Shadow Lines, actually!!

Amitav Ghosh is an Indian author recognised for his works in the english language. He was born in Kolkata and earned a D. Phil in social anthropology from Oxford University. He currently lives in New York with his wife, who is an author as well, and his two children. Ghosh is a faculty member at Queens college, University of New York and a visiting professor at Harvard University. His works include novels like ‘The Circle Of Reason (1986)’, ‘The Shadow Lines (1990)’, ‘The Hungry Tide (2004)’, and the ‘Sea Of Poppies (2008)’. He has been awarded various awards for his works which include Sahitya Akademi Award, India’s most prestigious literary award, which he won for his novel, The Shadow Lines.

The Shadow Lines is a work of fiction, set up against the backdrop of historical events in India like the partition, the communal riots and various movements that came up during those times. Though a number of writers have written novels against the same backdrop, this one is indeed a class apart. Ghosh has beautifully carved the story of two families, the Datta Chaudharies, living in India and the family of Prices, living in London which are related because of the healthy relations between their respective patriarchs.

The main protagonist of the story, the narrator himself, has been left unnamed till the end. He adores Tridib, who is his second uncle by relation but more like a friend to him in reality. He admires him because of his vast knowledge and the sharing of experiences he has had abroad because it was like an unseen world for the narrator. The narrator carves the incidents and the places shared by Tridib in a way that they become a permanent fixture in his memory. The narrator’s grandmother, Thamma, a strict headmistress at a girls’ school, disapproves of Tridib and calls him a loafer who does nothing but waste his time in self indulgence. But we find that even Thamma loves Tridib somewhere though she continuously warns the narrator to stay away from him.

The narrator admires Ila, his cousin who stays in London, but she has someone else in her life to whom she later marries. Few years later, when the narrator visits London, he seems to know the streets and the buildings just the way an atlas would know. All because of experiences Tridib had shared with him. Later we discover that Tridib and May Price, loved each other secretly but their relationship could not mature due to some mishap which we get to know as the story unfolds. The same mishap permanently breaks down Thamma’s spirit who was supposed to be really tough and strong. You will have to read for yourself to find out what could change so many lives in a go.

Ghosh has tried to represent the borders we have drawn separating the countries as mere shadow lines and describes them as mirrors which simply reflect us on the other side. These borders can at most distinguish between the names of the countries but cannot stop or erase the memories of one side on the other. For the author, borders do not hold any significance in reality and he has supported this fact by various incidents that take place in the novel.

Ghosh’s sense of writing makes a film of the incidents that move in front of our eyes as if it was nothing but reality. He is able to touch our hearts with his refined talent. Moreover each one of us can relate to some or the other incident in the story and hence the story feels life like. In all, you can’t help falling in love with both the novel and the author!

Sahil Batra