the other people on the train? Explain how he came to find himself close to Piya. Illustrate your answer with six elements from the text.
5. Why does the man feel justified to behave so scornfully? Who does the man's attitude remind Piya of?
6. Read from "Oh, I'm so sorry!" to "these days?". How does Piya react and what does it show about her character? Compare her attitude to the man's.
7. How does the man know that Piya is American? What does the reader know about her?
8. At first, what does Piya pretend to admire in the man and why? What does she really admire in him in the end?
9. Read from "A frown of puzzlement" to the end: explain the two characters' attitudes towards language as a means for different cultures to get in touch. What is typically American in Piya's attitue towards other cultures?
Traitez l'un des deux sujets suivants en 300 mots (indiquez le nombre de mots):
1. Imagine the same passage as told by the man.
2. Do you admire this young woman? Would you be ready to go and work alone in a faraway country whose customs and language you do not know?
Translate into French from "Looking over her shoulder…" to "… more to her taste than the chai at home".
(1)Kolkata : The other name of Calcutta, a city in eastern India, the capital of the West Bengal State, near the Bay of Bengal.
(2)Chai : Indian spiced tea.


1. Details typical of Indian life:
  • On the train "She had been sitting… on the edge of a bench…"
  • "A platform sloped down into a huddle of hutments…"
  • "… a pond with foaming grey sludge."
  • "… the density of the crowd on the train…"
  • "This jungle of shacks and shanties, spanned by the tracks of a commuter train."
  • "… a tea-seller patrolling the platform."
  • "Reaching through the bars" of the window.
  • "… milky, over-boiled tea served in earthenware cups."
2. She moved to a seat by the window when a seat was left empty because it was much more comfortable to sit there than where she was at the beginning of her trip on the train. Indeed "She had been sitting in the stuffiest part of the compartment, on the edge of a bench.". The place was overcrowded and she was really ill at ease there. It was difficult to breathe, so sitting by the window would enable her to breathe fresh air.
3. As she was trying to take her cup of tea into the compartment through the bars of the window, the man sitting there jostled her hand. She tried to move her hand so as not to spill her tea onto the man, but some of it spilled out onto some of the papers he was reading.
4. His attitude towards the other people on the train is rather contemptuous, scornful : "the self-satisfied tilt of his head", "the unabashed way in which he stared at everyone around him", "taking them, seizing them up, sorting them all into their places". He is a disdainful, haughty and even rude man : "the casual self-importance with which he had evicted the man who'd been sitting next to the window.". He clearly feels superior and this matches his behaviour : "the assumption that they had been granted some kind of entitlement". Moreover, he thinks everything must be done at his own convenience : "expect that life's little obstacles and annoyances would always be swept away to suit their convenience.".
5. The man feels justified to behave so scornfully because he must belong to a rather upper class/caste, he has received a good education and he has a good position/job. The man's attitude reminds Piya of the behaviour of some of her relatives.
6. Piya is embarrassed and apologetic, she does her best to try to clean the tea that has been spilled, which shows that she cares about people and is a well-educated and well-mannered woman whereas the man is just the opposite and is disdainful.
7. The man knows Piya is American because her accent betrayed her. The reader knows she was born in Seattle which is her hometown, she is a cetologist, she studies marine mammals and she has relatives in Kolkata, consequently she is of Indian origin, either her mother or her father or both of them are Indian.
8. At first she is surprised even astounded by the fact that the man speaks six languages and even dialects whereas she can only speak English because she says she doesn't master it very well. Moreover, she is flabbergasted because he even knows who a cetologist is and what her job consists in. His erudition and his command of the language, which does not seem to be his native language, impress her. Those are the reasons why she admires him.
9. Piya, like many Americans, does not know other languages and thinks that speaking English is enough to travel or even work abroad whereas the man thinks speaking other languages is important and necessary to understand and to be understood, in other words to communicate with people and share their culture. For Piya, communicating is not so necessary or only for the bare necessities and even in that case she must think that she and people can cope even if she or they do not speak a single foreign word. In addition, she may also think that as English is quite widespread throughout the world, people can speak English, as a consequence she doesn't have to make efforts to learn another language.
1. Travail personnel de récriture du passage mais cette fois vu à travers l'autre personnage. Il faudra donc bien prendre en compte l'attitude et le comportement de ce dernier pour opérer les changements nécessaires dans la vision des événements.
2. I must say I quite admire this young woman who goes abroad to work whereas she doesn't speak the language and who is even sometimes isolated due to the kind of work she does. As far as I am concerned, I would like to say that for me going to another country is related to tourism at the moment.
Nevertheless, I would probably think about living in a foreign country if I had difficulties in finding a job because of economic conditions or if it were impossible to earn a decent living in my home country. I think I would be reluctant, but I would certainly settle abroad if there were limited opportunities or possibilities for promotion and initiatives here.
The boring routine of everyday life could be another reason that could account for my desire to emigrate. In that case, I think I would feel a strong wish to break with the monotony of life and I would feel like starting anew and discovering other ways of life. Of course, this would be a difficult decision to take. It would even be hard and painful to give up my way of living and to abandon my familiar surrounding. France is the place where I have my roots. Furthermore, I would certainly miss my relatives and my friends.
Moreover, once in a new country, I would have to adapt to new customs I am not used to. At first, I would certainly have difficulties in starting from scratch. I would have to get used to speaking and understanding another language and to making new friends. I would be torn between two cultures and two different ways of thinking. But I think that in spite of all the difficulties I might encounter, I would be ready to take the decision and it might prove to be a valuable experience and advantage in life.
En regardant par dessus son épaule, Piya repéra un vendeur de thé qui arpentait le quai. Passant le bras à travers les barreaux de la fenêtre, elle le héla en faisant un signe de la main/ agitant la main. Elle n'avait jamais fait attention au type de thé vendu à Seattle, sa ville natale, mais d'une certaine manière, pendant les dix jours qu'elle venait de passer en Inde, elle avait développé un certain goût pour le thé au lait bouilli à l'excès et servi dans des tasses en terre cuite. De plus, il n'était pas épicé et cela correspondait mieux à son goût que le thé à Seattle/ là-bas/ dans son pays.