Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 29

Violence in The Shadow Lines: Nationalist Rhetoric and Historical Silence

The organizing principle of any society is war. The authority of the state over its people
in its war powers. –Oliver Stone

Violence is not always physical or tangible; it can be unleashed through powerful


discursive practices with the purpose of circulating the dominant ideology through the
body politic. Such an intensely political and theoretical grounding can form a suitable
entry-point to a seemingly apolitical narrative of Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines, a
text which is international in scope but very local in spirit.

Tha’mma finds herself in between the extremes of the existent and non-existent realities.
Her subject position is precarious: on the on e hand, she advocates the militant
nationalism of revolutionaries as is evident through her contemptuous attitude towards
the refugees living in shanties on the outskirts of the city. Her Nationalist fervour, during
her college days, against the colonial rule sharpened her sense of nationhood. She extends
that antagonistic logic to the formation of the Indian nation-state in the post-
independence context- a nation, whose borders are confirmed in war. War is an
instrument of the state to legitimize its claim to be the sole agent and authority of
violence; it unites the country against a common enemy, ratifies the territorial boundaries
and deepens the ideological and international opposition necessary to shape a cohesive
national identity. It is in this light one may understand Tha’mma enthusiastically telling
her grandson about the British history of bloodshed: “War is their religion. That’s what it
takes to make a country.” As physical strength is a prerequisite for any aggressive
military action, she insists that her grandson take physical exercises daily: “you can’t
build a strong country, without building a strong body.” Her ecstasy at contributing to the
War Fund is symptomatic of her tenuous situation. The Nationalist rhetoric which thrives
only in a national-crisis, be it Indo-Pak or any other war:” we have to kill them before
they kill us; we have to wipe them out.”

The motif of Violence looms throughout The Shadow Lines. The narrative begins in
1939 – the year of of the outbreak of the Second World War – and essentially ends in
1964 with the eruption of riots in Dhaka and Calcutta. Tridib’s boyhood experiences of
war-torn London in 1939 and his violent murder 25 years later by a rioting mob in Dhaka
constitute the end points of the main narrative. These two instances of the destructive
force of violent nationalism mark not only the actual time span of the novel but also
probe the legitimacy of the nation-states. This scrutiny becomes much more significant in
the light of the looking-glass metaphor located precisely at these very markers of the
novel, namely: Tresawen’s description of nationalist jingoism in germany, though in a
grotesque way, during the second world war; Tha’mma’s disappointment with the Indo-
Pak border on her trip to Dhaka when she could not spot a tangible difference, a physical
demarcation between the two nations. Her nationalist faith gets a severe jolt at such an
absence, which actually rips apart her whole ideology: “what was it all for them –
partition and all the killing and everything – if there isn’t something in between?”

Tha’mma’s nationalist vocabulary is couched in the language of modernity,


which, particularly in its colonial derivation, required the syntax of good citizenship and
an exclusive national pride. But as her grandson rightly point out; her tragedy is the
tragedy of the entire middle-class:

All she wanted was a middle-class in which, like the middle-classes the world
over, she would thrive believing in the unity of nationhood and territory, of self-respect
and nation power; that was all she wanted – a modern middle-class life, a small thing,
that history had denied her in its fullness and for which she could never forgive it.

One major component missing in this prognosis is that she is a rootless refugee from
East Pakistan, suddenly thrown into a financial crisis owing to the partition.
Consequently, she gets declassed, much against her wish. Her predicament is that of
countless Bengali Hindu refugees in post-independence Bengal, who had been rendered
penniless- in stark contrast to their erstwhile financial edge over the Muslim peasants and
workers in the unified Bengal province. Tha’mma’s class-consciousness never allows her
to identify herself with the plight of the refugees living in unhygienic slums on the
outskirts of the city. Following the same logic, she is contemptuous of her relatives who
too belong to the same category. She cannot relate to Calcutta as her home; nor can
Dhaka satisfy her construct at home. “Home” is now forever a memory for her, a fond
recall which she can share with her grandson. To borrow Paul de Man’s words, memeory
for Tha’mma is the restrospective recording of her failure to overcome the power of time.
Born in Dhaka, separated from her biteh place by a history of blood shed and lines on the
map, tham’ama loses her grammatical cordionatesas evident in her confusion about
“coming” and “going” home. Her strictly disciplinarian and regimented mind seems
unable to understand “how her place of birth had come so readily at odds with her
nationality”. She suffers form a post-patition “angst” typical of the East Bengalis,
rendered “immobile” like their homeland. Like a typical character from an absurd play,
she is an alien, a stranger, unable to come or go. This angst precisely accounts for her
pathological hatred for her erstwhile neighbours in Dhaka during the war of 1965: as for
her theatre of the war cleanses the messy mob violence of streets of which she had been a
witness..

In a such volatile situation, no wonder cartography forms a recurring symbol in the text
– with maps, lines and borders driving home the contradiction between nation and culture
and universal civilization. The narrator is precariously positioned netween a staunch
nationalist grandmother and a defiant Tridib[ his uncle] , who actually opens to him new
avenues of ideas, though insisting on imagination with precision. Tridib is the polar
opposite of Tha ‘mma owing his quality to transcend barrier of the mind. He is a man
without a nation, a Tristan incarnate, in love with a woman- across- the –seas. May
misses the point when she interperets tridib’s murder as a “sacrifice”: it is actually a
defiance of nationalistic rhetoric, a refusal to accept the state- imposed boundaries which
close human mind and denigrate humanitarian values. Tridib’s killing while trying to
rescue the senile old man-one who had been their arch- enemy in a family feud – was
compounded by the death of Khalil in the same incident. Their death underlines the
essential fallacies in all rhetoric nationalism and the sepatistist political logic of the
nation-srtate since these cannot enforce cultural defence on people. There is always some
“ other thing” – wheteher a bus journey or a cricket match that connects Calcutta to
Dhaka, a Bengali to a bengladsehi, Lahore to amristar, srinagar to muzzaffarabad in
Pakistan-occupied-kashmir, as images in a mirror. Event he mutauality of riots in both
Dhaka and Calcutta over the disappearance of the prophet’s hair in srinagar nullifies all
claims of exclusive national identity. Ironically, it is though self-destructive violence that
the sub-continental commonality is asserted.

Women, Exile and national belonging

In the face of the ubiquity of the nation as the way of imagining community in the world
today. Ghosh’s second novel The Shadow Lines brings to the fore two generations of
migrant women- the narrator’s grandmother. Tha’mma, and cousin, Ila- who become the
figures through which different kinds of promises of nationality and migration rendered
common by nationalism and globalization are belied. The Shadow Lines focuses on the
unnamed middle-class, Bengali Hindu narrator’s family in Calcutta and Dhaka, and on
their connection with an English family in London, spanning in the period from the
thirties to the present. The relation between Tha’ama [who is very fond of the narrator] ,
and her grand-niece Ila figures the conflict between anti-colonial nationalism and migrant
cosmolitician, even as it makes visible limits and failures of both for this middle-classes,
female citizens of the India and the U.K. Tha’ama grows up in the tumultuous days of
the Indian freedom struggle in Dhaka and is fiercely nationalist. She reveals to the
narrator that she had once dreamed of joining the Bengali revolutionaries who struggle to
overthrow the mantle of colonial oppression, and she would have readily killed a British
officer for freedom. Having grown up in Dhaka and living in Burma where her husband
works, she migrates to Calcutta in the thirties. When he suddenly dies. A relative
arranges a job for her to teach in a school there, and she single-handedly raises her
children, proudly refusing all help from family and friends. Fervently patriotic, she has
ideologically embraced the anti-colonial nationalism in whose revolutionary activities she
could not directly participate because she is a woman.

Ila is the privileged daughter of a diplomat and has grown up in different parts of the
world: she self-consciously performed an elite cosmopolitanism that dismisses the
importance of third world places like India in the summer holidays, she decides to study
and live in England. Her reason for migrating to England becomes evident to the narrator
one summer, when there is a confrontation between Ila and her cousin, Robi at
discotheque in Calcutta. Having cajoled them into going to the
disco………………………………………………………………….. Tha’ama’s migrant
nationalism is thus mirrored in Ila’s migration to England both emerging from a desire
for freedom. Simultaneously, the class-marked conception of refugee that circulated in
the early national period in India, identified in chapter four is evinced: When the
narrator’s father reminds Tha’ama that as migrates from Dhaka they were once refugees
in India, she refuses the appellation “refugee” –for her, the refugee is the other who is
poor and who live in filthy hutments and shanty towns that scar the Calcutta landscape.

Ghosh’s fiction illuminates the urgency of provincial zing the universality


of the nation as ideal community, through the representations of its material and
psychological abjection of women’s bodies and women’s lives. Thus he criticizes the
failure of nationalism and global migrations for minor subjects. Tha’ama and Ila’s
middle-class migrant desires for national belonging or belied by the realities of gender
oppression and ethnic conflict in post-colonial history. For Ghosh, there are no easy
answers to the different kinds of violence endured by these women who leave their
homes in search of newness- where that newness named “freedom” is variously defined
as middle-class community or as racial and gender equality. What he does insist on,
however, is the need to question the myths of both nationalism and globalization and to
witness their violence.
The Shadow Lines interrogates nationalism not only through Tha’ama but also, through
the testimony of riot violence suffered by the Bengali middle-class male body. The novel
underscores the fragility of Partition’s borders between national and etched out in maps,
and of the forefronts policed by nation-states that separates people, communities, and
families; it does so to suggest that communities are transnational through the work of
historical memory. Ghosh’s narrator acknowledges that, initially, he had faith in the
myths of nationality; he “believed that distance separates”:” I believed in the reality
nations and borders; I believed that across the border there existed another reality” [214].
But, as he researches the newspaper accounts of a communal riot in Calcutta in 1962 he
remembered from his childhood, he realizes that South Asia is “a land of looking – glass
events”[219]. The looking-glass event he is referring to is the concurrence of ethnic
violence in two different cities in two different nations: Hindu-Muslim riots in Calcutta
and in Dhaka on the dame day on which his young cousin, Tridib, dies. What becomes
evident to the narrator as he researches the two distant and mysteriously simultaneously
riots is that, beyond the logic of nation-states, an “indivisible sanity binds people to each
other independently of their governments” [225]. Implicitly critiquing the 1947 partition,
The Shadow Lines ascribes irrationality to the post-colonial nation-state, and Tridib’s
violent death becomes both sign and effect of the identity of memories and people across
Partition’s border. The sacrifice of his masculine body bears witness to the transnational
affiliations that survey Partition. The narrative thus suggests that the nature of boundaries
can be understood through the metaphor of the looking glass: Partition’s border between
the people of India and West Pakistan resembles the mirrors boundary, in which self and
other are identical.

The Shadow Lines show how Partition bloodies a common historical memory and
displays whole population as refugees. Simultaneously, it suggests that ethnic violence
can make visible the continuity of intimacy and community that nation-state seek to
efface. Critiquing the elite political production of Partition, the narrator asserts: “they had
drawn their borders, believing in that pattern, in the enchantment off lines, hoping
perhaps that once they had etched their borders upon the map, the two bits of land would
sail away from each other” [228]. Yet, in the uncanny, identical temporality of the Hindu-
Muslim violence in places in which Tridib loses his life [in Dhaka], the nation as home is
undone, and another, intimate, transnational community emerges. Partition, for him, “had
created not a separation, but a yet- undiscovered irony- the irony that killed Tridib: the
simple fact that there had never been a moment in the four thousand year old history of
that amp when the places we know as Dhaka and Calcutta were more closely bound to
each other than after they had drawn their lines.” This assertion that Partition intensified
intimacy and generate identity between those in divided is unique:”…..that I, in Calcutta,
had only to look into the mirror to be in Dhaka : a moment when each city is the inverted
image of the other, locked into an irreversible symmetry by the line that was to set us
free- our looking –glass border” [228]. Partition has thus failed, and ethno-religious
violence in the city space signals the continuity of community in spite of nation-states.
For the narrator and his cousin, Robi and Ila, a different kind of freedom-freedom fro
memory- becomes impossible. Robi then ironically links the Partition to the post colonial
separatist movements that have marked South Asia since: “you know, if you look at the
pictures on the front pages of the newspaper at home now, all those pictures of dead
people in Assam, North East, Punjab, Sri Lanka , Tirupura – people shot by terrorists and
separatists and the army and the police, you will find somewhere behind it all that single
word; everyone’s doing it to be free.” [251] The unraveling of the signifier “freedom” in
Tha’ama and Ila’s lives represented earlier thus now reappears articulated to the
rhetoric’s of “freedom” and the resulting violence that marks ethno-nationalist
movements in the post-colonial space, Ghosh’s critique of Partition and it post-colonial
repetitions, then, emerges in the question: “How can anyone divide a memory? “[251].

By affirming the power of memory as the basis of community, Robi challenges the
politics of “freedom” of regional and religious nationalisms. He shows how Partition and
nationalism annihilate community in the name of myths of freedom and newness. Ghosh
points to the transnational of community and memory by disclosing the gendered
violence effected on minor bodies and minor lives by the structure and politics of both
nationalism and globalization. Ghosh’s fictions constitute an intervention that urges us to
provinvialize national modernity and problematize the failures of postcolonial citizenship
for women – “first world” immigrants and “third world” middle-class citizens.
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Gosh paints a landscape of symbolism and realism that
spans both time and space. The concepts of distance and time are uniquely portrayed in
both the physical borders that divide countries and the imaginary borders that divide
human beings. From the image-conscious character of the grandmother to the riots that
explode in the streets, Ghosh takes the reader on a fascinating journey of exploration,
dissecting the characters of the story while simultaneously dissecting the human race.

The title of the novel is perhaps the most philosophical statement Ghosh makes, asserting
that 'The Shadow Lines', or the lines that not only define our human shape but our inner
struggles to choose between darkness and light, are an intricate part of all human
existence. Shadows, like time, are both tangible and intangible at any given moment or
realm of perspective. They are a fleeting, generically depicted, generally distorted
representations of ourselves, and they can only be viewed in the proper light. Ghosh uses
shadow lines as a way of telling us that the way we view ourselves is not always the way
that others view us, and until we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves we will
remain in the shadows of our own enlightenment.

Ghosh manages to speak excessively of shadows, darkness and light, weaving them
subtly into the context of what he is trying to convey. He uses the terms both realistically
and metaphorically to show that the shadow we cast, the one other people can see, is not
always an accurate reflection of who we really are. Nick was not the hero he seemed to
be and when May reveals this to the boy, they are in the process of moving from light to
dark, both in physical environment and knowledge of the truth. In a way, a shadow is like
a "fair weather friend" in that it appears to us only when the sun is directly overhead.
While every human being casts a unique shadow, a common theme can be seen in them
all, namely that they are just as much a part of us as they are detached from us. This is
another realm in which Ghosh metaphorically uses the elements of shadow lines to tell
his story.

Throughout literature's long history, shadows have been used as metaphors for secrets.
Things hidden in the shadows, things which we cannot see though we can vaguely make
out their outlines...these are the traditional metaphors which Ghosh cannot avoid. Ghosh
demonstrates that when secrets come out from behind the shadows and are exposed to the
stark, revealing brilliance of daylight, they do not immediately evaporate. Secrets tend to
linger long after they've been exposed because the fact that they were hidden in the first
place casts strong shadows of doubt upon the person keeping the secret. The revelation of
these secrets can have severe consequences, such as being kicked out of school or being
labeled a liar. Though the grandmother's "letter from the grave" is eventually dismissed,
it's mere existence taught the boy some valuable lessons.

While he is astonished by his grandmother's ability to see past the shadows and into the
light, he is equally annoyed by it. It seems to him that a person ought to be able to keep
some secrets hidden, like his "visits to the women", but at the same time he respects his
grandmother's insight. While her first revelation caused him great embarrassment, her
second was a truth he wished he could have faced himself long ago. He is both praising
and admonishing his late Grandmother in a single breath.

The narrator's secret love for his cousin Ila was forced to remain in the shadows because
the feeling itself, was dark in nature. Anything that is considered taboo, such as sexual
relations between members of the same family, automatically quivers in the shadows of
its own dark truths. Both of the major truths that the grandmother exposed was laden with
sexual taboos, which raise the question, should they ever have been exposed at all? In
light of the pain they caused, one would think not, but in a world in which truth is the
foundation of evolution into maturity, how can one claim that any truth should remain
unilluminated?

On the one hand, Ila's enlightenment to her cousin's feelings for her was good in that it
marked a promise of change in her behavior towards him which she hoped would help to
dissipate his obsession. On the other hand, from the narrator's viewpoint, this revelation
and his cousin's subsequent rejection caused him a great deal of emotional distress.
Should his feelings have remained in the shadows, he may not have endured this sharp,
heart-stabbing pain, yet he may have been subjected a long, slow torture instead. The
answer to whether this truth should have been revealed lies in which kind of pain the
narrator finds less troubling.
While the title'The Shadow Lines' can be read a thousand different ways, and the
significance of shadows throughout the novel can be interpreted with vast distinctions,
one thing remains clear. The shadows that all human beings reflect are as unique to the
individual as each written word is to a talented author like Amitav Ghosh.

****The Shadow Lines" by Amitav Ghosh was written when the homes of the Sikhs
were still smoldering, some of the most important questions the novel probes are the
various faces of violence and the extent to which its fiery arms reach under the guise of
fighting for freedom. Ghosh's treatment of violence in Calcutta and in Dhaka is valid
even today, more than ten years after its publication. What has happened recently in
Kosovo and in East Timor show that answers still evade the questions, which Ghosh
poses about freedom, about the very real yet non-existing lines, which divide nations,
people, and families.

The story of the family and friends of the nameless narrator who for all his anonymity
comes across as if he is the person looking at you quietly from across the table by the
time the story telling is over and silence descends. Before that stage arrives the reader is
catapulted to different places and times at breath taking tempo. The past, present and
future combine and melt together erasing any kind of line of demarcation. Such lines are
present mainly in the shadows they cast. There is no point of reference to hold on to.
Thus the going away - the title of the first section of the novel - becomes coming home -
the title of the second section. These two titles could easily have been exchanged.

The narrator is very much like the chronicler Pimen in Pushkin's drama Boris Godonow.
But unlike Pushkin's Pimen this one is not a passive witness to all that happens in his
presence, and absence. The very soul of the happenings, he is the comma which separates
yet connects the various clauses of life lived in Calcutta, London, Dhaka and elsewhere.
The story starts about thirteen years before the birth of the narrator and ends on the night
preceding his departure from London back to Delhi. He spends less than a year in
London, researching for his doctorate work, but it is a London he knew very well even
before he puts a step on its pavements. Two people have made London so very real to
him - Tridib, the second son of his father's aunt, his real mentor and inspirer, and Ila his
beautiful cousin who has traveled all over the world but has seen little compared to what
the narrator has seen through his mental eye. London is also a very real place because of
Tridib's and Ila's friends - Mrs. Price, her daughter May, and son Nick. Like London
comes alive due to the stories related by Ila and Tridib, Dhaka comes alive because of all
the stories of her childhood told to him by his incomparable grandmother who was born
there. The tragedy is that though the narrator spends almost a year in London and thus
has ample opportunity to come to terms with its role in his life, it is Dhaka which he
never visits that affects him most by the violent drama that takes place on its roads,
taking Tridib away as one of its most unfortunate victims.

Violence has many faces in this novel - it is as much present in the marriage of Ila to
Nick doomed to failure even before the "yes" word was spoken, as it is present on the riot
torn streets of Calcutta or Dhaka. But the specialty of this novel is that this violence is
very subtle till almost the end. When violence is dealt with, the idea is not to describe it
explicitly like a voyeur but to look at it to comprehend its total senselessness. Thus the
way "violence" is brought into the picture is extraordinarily sensitive: The narrator says,
talking of the day riots tore Calcutta apart in 1964, "I opened my mouth to answer and
found I had nothing to say. All I could have told them was of the sound of voices running
past the walls of my school, and of a glimpse of a mob in Park Circus." I have never
experienced such a sound, but God, how these sentences get under the skin, how easy it is
to hear that sound, how the heart beats faster on reading these sentences!

Ghosh is also a humorous writer. It is serious humor. Single words hide a wealth of
meaning, for example, the way Tridib's father is always referred to as Shaheb, Ila's
mother as Queen Victoria, or the way the grandmother's sister always remains Mayadebi
without any suffix denoting the relationship. Also look at this passage that describes how
the grandmother reacts on discovering that her old Jethamoshai is living with a Muslim
family in Dhaka is outstanding and must be read to enjoy

The main characters are very real, almost perfectly rounded. I specially love the
grandmother. She is the grandmother many of us recognize. In her fierce moral standards,
Spartan outlook of life, and intolerance of any nonsense - real and imagined, she is as real
as any patriarch or matriarch worth the name. And there is this very loveable character of
the narrator. It is that of a boy who warms your heart, it is that of a man who knows and
has lost love - more than once in his life - and thus makes you feel like hugging him close
to your heart.

Some of the most important questions the novel probes are the various faces of violence
and the extent to which its fiery arms reach under the guise of fighting for freedom.
Ghosh's treatment of violence in Calcutta and in Dhaka is valid even today, more than ten
years after its publication. What has happened recently in Kosovo and in East Timor
show that answers still evade the modern world.

Everyone lives in a story, he says, my grandmother, my father, his father, Lenin, Einstein,
and lots of other names I hadn't heard of; they all lived in stories, because stories are all
there are to live in, it was just a question of which one you chose. . . [182] I tried to see
Dhaka as she (grandmother) must have seen it that night, sitting by her window. But I
hadn't been to Dhaka, and in any case her Dhaka had long since vanished into the past. I
had only her memories to go on, and those put together could give me a faint, sepia-tinted
picture of her arrivals in Dhaka, decades ago: a picture in which I could see dimly in the
middle distance, a black steaming engine, puffing smoke, and a long line of
carriages . . . . I can guess at the outlines of the image that lived in her mind, but I have
no inkling at all of the sounds and smells she remembered. Perhaps they were no different
from those in any of the thousands of railway stations in the subcontinent. Perhaps, on the
other hand, they consisted of some unusual alchemical mixture of the sound of the dialect
and the smell of the vast, mile-wide rivers, which alone had the power to bring upon her
that comfortable lassitude which we call a sense of homecoming. (193)

Years later, I used to wonder at my mother's odd relationship with her little transistor
radio. It was given a place of singular honour in her room: it stood on the same shelf on
which she kept framed pictures of her dead parents. She never missed the morning news
if she could help it: those bulletins were the liturgy of the ritual of our breakfast. [198]
Everyone lives in a story, he says, my grandmother, my father, his father, Lenin, Einstein,
and lots of other names I hadn't heard of; they all lived in stories, because stories are all
there are to live in, it was just a question of which one you chose. . . [182] I tried to see
Dhaka as she (grandmother) must have seen it that night, sitting by her window. But I
hadn't been to Dhaka, and in any case her Dhaka had long since vanished into the past. I
had only her memories to go on, and those put together could give me a faint, sepia-tinted
picture of her arrivals in Dhaka, decades ago: a picture in which I could see dimly in the
middle distance, a black steaming engine, puffing smoke, and a long line of
carriages . . . . I can guess at the outlines of the image that lived in her mind, but I have
no inkling at all of the sounds and smells she remembered. Perhaps they were no different
from those in any of the thousands of railway stations in the subcontinent. Perhaps, on the
other hand, they consisted of some unusual alchemical mixture of the sound of the dialect
and the smell of the vast, mile-wide rivers, which alone had the power to bring upon her
that comfortable lassitude which we call a sense of homecoming. (193)

Years later, I used to wonder at my mother's odd relationship with her little transistor
radio. It was given a place of singular honour in her room: it stood on the same shelf on
which she kept framed pictures of her dead parents. She never missed the morning news
if she could help it: those bulletins were the liturgy of the ritual of our breakfast. [198]

The narrative of The Shadow Lines is in two parts: “Going Away” and “Coming Home.”.
The words “going “ and “coming” are used in relation to ‘home’, a place of one’s birth
and upbringing , a place to which a person is deeply attached, especially if one lives in
another place. It’s ideal to call one as citizen of the world. But the world today is
tormented by nationalistic stance and communal violence. Ghosh’s characters go as far as
Delhi or London on work or travel, and come home to Calcutta or Dhaka only to learn
that peace is elusive as ever.

The heart of The Shadow Lines is the death of Tridib and it sis only towards the
end of the novel the narrator approaches this experience. It is a struggle with silence as he
has no words to communicate what happened: “it lies outside the reach of my
intelligence; beyond words…it is simply a gap, a hole, an emptiness in which there are no
words.”[218] a little later he writes: “I can only describe at second hand the manner of
Tridib’s death: I do not have the words to give it meaning. I don not have the words and I
do not have the strength to listen.”[228] the narrator loved and admired Tridib as a hero.
So he finds it difficult to accept the fact of Tridib’s death. “So complete id this silence,”
the narrator declares,” that it actually took me fifteen years to discover that there was a
connection between my nightmare bus ride back from school, and the events that befell
Tridib on the others in Dhaka.” [218] the narrator’s struggle with the presentation of
Tridib’s death makes it all the more agonizing.

The trouble started when the sacred relic known as the Mu-i-Murabark –
believed to be the heir of the Prophet Mohammed himself- disappeared from its placed on
27 December 1963 in the Hazratbal mosque near Srinagar, two hundred and sixty three
years after it had been installed. “Over the next few days life in the valley seemed to
close in upon itself in a spontaneous show of collective grief. There were innumerable
black flags demonstrations, every shop and building flew a black flag, and every person
on the streets wore a black arm-band” [225] but surprisingly there was not a single
incident of Hind-Muslim animosity in the valley. Probably it was the gifted leadership of
Maulana Masoodi who “drew the various communities of Kashmir together in a
collective display of mourning.” [226]. While India was deeply agitated, Pakistan fanned
communal passion, and spoke of ‘genocide’. Fortunately the Mu-i-Murabark was
‘recovered’ on 4 January 1964 by the officials of the Central Bureau of Intelligence, and
Kashmir heaved a sigh of relief.

************** Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines is an attempt to give voice to the
stony silences and exhume the unclaimed corpses in the catacombs of “unhistorical
historiography”. Many aspects of the eras of the Partition of 1947 and the further
partition 1971 are repressed into the political unconsciousness of the people of the Indian
subcontinent. Ghosh not only presents a political vision that questions the ethno linguistic
and cultural divides created by the fiery resurgence of nationalist ideologies. The author
elaborates on the larger politics of post colonialism in affirming the identities of common
people and their cultural anchors.

***************** The Shadow Lines is notable because it delineates the agonies and
ruptures of that period in such poignant detail. It also underlines the challenge of cultural
dislocations, ambiguous citizenship, and highlights the illusions of militant nationalisms.

The unnamed narrator’s nationalist grandmother, Tha’mma, articulates an


unambiguous understanding of the central role of violence in the making of nations in
The Shadow Lines when she talks about the creation of Britain:
It took those people a long time to build that country; hundreds of years,
years and years of war and bloodshed. They know they’re a nation because they’ve
drawn their borders with blood. Hasn’t Maya told you how regimental flags hang in all
their cathedrals and how all their churches are lined with memorials to men who died in
wars, all around the world? War is their religion. That’s what it takes to make a country.
Once that happens people forget they were born this or that, Muslim or Hindu, Bengali or
Punjabi: they become a family born of the same pool of blood. That is what you have to
achieve for India, don’t you see? [77-8]

*************** Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines narrates the story of three generations
of the unnamed narrator’s family, spread over Dhaka, Calcutta and London. The narrative
begins in colonial India and concludes just after the creation of East Pakistan in the
1960’s. The story highlights private and public events and their significance as they bring
the characters into relief. The Shadow Lines describes a period that goes back to colonial
India, prior to the birth of the narrator. A cousin of the narrator’s father, Tridib, has
witnessed the gruesome Partition of India in 1947. He, therefore, hankers after a place”
where there was no border between oneself and one’s image in the mirror” [29]. The
image in the mirror is a poignant reference to the segment of the population that has
either fled or been made to flee to the newly created nation-state of Pakistan. The novel
begins with a passage about the happenings in colonial India: “In 1939, thirteen years
before I was born, my father’s aunt, Mayadebi, went to England with her husband and her
son, Tridib” [3]. The plot begins in the year 1939 during the chaos of the the Second
World War and ends in 1964 with the political upheaval caused by the outbreak of
communal riots in India and Pakistan.

The e story revolves around Tridib, who is taken to England by his parents
in 1939, at the age of eight, and then in 1964 is a victim of communal frenzy in Dhaka.
As the opening sentence indicates, the beginning of the narrative takes place thirteen
years before narrator’s birth, and thus his knowledge of the ravages of the Second World
War comes to him through Tridib’s recapitulations. The details of Tridib’s death are
given to him years later by Tridib’s brother, Roby, and his girlfriend, May Price. Price
was a witness to the inexplicable frenzy and violence that resulted in his death. This
horrific occurrence is linked with the catastrophic political events in England and on the
subcontinent that the narrator attempts to understand cohesively. The narrator is a search
“for the elusive formal and causal that will allow the narrator’s autobiography to cohere,
to make sense”. thus two instances of the devastating force of the fervor of nationalism in
1939 and 1964 mark the narrator’s growth from childhood to adulthood.

Through Tridib and his niece, Ila, and their relationship with the Price
family, the narrative captures the past by describing a London rent apart by WWII and
then bounds back to the present by describing a time when the narrator is himself a
student in London. Additionally, through the narrator’s grandmother, Tha’mma, with her
Eat Bengali background and memories of her childhood days in Dhaka, the narrative
takes the reader back in time to the era prior to the Partition, and through her fateful
return to her original home in search of her uncle, Jethamoshai, it makes the reader aware
of the calamitous consequences of the Partition. The political and social upheaval that
followed upon the creation of the nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947 has left
legacies that continue to haunt the two countries. The partition enabled the thunderous
forces of violence and displacement to tear the preexisting cultural and social fabric so
systematically that the process of repair hasn’t even begun.

+++++++++++++ Who are responsible for partition?


It is an unfortunate fact that all the historical and social events that
led to the catastrophe of 1947 can best be understood within the explanatory framework
of religious and family obligations. The narrator of Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines observes,
“As always, there were innumerable cases of Muslims in East Pakistan giving shelter to
Hindus, often, often at the cost of their lives, and equally in India of Hindus sheltering
Muslims” [229-30]. Such people demonstrate the “indivisible sanctity the binds people to
each other independently…., for it is in the logic of states that to exist at all they claim
the monopoly of all relationships between peoples” [230] since these two nations were
founded on the ineradicable idea of religious difference, the religious agendas of
fundamentalist groups now rule over the Indian subcontinent. The discourse of
nationalism, however, affects to make sense of the absurd loss of lives that occurs.

Tridib is seen as being painfully aware of the unfathomable depth of the


human mind that requires the individual to pursue an infinite and interminable search for
the knowledge that would disrupt all-encompassing religious narratives and demystify the
production of conceptions nurtured by sectarianism and nationalism. At the same time,
Tridib cannot elude his cognizance of “the seductive clarity of ignorance; an illusion of
knowledge created by the deceptive weight of remembered detail”[67]. While in London,
he contemplates the anticipated repercussions of World War II and the destinies of Mrs.
Price’s brother. Alan and his three friends. Tridib realizes that this blissful ignorance
enables one to evade the starkest of realities, the reality of death that he perceives not
only in London but also during the 1964 Hindu-Muslim riots in India and Pakistan:
The realities of the bombs and torpedoes and the dying was easy enough
to imagine-mere events, after all, recorded in thousands of films and photographs and
comic books. But not that infinitely more important reality: the fact that they knew, that
even walking down that street, that evening, they knew what was coming-not the details
nor the timing perhaps, but they knew, that their world, and in all probability they
themselves, would not survive the war…..Nobody knows, nobody can ever know, not
even in memory, because there are moments in time that are not knowable: nobody can
ever know what it was like to be young and intelligent in the summer of 1939 in London
or Berlin.[67-8]
Tridib’s story is a defiance of meta-narratives, because human knowledge
will always be tentative and arbitrary. He inspires the narrator to construct his own
narratives in order to avoid getting incarcerated in someone else’s oppressive stories that
reflect ethnic and religious jealousies and rivalries. He is warned that the alternative to
inventing one’s own story “wasn’t blankness-it only meant that if we didn’t try ourselves,
we should never be free of other people’s inventions” [31].

****Ghosh makes the reader aware of the humanist response to the


ridiculousness of war, a response that transcends national boundaries and barriers.
*************National identity is essentially defined by its difference from
what is perceived as other, outside the national boundaries. The grandmother says as
much to the narrator, when she tells him why she disapproves of Ila “going away” from
India, the country to which she belongs, to live in England:

Ila has no right to live there, she said hoarsely. She said hoarsely. She
doesn’t belong there. It took those people a long time to build that country; hundreds of
years, years and years of war and bloodshed[…] They know they’re a nation because
they’ve drawn their borders with blood[…] War is their religion. That’s what it takes to
make a country. Once that happens people forget they were born in this or that, Muslim
or Hindu, Bengali or Punjabi: they become a family born of the same pool of blood. That
is what you have to achieve for India, don’t you see? [78]

The grandmother, at this point of the narrative, is fervently convinced that


the nation has a clearly determined point of origin, represented by the nationalist wars of
liberation. She associates images of flesh and blood with the nation, perceiving it as a
living body. She wants her grandson to become a good second generation Indian citizen,
with a strong body, because without a strong body you don’t have a strong country.
For Ila, the grandmother’s nationalist ideal is tantamount to fascism. She is
only “a modern middle-class woman”- but without the self-deceptions that make up the
fantasy world of that kind of person. “All she wanted was a middle-class life in which,
like the middle classes the world over, she would thrive believing inn the unity of
nationhood and territory, of self-respect and national power: that was all she wanted-a
modern middle-class life, a small thing that history had denied her in its fullness and for
which she could never forgive it”[78].

The grandmother can’t understand why Ila wants to live in a country to


which she doesn’t belong; it must be because of the material comforts. The narrator tries
to explain to her that it is because Ila wants to be free the cultural constraints her country
imposes on women. Ila and grandmother are at the opposite ends of the chain that ties
together the nationalist linear narrative to the postcolonial fragmented one: in away, Ila
and the narrator are the problematic result of Indian independence. Freedom has not been
obtained by independence, especially for women. But Ila will never be free of her past,
and of the people who live in India, and are tied to her, like the narrator: “You can never
be free of me, I shouted through the open window. If I were to die tomorrow you would
not be free of me. You cannot be free of me because I am within you….just as you are
within me” [89].

Every word I write about those events of 1964 is the product of a struggle with
silence. It is a struggle I am destined to lose - have already lost - for even after all these
years, I do not know where within me, in which corner of my world, this silence lies. All
I know of is what this silence is not. It is not for example, a silence of imperfect memory.
Nor is it a silence enforced by a ruthless state - nothing like that, no barbed wire, no
checkpoints to tell me where my boundaries lie. I know nothing of this silence except that
it lies outside the reach of my intelligence, beyond words - that is why this silence must
win, must inevitably defeat me, because it is not a presence at all; it is simply a gap, a
hole, an emptiness in which there are no words. (218) On the whole in the whole of the
valley there was not one single recorded incident of animosity between Kashmiri
Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. There is a note of surprise -- so thin is our belief in the
power of syncretic civilizations -- in the newspaper reports which tell us that the theft of
the relic had brought together the people of Kashmir as never before. [225] There is
nothing quite as evocative as an old newspaper. There is something in its urgent
contemporaneity -- the weather reports, the list of that day's engagements in the city, the
advertisements for half remembered films, still crying out in bold print as though it were
all happening now, today -- and the feeling besides, that one may once have handled, if
not that very paper, then its exact likeness, its twin, which transports one in time as
nothing else can. [227] There are no reliable estimates of how many people were killed in
the riots of 1964. The number could stretch from several hundred to several thousand: at
any rate not very many less than were killed in the war of 1962. [229] From the evidence
of the newspapers, it is clear that once the riots had started both governments did
everything they could to put a stop to them . . . for the madness of a riot is a pathological
inversion, but also therefore a reminder, of that indivisible sanity that binds people to
each other independently of their governments. And that prior, independent relationship
is the natural enemy of government, for it is in the logic o states to exist at all they must
claim the monopoly of all relationships between peoples. [230] The theatre of war, where
generals meet, is the stage on which states disport themselves: they have no use for
memories of riots. (230) I discovered that Khulna is about as far from Srinagar as Tokyo
is from Beijing, or Moscow from Venice, or Washington from Havana, or Cairo from
Naples. (1200 km) [231] Chiang Mai in Thailand was much nearer to Calcutta than Delhi
is; that Chengdu in China is nearer than Srinagar is. . . Yet did the people of Khulna care
at all about the fate of mosques in Vietnam and South China (a mere stone's throw
away)? I doubted it. But in this other direction, it took no more than a week . . . [232]

They had drawn their borders, believing in that pattern, in the enchantment of lines,
hoping perhaps that once they had etched their borders upon the map, the two bits of land
would sail away from each other . . . What had they felt, I wondered, when they
discovered that they had created not a separation, but a yet-undiscovered irony - the irony
that killed Tridib: the simple fact that there had never been a moment in the four-
thousand-year-old history of that map, when places like Dhaka and Calcutta were more
closely bound to each other than after they had drawn their lines . . . (233)
Such moments are rare indeed these days when one takes a book in the hand and is
completely captivated by it after reading the first few pages. That happened to me
recently when I started reading "The Shadow Lines" by Amitav Ghosh. "The Shadow
Lines," Ghosh's second novel, was published in 1988, four years after the sectarian
violence that shook New Delhi in the aftermath of the Prime minister, Indira Gandhi's
assassination. Written when the homes of the Sikhs were still smouldering, some of the
most important questions the novel probes are the various faces of violence and the extent
to which its fiery arms reach under the guise of fighting for freedom. Ghosh's treatment
of violence in Calcutta and in Dhaka is valid even today, more than ten years after its
publication. What has happened recently in Kosovo and in East Timor show that answers
still evade the questions which Ghosh poses about freedom, about the very real yet non-
existing lines which divide nations, people, and families.

Much has been written about Amitav Ghosh's novels. "The Novels of Amitav Ghosh",
edited by R. K. Dhawan was published this year by Prestige Books, New Delhi. If I find
it necessary to say something more about Ghosh's writing it is because this novel moved
me as none other did in the recent times.

The Shadow Lines is the story of the family and friends of the nameless narrator who for
all his anonymity comes across as if he is the person looking at you quietly from across
the table by the time the story telling is over and silence descends. Before that stage
arrives the reader is catapulted to different places and times at breath taking tempo. The
past, present and future combine and melt together erasing any kind of line of
demarcation. Such lines are present mainly in the shadows they cast. There is no point of
reference to hold on to. Thus the going away - the title of the first section of the novel -
becomes coming home - the title of the second section. These two titles could easily have
been exchanged.

The narrator is very much like the chronicler Pimen in Pushkin's drama Boris Godonow.
But unlike Pushkin's Pimen this one is not a passive witness to all that happens in his
presence, and absence. The very soul of the happenings, he is the comma which separates
yet connects the various clauses of life lived in Calcuttta, London, Dhaka and elsewhere.
The story starts about thirteen years before the birth of the narrator and ends on the night
preceding his departure from London back to Delhi. He spends less than a year in
London, researching for his doctorate work, but it is a London he knew very well even
before he puts a step on its pavements.

Two people have made London so very real to him - Tridib, the second son of his
father's aunt, his real mentor and inspirer, and Ila his beautiful cousin who has travelled
all over the world but has seen little compared to what the narrator has seen through his
mental eye. London is also a very real place because of Tridib's and Ila's friends - Mrs.
Price, her daughter May, and son Nick. Like London comes alive due to the stories
related by Ila and Tridib, Dhaka comes alive because of all the stories of her childhood
told to him by his incomparable grandmother who was born there. The tragedy is that
though the narrator spends almost a year in London and thus has ample opportunity to
come to terms with its role in his life, it is Dhaka which he never visits that affects him
most by the violent drama that takes place on its roads, taking Tridib away as one of its
most unfortunate victims.

Violence has many faces in this novel - it is as much present in the marriage of Ila to
Nick doomed to failure even before the "yes" word was spoken, as it is present on the riot
torn streets of Calcutta or Dhaka. But the speciality of this novel is that this violence is
very subtle till almost the end. When violence is dealt with, the idea is not to describe it
explicitly like a voyeur but to look at it to comprehend its total senselessness. Thus the
way "violence" is brought into the picture is extraordinarily sensitive: The narrator says,
talking of the day riots tore Calcutta apart in 1964, "I opened my mouth to answer and
found I had nothing to say. All I could have told them was of the sound of voices running
past the walls of my school, and of a glimpse of a mob in Park Circus." I have never
experienced such a sound, but God, how these sentences get under the skin, how easy it is
to hear that sound, how the heart beats faster on reading these sentences!
There are many other reasons why "The Shadow Lines" is so special a book. It has many
of the characteristics that elevate a book to the level of unforgettable literature. First of all
there is this simple language. These days when doing acrobatics with words and language
has become equivalent to paving new directions in the literary scene, it is heart warming
to read a book in which straight forward language is used to convey what the author
wants to say. And what messages are conveyed, what new ideas are unearthed! I am one
of those readers who likes reading because of the power inherent in words. Whenever I
read a new book, I always hope that the book contains sentences and words - at least a
couple of them - that illuminate the heart and mind for a long time after reading,
sentences which simply make life easier to live. There is a treasure of such sentences to
be discovered in "The Shadow Lines". For example, look at what Ghosh says about
knowledge and ignorance: "...he knew the clarity of that image in his mind was merely
the seductive clarity of ignorance; an illusion of knowledge created by a deceptive weight
of remembered detail." And there is this most beautiful of all sentences I have read for a
long, long time - "And yet, when I look at her (the grandmother), lying crumpled in front
of me, her white thinning hair matted with her invalid's sweat, my heart fills with love for
her - love and that other thing, which is not pity but something else, something the
English language knows only in its absence - ruth - a tenderness which is not merely pity
and not only love."

It is this tenderness of feeling, this feeling of "ruth" of which the novel is


so full of, which moves me. For all the violence that plays the central role in the novel, it
is this abundant feeling of tenderness in the novel that the narrator feels for the people,
for Tridib, for Ila, for the grandmother, for May, for Robi, that has remained with me.

Ghosh is also a humorous writer. It is serious humour. Single words hide a wealth of
meaning, for example, the way Tridib's father is always referred to as Shaheb, Ila's
mother as Queen Victoria, or the way the grandmother's sister always remains Mayadebi
without any suffix denoting the relationship. Also look at this passage that describes how
the grandmother reacts on discovering that her old Jethamoshai is living with a Muslim
family in Dhaka. "She exchanged a look of amazement with Mayadebi. Do you know,
she whispered to Robi, there was a time when that old man was so orthodox that he
wouldn't let a Muslim's shadow pass within ten feet of his food? And look at him now,
paying the price of his sins."

"Ten feet! Robi explained to May in hushed whisper, marvelling at the precision of the
measurement. How did he measure? he whispered back at my grandmother. Did he keep
a tape in his pocket when he ate?

"No, no", my grandmother said impatiently. "In those days many people followed rules
like that; they had an instinct".

"Trignometry!", Robi cried in a triumphant aside to May. "They must have known
Trignometry. They probably worked it out like a sum: if the Muslim is standing under a
twenty-two foot bulding, how far is his shadow? You see, we're much cleverer than you:
bet your grandfather couldn't tell when a German's shadow was passing within ten feet of
his food."

As I read Robi's comments, I laughed, at first. Then I had to swallow hard at centuries old
injustice these words were trying to hint at.

Finally, another important reason the novel succeeds is because the main characters are
very real, almost perfectly rounded. I specially love the grandmother. She is the
grandmother many of us recognise. In her fierce moral standards, spartan outlook of life,
intolerance of any nonsense - real and imagined, she is as real as any patriarch or
matriarch worth the name. And there is this very loveable character of the narrator. It is
that of a boy who warms your heart, it is that of a man who knows and has lost love -
more than once in his life - and thus makes you feel like hugging him close to your heart.

On all scores Amitav Ghosh's "The Shadow Lines" is a novel which must be read and re-
read, thought about and discussed upon. It is a book that stays with the reader long after
the last page has been turned and the light has been switched off
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Gosh paints a landscape of symbolism and realism that
spans both time and space. The concepts of distance and time are uniquely portrayed in
both the physical borders that divide countries and the imaginary borders that divide
human beings. From the image-conscious character of the grandmother to the riots that
explode in the streets, Ghosh takes the reader on a fascinating journey of exploration,
dissecting the characters of the story while simultaneously dissecting the human race.

The title of the novel is perhaps the most philosophical statement Ghosh makes, asserting
that 'The Shadow Lines', or the lines that not only define our human shape but our inner
struggles to choose between darkness and light, are an intricate part of all human
existence. Shadows, like time, are both tangible and intangible at any given moment or
realm of perspective. They are a fleeting, generically depicted, generally distorted
representations of ourselves, and they can only be viewed in the proper light. Ghosh uses
shadow lines as a way of telling us that the way we view ourselves is not always the way
that others view us, and until we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves we will
remain in the shadows of our own enlightenment.

Ghosh manages to speak excessively of shadows, darkness and light, weaving them
subtly into the context of what he is trying to convey. He uses the terms both realistically
and metaphorically to show that the shadow we cast, the one other people can see, is not
always an accurate reflection of who we really are. Nick was not the hero he seemed to
be and when May reveals this to the boy, they are in the process of moving from light to
dark, both in physical environment and knowledge of the truth. In a way, a shadow is like
a "fair weather friend" in that it appears to us only when the sun is directly overhead.
While every human being casts a unique shadow, a common theme can be seen in them
all, namely that they are just as much a part of us as they are detached from us. This is
another realm in which Ghosh metaphorically uses the elements of shadow lines to tell
his story.
Throughout literature's long history, shadows have been used as metaphors for secrets.
Things hidden in the shadows, things which we cannot see though we can vaguely make
out their outlines...these are the traditional metaphors which Ghosh cannot avoid. Ghosh
demonstrates that when secrets come out from behind the shadows and are exposed to the
stark, revealing brilliance of daylight, they do not immediately evaporate. Secrets tend to
linger long after they've been exposed because the fact that they were hidden in the first
place casts strong shadows of doubt upon the person keeping the secret. The revelation of
these secrets can have severe consequences, such as being kicked out of school or being
labeled a liar. Though the grandmother's "letter from the grave" is eventually dismissed,
it's mere existence taught the boy some valuable lessons.

While he is astonished by his grandmother's ability to see past the shadows and into the
light, he is equally annoyed by it. It seems to him that a person ought to be able to keep
some secrets hidden, like his "visits to the women", but at the same time he respects his
grandmother's insight. While her first revelation caused him great embarrassment, her
second was a truth he wished he could have faced himself long ago. He is both praising
and admonishing his late Grandmother in a single breath.

The narrator's secret love for his cousin Ila was forced to remain in the shadows because
the feeling itself, was dark in nature. Anything that is considered taboo, such as sexual
relations between members of the same family, automatically quivers in the shadows of
its own dark truths. Both of the major truths that the grandmother exposed was laden with
sexual taboos, which raise the question, should they ever have been exposed at all? In
light of the pain they caused, one would think not, but in a world in which truth is the
foundation of evolution into maturity, how can one claim that any truth should remain
unilluminated?

On the one hand, Ila's enlightenment to her cousin's feelings for her was good in that it
marked a promise of change in her behavior towards him which she hoped would help to
dissipate his obsession. On the other hand, from the narrator's viewpoint, this revelation
and his cousin's subsequent rejection caused him a great deal of emotional distress.
Should his feelings have remained in the shadows, he may not have endured this sharp,
heart-stabbing pain, yet he may have been subjected a long, slow torture instead. The
answer to whether this truth should have been revealed lies in which kind of pain the
narrator finds less troubling.

While the title'The Shadow Lines' can be read a thousand different ways, and the
significance of shadows throughout the novel can be interpreted with vast distinctions,
one thing remains clear. The shadows that all human beings reflect are as unique to the
individual as each written word is to a talented author like Amitav Ghosh.

****The Shadow Lines" by Amitav Ghosh was written when the homes of the Sikhs
were still smoldering, some of the most important questions the novel probes are the
various faces of violence and the extent to which its fiery arms reach under the guise of
fighting for freedom. Ghosh's treatment of violence in Calcutta and in Dhaka is valid
even today, more than ten years after its publication. What has happened recently in
Kosovo and in East Timor show that answers still evade the questions, which Ghosh
poses about freedom, about the very real yet non-existing lines, which divide nations,
people, and families.

The story of the family and friends of the nameless narrator who for all his anonymity
comes across as if he is the person looking at you quietly from across the table by the
time the story telling is over and silence descends. Before that stage arrives the reader is
catapulted to different places and times at breath taking tempo. The past, present and
future combine and melt together erasing any kind of line of demarcation. Such lines are
present mainly in the shadows they cast. There is no point of reference to hold on to.
Thus the going away - the title of the first section of the novel - becomes coming home -
the title of the second section. These two titles could easily have been exchanged.

The narrator is very much like the chronicler Pimen in Pushkin's drama Boris Godonow.
But unlike Pushkin's Pimen this one is not a passive witness to all that happens in his
presence, and absence. The very soul of the happenings, he is the comma which separates
yet connects the various clauses of life lived in Calcutta, London, Dhaka and elsewhere.
The story starts about thirteen years before the birth of the narrator and ends on the night
preceding his departure from London back to Delhi. He spends less than a year in
London, researching for his doctorate work, but it is a London he knew very well even
before he puts a step on its pavements. Two people have made London so very real to
him - Tridib, the second son of his father's aunt, his real mentor and inspirer, and Ila his
beautiful cousin who has traveled all over the world but has seen little compared to what
the narrator has seen through his mental eye. London is also a very real place because of
Tridib's and Ila's friends - Mrs. Price, her daughter May, and son Nick. Like London
comes alive due to the stories related by Ila and Tridib, Dhaka comes alive because of all
the stories of her childhood told to him by his incomparable grandmother who was born
there. The tragedy is that though the narrator spends almost a year in London and thus
has ample opportunity to come to terms with its role in his life, it is Dhaka which he
never visits that affects him most by the violent drama that takes place on its roads,
taking Tridib away as one of its most unfortunate victims.

Violence has many faces in this novel - it is as much present in the marriage of Ila to
Nick doomed to failure even before the "yes" word was spoken, as it is present on the riot
torn streets of Calcutta or Dhaka. But the specialty of this novel is that this violence is
very subtle till almost the end. When violence is dealt with, the idea is not to describe it
explicitly like a voyeur but to look at it to comprehend its total senselessness. Thus the
way "violence" is brought into the picture is extraordinarily sensitive: The narrator says,
talking of the day riots tore Calcutta apart in 1964, "I opened my mouth to answer and
found I had nothing to say. All I could have told them was of the sound of voices running
past the walls of my school, and of a glimpse of a mob in Park Circus." I have never
experienced such a sound, but God, how these sentences get under the skin, how easy it is
to hear that sound, how the heart beats faster on reading these sentences!

Ghosh is also a humorous writer. It is serious humor. Single words hide a wealth of
meaning, for example, the way Tridib's father is always referred to as Shaheb, Ila's
mother as Queen Victoria, or the way the grandmother's sister always remains Mayadebi
without any suffix denoting the relationship. Also look at this passage that describes how
the grandmother reacts on discovering that her old Jethamoshai is living with a Muslim
family in Dhaka is outstanding and must be read to enjoy
The main characters are very real, almost perfectly rounded. I specially love the
grandmother. She is the grandmother many of us recognize. In her fierce moral standards,
Spartan outlook of life, and intolerance of any nonsense - real and imagined, she is as real
as any patriarch or matriarch worth the name. And there is this very loveable character of
the narrator. It is that of a boy who warms your heart, it is that of a man who knows and
has lost love - more than once in his life - and thus makes you feel like hugging him close
to your heart.

Some of the most important questions the novel probes are the various faces of violence
and the extent to which its fiery arms reach under the guise of fighting for freedom.
Ghosh's treatment of violence in Calcutta and in Dhaka is valid even today, more than ten
years after its publication. What has happened recently in Kosovo and in East Timor
show that answers still evade the modern world.

Оценить