by Marcia Egeland
At a group meeting prior to our departure we were each given a copy of the novel The Shadow Lines by Amitov Ghosh, with instructions to read it in preparation for a discussion at the American College (founded in 1881) in Madurai with faculty from SCILET, the Study Centre for Indian Literature in English and Translation.
Well, today was the day to have that discussion. I think that many of us were feeling a little uncertain about the book, but the discussion did provoke a great deal of thought and the faculty provided us with materials that proved to be quite helpful in untangling some of the relationships in the novel.
The Shadow Lines is full of metaphors and symbolism. The story focuses on the experiences of the unnamed narrator’s family during the time of partition. Shadows are used throughout the story as symbols of the secrets that we keep, the sides of ourselves that we keep hidden from view, and perhaps most importantly, the shadow lines symbolize the manmade, and man-defined borders of countries. One of the most memorable portions of the story for me is just prior to the family’s departure by plane from Calcutta to visit Dhaka to rescue a family member. The grandmother asks the narrator if she will be able to see the border between India and East Pakistan from the plane. “Shadow Lines”?
This really oversimplifies the novel, but it gives you an idea of what it is about. We toured the SCILET library and then had a wonderful non-vegetarian luncheon with the faculty.