BOOK REVIEW Novel : The Shadow Lines AUTHOR : At-nitav Ghosh Awards : winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award (1989). Bibliography : The Shadow Lines(novel), Wikipedia(lnternet). Main Characters : Mayadebi, Tridib, Ila, May, Narrator, Nick, grandmother. POLITICAL SCENE-RIO : The novel is set against the backdrop of historical events: 1 . Swadeshi movement 2. Second World War 3. Partition of Country 4. Communal riots of 1963-64 in Dhaka and Calcutta CHARACTERS ANALYSIS : The characters in this novel – except that of Tridib – are realistically portrayed and are not larger than life.
Each one is portrayed with all the weaknesses that make them endearing. Each one is believable . But Tridib does not seem to belong to this world. He comes across as a ‘seer’, someone endowed with extra-sensory and extra- visionary abilities. 1. Narrator : The protagonist is a middle class boy who grows up in a middle class family. He is sexually attaracted to lla but he never tells her. He is very close to his grandmother and knows about her more than anyone. As a young boy he seldom gets to travel farther than his school. And yet his world spans far beyond, across continents.
He paints up this world, rather vividly, borrowing colours from others. He uses Tridib’s eyes to view a certain family in London, their house, the streets, the panic of war. He uses his grandmother’s eyes to see her life in Dhaka as a young girl, her uncle and cousins, the other side of the big house where everything was upside down. He uses his cousin’s eyes to view different parts of the world where she travelled, her aspirations for belonging, her heartaches caused by a reality as different from her dreams as she and her background was from those with whom she lived in those foreign lands. 2.
Tridib : He was the son of Mayadebi, and so by relation he was the second uncle of Narrator. He is well-travelled but he prefers to live his life in Calcutta, where he works at a Ph. D. in archaeology. For Tha’mma, he is very irresponsible person who wastes his life wandering across the streets but narrator loves to listen to Trideb. He passionately believes that ‘a place does not merely exist, that it has to be invented in one’s imagination’ . He was killed by Muslim mobs in communal riots of 1963-64 in Dhaka. Calcutta. She is very strict, disciplined, hardworking, mentally strong and patient lady.
Time is very precious for her. According to her, time is a toothbrush; it goes mouldy if it isn’t used. She had been awarded a Bachelor’s degree in history by Dhaka University. She has a dreadful past. She was married to an engineer with the railways, in Burma. In 1935, her husband passed away. 4. Ila : She is the cousin of narrator. She lives in Stockwell, London. She is very good looking, and broad minded. She wants to be free. According to her, the constraints on women in India made their life horrible. That’s why she lived in London, so that she could do whatever she wants.
She marries Nick, an Englishman, buys a home, finds a job, tries to settle down but without success. 5. May : She is the daughter of Prices family, who are relatives of Tridib’s family. Tridib was in love with her. She is committed to a purposeful and principled social life. She is kind-hearted and works for society by collecting funds for famine relief in Africa, and other social services. 6. Nick : He is a good looking blonde having long hairs and wants to become a Chartered Accountant. As May says to narrator: ‘He is different, he is not like us’.
He lacks the sensibility and moral values of a normal human being. He marries lla and is cheating on her as he admits sleeping with other women. Apart from all these characters, there is a fantasized character “Magda”, lla’s fantasy child whom she acknoledges when she was playing ‘houses’ with the narrator. Magda is blue-eyed and blonde and has very bright and beautiful hairs. This shows that lla fantasized to marry an Englishman from her childhood. TITLE OF THE BOOK- “The Shadow lines” : The shadow lines that the title proclaims to be the theme of the novel are very shadowy themselves.
We never get to see them as they are and there is never a ention of these lines anywhere in the novel. The interpretation of the meaning of the shadow lines is left to the reader. Now that points to an interpretation itself as the shadow lines could mean something that is insubstantial and therefore, its existence is doubtful. Another interpretation of the shadow lines could be that they are lines that change positions with the gaze or perspective. Yet another interpretation of the shadow lines could be that they are Just a pale imitation of reality. What are lines associated with?
Lines could be boundaries or they could Just signify the linearity of relationships. Lines are also used to measuring and dividing length. They are also constructs created by humans and are thus, unreal. Shadow could be referring to the physical shadow that light casts when obstructed by objects. It could also mean protection or security. It could also mean an inseparable companion as a shadow always follows some object or a pale representation of the object. Together, ‘shadow lines’ could mean insubstantial boundaries or boundaries humans carry everywhere . The lines are Just human constructs that have no real significance.
Grandmother asking whether she would be able to see lines on the land eparating India and East Pakistan, and the narrator’s father saying that the boundaries start at the airports itself and grandmother trying to find the boundaries in the Dhaka airport. Even though boundaries separate them, grandmother reveals that Dhaka and Calcutta are very similar to each other. These boundaries are shown to be very flimsy and perspective oriented. The categorisation is based on the perspective of an individual. The best example from the book of this perspective- oriented classification is the way many people look at the riots that killed Tridib.
For he narrator’s father, it was an accident, for May it was a sacrifice, for Robi it was a nightmare. An event has been shown as categorised in several ways by different people. They are correct in some way or another but for the people who classify them so, they are experienced in so varied ways and hence, the difference in the classification. Boundaries demarcate and classify. Man is inherently programmed to classify and form groups of all that he samples by his senses. These classification are generally based on adjectives that are dependent like good, bad, warm, cold, etc.
Shadows are known to change shape and size with changing light positions. The light positions could be considered as the perspective of a person and the shadows as the lines that classify. Hence, the perspective determines the classification and as shadow lines demarcate them, they are unreliable. Author’s way of Presenting Story : The narrator, Indian born and English educated, traces events back and forth in time, from the outbreak of World War II to the late twentieth century, through years of Bengali partition and violence, observing the ways in which political events invade private lives.
Amitav Ghosh refrains from giving him a name. The novel brings into perpestive the fact that one cannot attribute absolute identities to things or events that cant be ‘absolutely’ good or bad. The knack of the narrator to go to places hitherto unseen in a manner as if he had visited them before surprises us Just as it surprises Nick and Ila. The narrative is simple. It flows smoothly, back and forth between times, places and characters. The use of the first person and therefore a reflective style is very effectively used by Ghosh to say much more than the written word. PLOT SUMMARY :
It is a rather straightforward story, which follows the life of a young boy growing up in Calcutta and later on in Delhi and London. His family – the Datta Chaudharis – and the Prices in London are linked by the friendship between their respective patriarchs – Justice Dattachaudhari and Alan Tresawsen. The narrator adores Tridib because of his tremendous knowledge and his perspective of the incidents and places. Tha’mma thinks that Tridib is type of person who seems ‘determined to waste his life in idle Unlike his grandmother, the narrator loves listening to Tridib. For the narrator,
Tridib’s lore is very different from the collection of facts and fgures. The narrator is sexually attaracted to lla but his feelings are passive. He never expresses his feelings to her afraid to lose the relation that exist between them. But one day he expresses his feelings when she was changing clothes in front of him being unaware of his feelings. She feels sorry for him. Tha’mma does not like lla. ‘Why do you always speak for that whore’ – She doesnt like her grandson to support her. Tha’mma has a dreadful past and wants to reunite her family and goes to Dhaka to bring back her ncle.
Tridib is in love with May and sacrificed his life to rescue her from Muslim mobs in the communal riots of 1963-64 in Dhaka. CRITICAL ANALYSIS : The Shadow lines, a novel written by Amitav Ghosh. It was the second novel of him. Language, structure and spirit have coalesced to produce a work of lyrical beauty. Ghosh’s prose is evocative and realist. The Shadow Lines is written effortlessly and without the baggage of ‘magical realism’. This novel is enigmatically written with a blend of fiction and non-fiction events.
Ghosh completely outstands in his language, ay of writing, in different moves he took while the story was proceeding. The most difficult part of a book is to show flashback without explicitly taking off reader’s interest and attention from his reading flow. And narrator completely showed his supremacy in this regard. His resonant use of language completely spell bound the readers. Girish Karnad rightly said about him, “Ghosh uses to great effect a matrix of multiple points of view in which memory, mythology and history freely interpenetrate… A delight to read”. Amitav Ghosh refrains from giving him a name.
The novel brings into perpestive the fact that one cannot attribute absolute identities to things or events that can’t be ‘absolutely’ good or bad. The narrator is a young boy growing up in Calcutta and later on in Delhi and London. As a young boy, he seldom she lived in those foreign lands. There are two parts in the novel- ‘Gong Away’ and ‘Coming Home’. ‘Going away’ shows the narrator who has heard about England from a cousin who lived there for sometime and his own discovery of the country when he visits it later in life. ‘Coming Home’ shows his grandmother visiting her old home in
Dhaka, her nostalgia and the discovery of alienation from what she had remembered before Dhaka became part of Pakistan. His grandmother is passionate for freedom. When she was young during the Swadeshi movement, she wanted to Join it and could do anything for her country. She says- ‘I would have killed him. It was for our argues with her about lla, telling her that lla lives in London not because of the lure of money or commodities, but for freedom. Ila believes that there are lot of constraints on women in Indian culture. There are lot of decisions which women have to take because of the pressure of the society and culture.
Grandmother’s response to this is- ‘It is not freedom she wants, she wants to be let alone to do as she pleases; that’s all any whore would want. ‘ . She doesnt even hasitate to call her a whore. The narrator grandmother’s nationalist faiths fail her because she comes to realize that borders have a tenuous existence, and that not even a history of bloodshed can make them real nad impermeable. Lines on the map are the handiwork of administrators and cartographers. In 1964, as she plans to fly to Dhaka, she wonders if she would be able to see the border between India and East-Pakistan from the lane.
When her son laughs at her, she replies- ‘Where’s the difference then? And if there is no difference, both sides will be the same; it will be Just like it used to be before’ . The grandmother has a typical state dominated view about nationalism,what she is unable to realize that one can be unsafe even in one’s own country. May’s humanitarianism forces Tridib to stop the car and help the dog lying half-dead on the highway. That same instinct of May led Tridib to lose his life when they were caught in the communal riots of 1964 in Dhaka.
She went out of the car trying to save er uncle but Tridib stops her and sacrifices his own life. Torn by her memories, May believes for a long time that she killed Tridib, only at the end, she seems to calm herself and get rid of her torturing guilt when she says- ‘ He gave himself up, it was a sacrifice. I know I can’t understand, I know I mustnt try, for any real sacrifice is a mystery. ‘ . The title “The Shadow lines” is itself peculiar and mysterious. There is no mention of it even a single time. The shadow lines could be boundaries that humans create and which are insubstantial.
The mental boundaries present in the minds of eople that limit their vision to what is visible is transcended by Tridib and the narrator by their imaginations. These mental boundaries are shown to be immaterial, as they cannot limit the sights and scenes of the world. Transcending these boundaries is shown to be a human task that broadens the horizons that one sees. This can be interpreted as a philosophical message that humans can broaden their minds Just by broadening their scope of view. It can be done by seeing things beyond the visible and the obvious, and by seeing things that are subtle and those that are idden for various reasons.
The shadow lines that mark our horizons are merely shadows of the real boundaries and humans should cross it like Sita crossed the Laxman-rekha. This is one novel that can be interpreted in so many different ways in so many different perspectives. This is something that the novel seems to be emphasising. The interpretations vary form person to person, as they are dependent on the person. This is the message I see from the novel from my perspective. Of course, someone else may differ on this. This is the beauty of this novel, again from my perspective.