Compare the attitudes of Robi and Ila towards their own positioning in the social/immigrant/native space in The Shadow Lines.

In The Shadow Lines, Ila has been a world traveler all her life and regards India as a cultural and social backwater. Robi, by contrast, is deeply attached to his native culture, which is integral to his identity.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Shadow Lines , Ila grows up in a wealthy family and regards international travel as a matter of course. Her mother, whose self-importance gains her the nickname "Queen Victoria," is a social snob, but Ila is secure enough in her social position to take it as a matter...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In The Shadow Lines, Ila grows up in a wealthy family and regards international travel as a matter of course. Her mother, whose self-importance gains her the nickname "Queen Victoria," is a social snob, but Ila is secure enough in her social position to take it as a matter of course, without condescending to others. However, although she does not think of herself as an immigrant, Ila still experiences discrimination and bullying at school in England, where her classmates view her as an outsider.

Ila regards India as a backwater in global terms and would like to forget that she is Indian. It is not only the bullies at school who insist on reminding her, but also Robi, who has a much stronger sense not only of place and identity than Ila, but also of tradition. Robi has a great respect for rules and boundaries.

His comments on the "shadow lines," arbitrary cartographical divisions to which the novel's title refers, are easy to misinterpret. For Robi, Dhaka remains in India even if the map says that it is in East Pakistan, because the real boundaries between places depend on culture and tradition and cannot be changed with the stroke of a pen.

The Shadow Lines was written long before David Goodhart's political bestseller The Road to Somewhere, but in terms of their social and national identity, Ila and Robi are textbook cases of the division that is central to Goodhart's thesis. His book divides people into those who have a globalist outlook and resist national affiliations and those who are deeply attached to one culture. The former group Goodhart calls "Anywheres," and the latter, "Somewheres." Ila is the archetypal "Anywhere," while Robi is clearly a "Somewhere."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The attitudes of Robi and Ila towards their own positioning are best shown in the way that both have radically different understandings and comprehension of the world around them. As the narrator discovers, much to his exasperation, Ila, although she has spent her entire life travelling around the world, has no real understanding of place in the way that he, a sedentary traveller, does. For him, the names of far off and exotic places such as Cuzco summon up daydreams forged out of scraps of anecdotes narrated to him by Tribid. For Ila, what she remembers about such places, as she demonstrates when the narrator mentions Cairo, is nothing more than the location of the lavatories in the airport. Ila is therefore presented as being constantly in transit and not really belonging anywhere, with no understanding of a distinct Indian identity or any other kind of identity. She is a global citizen who would find it impossible to answer the question, "Where do you come from?" 

Robi, by contrast, is very different in his identity. What is more, he is used by Ghosh to voice one of the key quotes of the entire novel, which present the boundary lines that are created by political situations as nothing more than insubstantial "shadow lines" that divide nations in half and separate brother from brother:

…why don’t they draw thousands of little lines through the subcontinent and give every little place a new name? What would it change? It’s a mirage; the whole thing is a mirage. How can anyone divide a memory?

Identity, to Robi, is therefore based on memory and a collective consciousness that cannot be altered, no matter what government decides needs to happen, as was the case with the creation of both Pakistan and Bangladesh. Ila is therefore a character who has no distinct sense of her own identity and does not feel she "belongs" anywhere. Robi, by contrast, is a character to whom belonging is incredibly important, and his identity, he recognises, is based on facts that are far more important than the country one is in. For Robi, identity is constructed out of memory rather than geography. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team