The Shadow Lines

by Amitav Ghosh

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Can you summarize the story of Shadow Lines? I am not able to understand what it is all about. Is it about geographical boundaries?

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To understand this work you have to have some awareness of post colonial criticism and the main themes that this work addresses. You have identified correctly that geography is immensely important to this novel - let's explore why.

The title of this fascinating work relates to a key concern of post colonialism - that of borders and boundaries and how they are created and sustained but also how they are easily ruptured and shown to be illusory. Shadow Linesis an amazing story that transgresses multiple borders. Post colonial criticism examines and criticises man-made boundaries and borders as attempts to define a particular group as against another group ("the other"). Post colonial criticism attempts to rupture these apparently secure boundaries by examining those who live on the margins of these boundaries and also deconstructing (taking apart) the notion of the other. This is particularly true of the "invention" of India the nation, with the Partition of 1947 which drew imaginary lines across India, creating the countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India and also causing much death from the resulting riots.

The narrative in Shadow Lines is constantly transgressing boundaries of space and time, thus giving the novel its title, as the lines that divide places and even times are shown to be easily transgressed - "Shadow Lines."

Consider this quote regarding the inherent fragility of boundaries:

[About seeing the border from the air] 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 . . . (151)

Or consider Robi's disgruntled take on borders and nationalism, when he suggests "...why don’t they draw thousands of little lines through the whole subcontinent and give every little place a new name? What would it change? It’s a mirage; the whole thing is a mirage.” It is these shadow lines that the title of this work refers to. Hope it helps! Obviously the best way to explore these ideas further is to read the novel by yourself bearing in mind these ideas.

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