The award-winning novel tells the story of a young Indian boy and his life there and, later, in London. The narrative is based on the memories of the main characters. The narrator (the boy) is sexually attracted to his cousin, Ila, but he prefers to maintain his present friendly relationship. The boy admires Tridib, a cousin, who falls in love with May, a Londoner who is also a relative. The story encompasses several historic events in India's history, including World War II, the Swadeshi movement, and the 1963-64 riots in Calcutta.
A summary of Shadown Lines is one thing, but an analysis is another. We can summarize the story quite easily, but for analysis one must understand a bit about post colonial criticism because that is exactly the theme that Ghosh is addressing.
In its simplest form, the story is about a young boy in India (who is the narrator). The story begins in India and later transfers to London. The story moves through the young boy's memories and especially concentrates on the memory of his cousin, Ila, who he is attracted to; however, because of the social constrictions of his society, the narrator stays with a platonic relationship. Another interaction Ghosh focuses on is that of the narrator's relationship with another male cousin: Tridib. This part of the story focuses on the love between the Indian and the English. As the narrator goes on in his personal narrative many historic events in India's history are revealed (even the second world war and incidents in Calcutta).
But in analyzing the title of the work, the real truth comes in the delineation of borders and boundaries between nations, hence the term "shadow lines." The author shows how these lines are created, kept, broken, and even invisible. The concept of Post Colonial Criticism talks about the negativity of borders made by man. Why? They pit one society against another. As is evidenced by the story, this was especially true in India when it was divided into three sections: India (proper), Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Only conflict resulted in that division.
The novel not only deals with the boundaries of space, but also of time. For example. Look at this quotation about seeing boundaries from above:
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.
Further, if you put this analysis next to the actual plot of the story, you will begin to connect the two together. For example, look at the character of Robi and his thoughts here:
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?
Here is a perfect example of those boundaries becoming a simple illusion. Here, there is some kind of collective consciousness that can't be changed no matter what. The government has no power in this way. Such was the case of the subdivided India, ... the tumultuous India divided into three parts.
The novel show that the lines and boundaries that human draws are just temporary and shadowy, which are meant to divide people, exclude, creates difference between people and nations. The novel celebrates the whole world as a home to everyone.