Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Shadow Lines: Nationalism

The Shadow Lines

In the novel, The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh focuses on the meaning of political freedom in the modern world and the force of nationalism. The novel, according to the blurb, focuses on "nationalism, the Shadow Lines we draw between people and nations, which is both am absurd illusion and a source of terrifying violence." Through the description of various political movements, (for example, the Swadeshi movement, Communal riots of 1963-64 in Dhaka and Calcutta), with the introduction with some nationalists and with the description of the effect of such nationalist movements, the novelist sends the readers the question of the validity of such nationalism.

Nationalism is described in the Wikipedia as: “Nationalism refers to an ideology, a sentiment, a form of culture, or a social movement that focuses on nation. It is a type of collectivism emphasizing the collective of a specific nation.”

Congress was the first ever biggest Indian political party that included all kinds of religious people. And they had unitedly fought against the British Raj under nationalistic banner and the movement turned a success resulting the division of India. Pakistan was united for the religious nationalism instead of cultural nationalism. The Hindus of Erstwhile East Pakistan started shifting to West Bengal and the Muslims of West Bengal started coming to East Pakistan because of religious affinity. But the division did not make any success because the people (Hindus and Muslims) of East and West Bengal started fighting with each other. As a result of this Tridib, the narrator's mentor who had given him the eyes to see the world, was killed in the riot of East Pakistan in 1964.

In this novel, Amitav Ghosh not only gives the readers the idea of nationalism but questions the so-called nationalism. The fundamental nationalism also emerged from the character of the narrator's grandmother. She is a fundamental nationalist and wants freedom. She is very passionate for freedom. As we see that when she was young during the Swadeshi movement, she wanted to john it and could do anything for the country. She says, "I would have killed his. It was for our freedom." But the author shows that the so called nationalism has no value at all. Here 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 realize that national liberty in no war guarantees individual liberty.

The narrator grandmother's nationalist faiths fail her because she comes to realize that borders have a tenuous existence, and that not even a history of bloodshed can make then real and impermeable. Lines on the map are the handiwork of administrators and cartographers. In 1964, as she ramp to fly to Dhaka, she wonders he she would be able to see the border between India and East Pakistan from the plane. When her son laughs at her, she replies "where's the difference then? And if there is no difference, both sides will be the same; it will be just like it used to be before." The grandmother has a typical view about nationalism, what she is unable to realize that one can be unsafe even in one's own country.

On the other hand the new generation is in the belief of internationalism. Tridib is an idealist and he dreams of a better place, "a place without borders and countries." Tridib also do not believe in the borders and map and, in fact, in the nationalism. He really wants a world without a border. Tridib had told the narrator of the desire that can "carry one beyond the limits of one's mind to other times and other places and, if one was lucky, to a place where there was no border between oneself and one's image in the mirror."

When May comes down from England, he wants to meet her in a ruin, in a place "without a past, without grumpy, free, really free, two people coming together with the utter freedom of strangers."

The family of Dutta Choudhury and Price in London defy the borders between them, in fact, they defy nationalism and there is a continuous to and fro movement between them. So, the novel questions the efficacy of borders. Again, although Thamma is in the ride of nationalism and wants self identity, but for a person locked in the present - like Ila -maps and memory are equally irrelevant.

Here the author shows that the borders those are drawn on the surface of the earth are so called borders which can not divide one's mind and imagination and the sense of nativity and origin. When Thamma went to Bangladesh to bring her uncle to India, he did not in with her because he did not believe in the so called borders that can divide the country. Then Thamma asked her uncle to move to India, he replied, "Move? ... Move to what?" Again he says, "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? Where will you move to? No one will have you any where. As for me, I was born here, and I'll die here."

The borders between India and Pakistan were drawn by administrators who believed in "the enchantment of lines, hoping perhaps that once they had etched their borders on lie map, the two bits of land would sail away from each other like the shifting tectonic plates of the prehistoric Gondwanaland." But as the simultaneous riots show, there is a profound historical irony at work:

" there had never been a moment in the 4000 year old history of that map when the places we know as Dhaka and Culcutta were more closely bound to each other than after they had drawn their lines- so closely that, I, in Calcutta, only had to look upon the mirror to be in Dhaka; a moment when each city was the inverted image of the other, locked into an irreversible symmetry by the line that was to set us free- our looking- glass border."

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