Kanai Dutt can’t take his eyes off from slim, shapely body of Piyali Roy when he steps out of a commuter train in southern Kolkata. Dressed in an oversized white shirt and jeans, Piyali confidently passes through a packed crowd in the station amid her inability to understand local language. A destiny brings the two together into the same train bringing them to Canning.
Piyali Roy, known as Piya, is an Indian-born American scientist deeply in love with Sundarbans dolphins. She travels a lot to study then rescue the animals from extinction. While Kanai is a middle-aged businessman who runs a small yet profitable translation house in New Delhi.
Through a short conversation in the train, Kanai learns that Piya is heading to Sundarbans to observe the dolphins habitat. Sundarbans is a group of islands in the Bengal Bay. Kanai, meanwhile, is having a journey to Lusibari where which he will meet his aunt Nilima, an old reputable widow who owns a non-profit organization called the Badabon Trust in the island.
Lusibari is among many islands in Sundarbans that is surrounded by thick mangroves. It is also called as the Tide Country given tide and strong wave often strikes the place. Like many islands, the remote place is a home of wild animals, especially tigers, that kill and eat humans. Visitors barely see the tigers but they always watch out. They are aware of human presence even if people are cluess on their whereabouts.
Kanai has a short childhood memory with this place. He is sent away by his parents to the island after he humiliates his teacher in front of the class. He becomes a darling for both Nilima and her husband Nirmal.
The childless couple treats Kanai well. Even he acts as a communicator between Nirmal and Nilima who inevitably enter a “cold” relationship before Nirmal dies. It is a collection of letter that brings Kanai returns to the place. Nilima demands him to visit her as she does not dare to open the letters from her husband. It takes a quite long time before Nilima is able to persuade Kanai to leave his busy life in the capital for a short revisit.
Kanai is surprised to see the condition of the river connecting Canning and Lusibari once he and Nilima sits in a boat. The river is so full of mud and the wave is strong. But his suffering is worthwhile as he steps in the island. A simple yet modern hospital is present around a guest house where which he will stay. A long array of tress surround the island. The electricity is on only until 9 p.m. He begins to read what his uncle leaves to him. And one by one, secrets are unveiled.
Piya knows she will encounter problems should she hire people from the government as her assistants while doing the observation. And thats proven to be true. She has to pay a quite amount of money to the officers and is not free to do what she really wants in the waters. She is rescued by Fokir, an illiterate fisherman, when she is drowned. She later hires Fokir who brings along his son, Tutul, to trace and observe the dolphins. A language barrier between she and Fokir does not make their trips a troublesome. Through the journey, both communicates through gestures and pictures. Despite his lack of education background, Fokir has wide knowledge on the Sundarbans. Once Piya shows him the pictures of the dolphins, he immediately takes her to come to a place where they are abundant. “Garjontola,” he says.
Nirmal and Nilima Bose first meet at the Ashutosh College in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Nilima happens to be Nirmal’s student in one of his classes. They arrive in Lusibari in a search of a safe haven following a turmoil resulted from Nirmal’s small indirect involvment in one of the political parties in India. They move to Lusibari in 1950 where which Nirmal works as a teacher in the Lusibari School. Nilima herself sets up the Trust to help women in the island for a better health and household economy. Slowly but surely, the foundation grows larger until she can establish a hospital equips with a shelter from strong tide thanks to Nirmal’s advice.
The letters are less important than Kanai expects. Not long before he dies, Nirmal suffers from an inner conflict that makes him as an empty, useless soul who even has no money to buy a decent book. He declines his wife suggestion to be involved in the foundation. Feeling so lonely, he happens to meet Horen when he is in a boat to visit Morichjhapi. Nirmal is astonished once he sees how well organized inhabitants of the island are. What surprises him more is the presence of Kusum and her son, Fokir.
The tomboy and outspoken Kusum is Kanai’s sole friend during his brief stay in Lusibari. From Kusum, Kanai learns about folklore Bon Bibi believed by many residents in the Sundarbans as spiritual power that can save them from tigers or evil creatures.Bon Bibi will always help those who are good at hearts. Kanai last see Kusum after both watch a stage performance about the legend.
Long not knowing on Kusum’s whereabouts, Kanai is surprised to find out that Moyna, the woman who provides him with meals during the stay, is the daughter-in-law of Kusum. Nilima tells him that his long-lost friend dies during a massacre. Moyna marries Fokir then gives birth to Tutul.
By the time Kanai meets Moyna, he is eager to understand on why she is willing to marry Fokir given the latter uneducated trait. Moyna is a smart woman who loves studying as a nurse. While Fokir spends most of his time with Tutul catching for crabs in the sea. According to Nilima, Fokir sometimes puts his wife at alarm each time he brings Tutul away in the sea like the time when Kanai is staying in the island.
Amid tough trips, Piya continues to observe the dolphins from one island to another. She is amazed yet cautious to know how dangerously beautiful the islands are. She gets what she needs tough not much at the beginning. Fokir helps her so much with all of her tasks. He warns her every time they enter muddy island with watchful wild animals around their presence. Once she considers this initial trip as quite adequate, she asks for Fokir to bring her to Lusibari, a place she hardly knows but believes on a true invitation from Kanai.
Nirmal becomes alive after his first visit to Morichjhapi. For a long time, he always dreams of being an initiator of a new life, new hope in a new place with spirited people. He always wants to see himself being the part of an emerging nation within nation along with its fresh and fair policy. He can figure this out once he arrives in the island. But one question hits his head,” how am I gonna help these people?”. He receives only a chuckle when he tells one of the leaders in the barrack that he wants to teach kids for free. The people in Morichjhapi need political recognition for their presence in the island, not education at the time being. But Nirmal keeps coming back to the place despite Nilima’s warning. The inhabitants of Morichjhapi are refugees who seek shelters in illegal land belonging to the government. It only a matter of time they will eventually be expelled. Nirmal ignores this fact. For him, his ability to help the inhabitants paves his way of self-reborn, being a useful person in his old days. Kusum’s presence brings a motivation for drawing him and Horen to regularly come there. Kusum once comes to the Trust and ask for helps from Nilima but to no avail. Nilima does not want to help people who illegally occupy government’s land.
Not long after that, officers come to the place. They kill, send away the inhabitants. They even drown women who refuse to leave the island. Kusum is one of the victims. After her death, Fokir is taken care by Horen.
Piya’s visit to Lusibari brings a surprise to Kanai given their short acquitance in the train. Piya is then led to the Guest House where she meets Fokir’s wife Moyna. Piya spends several days only in the place as she needs Fokir’s help to explore Garjontola again. For this journey, Kanai insists he wants to join with them as he can act as a translator, an excuse for his real reason for always being at her side.
Horen, a local fisherman, Fokir, Kanai, and Piya set to go to Garjontola few days after her arrival in Lusibari. One night before his departure, Nilima warns Kanai on consequences he may face as he decides to explore rough waters. She recalls how dangerous the tigers are. Various efforts from the government are fruitless to banish them.
Real fight between humans and tigers are seen shortly after they are stranded in one of the nearby islands. Piya is shocked to view how the inhibitants of the island blind, imprison, before kill a tiger that is entrapped. Fokir takes her away from the place when she is about to stop the cruelty.
In the middle of the journey, Kanai makes up his mind to pull out from the search. That happens after he and Fokir shares the same boat to observe the dolphins while Piya is away with another boat. The boat bringing Kanai and Fokir is carried away by a strong river current that they are stranded in a muddy place. Kanai ignores Fokir’s help to get back to the boat. He instead manages to walk and pass through the muddy area. During his hard walking, he catches glimpes of tigers all around him. He is finally rescued by Piya and others but the sense of afraidness lingers on his mind.
Before his departure from Garjontola, he leaves “a gift” in forms of letters to Piya. He explains on the meanings of songs Fokir loves to hum when he is in the boat. “It contains a tale of Bon Bibi, an unknown creature believed by many residents as their saviors,”. Kanai, Horen, and the other fisherman leaves Garjontola early in the morning for Lusibari. Horen and the fisherman will return to Garjontola after they bring Kanai safely. Piya and Fokir continue their trip.
But just when they depart from Garjontola, a thick cloud hits the sky of Sundarbans. Horen quickly remembers on how he becomes a few of people who can survive during a catastrophe in 1970s when a powerful wave strikes the group of the islands. They manage to arrive in Lusibari at the right moment when strom is about to come. Inhabitants of Lusibari already gather in a shelter within the hospital compound while Nilima and Moyna are prepared to do so. One question remains unanswered for Moyna,” where is his husband?”.
Piya and Fokir are still in the waters while following the dolphins’ ways when the sky is darkened. Unusual behaviors from the dolphins put Piya’s mind at an alarming level that a big storm in coming. Being such a born nature explorer, Fokir already knows what they need to do. He gets Piya’s hands and tight them both in a tree standing in unknown site wherever their boat can land. Slowly but surely, what the are afraid of is coming true. About three meters of water submerge their bodies. Piya struggles to cope with all of this. She fights to come out from the tide but Fokir prevents her to do so. When the first storm ends, both have only few time to get ready for the following storm that is as big as the first one. Fokir does all he can to protect Piya for the second time.
Moyna can’t help crying once she sees that Piya becomes the sole person coming out from Horen’s boat. Fokir can’t make his way to survive after the second storm.
One month passes. Kanai returns to New Delhi while Piya visits her relatives in Kolkatta. She eventually returns to Lusibari then shares her ideas to set up a foundation on the dolphins preservation in the site. She will name the foundation after Fokir’s name. Moyna will be involved as well. She will receive financial support for Tutul’s education. Kanai will be joining both in a day or two.