The novel ‘The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh centers around a young boy, the narrator, whose growth in age and maturity is traced slowly through his understanding of the memories that connect him and his family members. Through the novel, we see that the narrator has flashbacks in time as bits and pieces of stories, both half-remembered and imagined, come together in his mind until he arrives at an intricate, interconnected picture of the world where borders and boundaries mean nothing, mere shadow lines that we draw dividing people and nations.
The title ‘The Shadow Lines’ depicts the author’s perspective on the cultural, ideological, geographical, and psychological borders, which he asks us to disregard in favor of broader humanism. The title ‘shadow lines’ can refer to many different things, but I believe that the allusion of Amitav makes is to the borders that separate nations from each other.
Divisions between nations – shadow lines
Amitav Ghosh asserts that the borders that separate nations are nothing more than artificial lines created by humans. Thus, the ‘shadow lines of the title are the borders that divide people, and one of the main emphases of the novel is on the arbitrariness of such cartographic demarcations.
Why are these lines ‘shadowy’ then? Because like shadows, they lack substance, they lack meaning. Ghosh believes that these ‘shadow lines’, these meaningless borders, can and should be crossed – if not physically, then at least mentally through our imagination and open-minded acceptance of people, irrespective of nationality, religion, or race.
In the novel, the lives of the narrator’s family have been irrevocably changed as a consequence of Bengal’s Partition between India and Pakistan at the time of Independence and the subsequent experience of the East Pakistan Civil War of 1971, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. Towards the end, when members of the family are about to undertake a journey from Calcutta to their former home in Dhaka, the narrator’s grandmother asks whether she will be able to see the border between India and East Pakistan from the plane.
She is puzzled when told that there will be no such visible demarcation and says: “But if there aren’t any trenches or anything, how are people to know? I mean, where’s the difference then? And if there’s no difference both sides will be the same; it’ll be just like it used to be before when we used to catch a train in Dhaka and get off in Calcutta the next day . . .”
The novel is about how pain inflicts in human life even though it is a heart-throbbing past. The burden of the past never leaves is quite visible through this novel, as the characters in the novel who have suffered from the feeling of losing their real homes, their originality, and motherland show the readers about the devastation of Humans and the consequences with humans community due to war and riots.
This ingenious response on her part highlights the absurdity of the revisionist map-making of the politicians responsible for Partition. Because the truth is that there is no difference between this side of the border and that. There’s nothing concrete about these borders for they only exist in maps and our minds.