Monday, December 25, 2006
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh
[pic]Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines (1998) is an intense and anguished meditation on the creation of modern states in South Asia.
There are two streams in the novel- one that of 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.
The other stream is that of 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. I found the second stream to be far more readable than the first one, especially the grandmother's character as seen by her young grandson (the narrator).
The grandmother goes to Dhaka to bring 'home' her uncle who had decided to stay on in Dhaka after the partition in 1947. He obdurately refuses, delivering one of the finest dialogs in the novel:
Move? the old man said incredulously. Move to what?
It's not safe for you here, my grandmother said urgently. I know these people look after you well, but it's not the same thing. You don't understand.
I understand very well, the old man muttered. I know everything, I understand everything. Once you start moving, you never stop. That's what I told my sons when they took the trains. I don't believe in this India- Shindia. It's all very well, you are going away now, but suppose when you get there they decide to draw another line somewhere? What will you do then? Where will you move to? No one will have you anywhere. As for me, I was born here, and will die here.
Even then, the grandmother tries to take her away from Dhaka when riots break out in the city and he is killed along with the narrator's cousin Tridib and the rickshaw puller Khalil who had been looking after the old man.
It is an engrossing read, and shares a few elements with Midnight's Children, though the latter is on a broader canvas. The Shadow Lines is written...