In' The Shadow Lines' Ghosh is interested in going behind the facade of history books and political events to the complexities of personal and social interactions.For him history is articulated through actual people living through actual historical experiences.History ceases to be a mere data or a collection of abstract facts as each character in the novel articulate,through their own story,phases of history.Freedom and nationalism are relative concepts and the different views on them,as reflected by different characters,goes on to shape the Narrator's thought process as well as act as propelling factors of the novel.For the East Bengali,15th August 1947 is not India's independence day,but Partition day,a day that deliberately bifurcated the Bengali community.Ghosh here brings out the futility of drawing lines across a nation.The Narrator's grandmother,Thamma,as he calls her,belongs to the generation that had to uproot itself in 1947.Nationalism,the product of those times,carries for her the earnestness of religion,informing her every thought and deed.For Thamma freedom is something to be won through violence and bloodshed.But Thamma could never get the type of freedom she had dreamt of from India's independence:she had to eke out the difficult connotations of widowhood in the class-ridden Hindu society that political independence little altered.Her senile uncle's views on the issue of nationhood and migration strike at the essential unsoundness of nationalist principles:"I don't believe in this India-Shindia.It's all very well,you're going away now,but suppose when you get there,they decide to draw another line somewhere?What will you do then?"Thamma's attempt to free her uncle and take him on a homeward journey ends violently and tragically in three deaths - her uncle's,the rickshaw puller's and Tridib's.But with her imagination enslaved to the idea of nationalism,Thamma fails to see that nationalism has destroyed her home and spilled her kin's blood.As she says:"We have to kill them before they kill us."Till the end she fails to realise that national liberty in no way guarantees individual liberty.Freedom seems to be a mirage as the shadow lines that divide one person from another keep changing.On the other hand, the new generation in the new era of internationalism views liberty differently and one of the easily available methods which the narrator's cousin Ila adopts is escape to the West,to England.For, to her, freedom means liberty from the restrictive customs that delimit the individual's activities .Ila functions as a kind of opposite to the Narrator,enabling him to define himself through her.While he is bound to a strict and conventional middle-class upbringing in Calcutta,Ila leads an apparently exciting life abroad;but he has' worlds to travel in' in his imagination,while she remains static and unimaginative.He is culturally rooted to the soil of Bengal and India,but Ila has no roots and attempts to find herself in insignificant political activities in London and at home by buying herself a house and a reluctant husband.If Thamma had shown the Narrator the dangers and the emptiness of warped notions of nationalism,freedom and selfhood,Ila, the product of a colonialism in which the colonised rejects her past and her community and tries to internalise and participate in the world of the coloniser, reveals to him the hollowness of the world of the deracinated.
The Narrator's mnemonic fund is enriched by his uncle and mentor,Tridib,who makes him understand the creative power of memory and imagination.For the Narrator (as for Ghosh)reality lies not in the obvious but in what is evoked and understood by memory and imagination over changing lapse of space and time.Memory enlivens the present with the past while imagination helps to ingest the vicarious,the distant and thereby widen one's world.Tridib's world is global as he tries to transcend the shadow lines of nationality and cultural boundary throuship with May Price.Ghosh explores the mysterious pull between Tridib and May and the abiding intimacy between the two families of the British and the Indians,when the countries were pitted against eachother.This search for invisible links ranging across the realities of nationality,cultural segregation and racial discrimination is the central theme of 'The Shadow Lines'.Tridib is an idealist and he dreams of a better place,"a place without borders and countries".When May comes down from England,he wants to meet her in a ruin,in a place"without a past,without history,free,really free,two people coming together with the utter freedom of strangers".However he dies while trying to save his granduncle from the rioters in Dhaka.Tridib's death shows the real world catching on the idealist and destroying him but not before the Narrator has already internalised Tridib's knowledge of the truth that riots are born of gross political manipulation of communal sympathies and nationalist passions, that political lines cannot seperate people or their common land and realities.Significantly,the novel ends with May and the Narrator lying in close embrace.The Narrator's sexual relationship with May finally identifies him with the dead Tridib and establishes the continuance of the bonds with his past and between people and communities.'The Shadow Lines' reverse the traditional bildungsroman pattern of discovering the meaning of life through a gradual discovery of the boundaries of the world and goes on to suggest that true maturity comes about only with the realisation that the lines and the world are only shadows.The novel ends with the spiritual and emotional conviction that imaginative sympathy is what the adult must learn in order to go beyond the confines of borders that are man-made,arbitrary and temporary.