The petals on the bough

Petals On A Wet,
Black Bough
Time And Transience In
Amitav Ghosh’s
‘The Shadow Lines’
The petals on the bough
 Aditya Kumar 09010103 (Overall planning, mundane
details, Space analysis)
Akashdeep Rawat 09010104 (Entire background research)
Neerad Somanchi 09010247 (Time analysis, Planning ideas)
Kartikeya Mohan Sahai 09010368 (Autobiographical
Analysis + Original idea of the novel)
Abhinav Agrawal 09010702 (Content and design of the
Presentation, Planning ideas)
Anirudh Murali 09010708 (Design and review of the
Kshitij Bafna 09012212 (Postcolonial analysis)
Sarthak Kansal 09010446 (Postcolonial analysis)
Amitav Ghosh
An early life history
 Born in Calcutta in 1956
 A diplomat father incorporated
travel in his formative years
 Primarily lived in India, Bangladesh,
Sri Lanka and Iran
 Schooling from the Doon School
 Completed graduate studies from
the University of Delhi
 PhD in Social Anthropology from
Oxford Univerisity
On the face of it : Travel
“Travel has been absolutely central to my writing. A lot of my fiction is
about diasporic community—Indians, Chinese, for example, Burmese,
and so on. Those communities are very large, dispersed, and widely
spread. It's not an easy thing to know about them or even to acquaint
yourself with their history and their past……”
- Amitav Ghosh
 Certain elements seem to be common between the writer’s life and that
of the characters at the outset
 The elements of wanderlust and travel that permeates the conversations
between Tridib and the narrator,
 The musings of the narrator
 The intrinsic ease displayed towards travelling by Ila
On the face of it : Education
 Schooled primarily in boarding schools
 Many major characters ‘sent away’ for studies, with locations and time
changing with the educational development of the characters; a prominent
example being that of Ila.
 While both Tridib and the narrator outline how Ghosh treats travel as a
means of education and of stretching one’s imagination, his own
childhood spent in travel with his father is portrayed objectively in Ila’s
character and more so in her nonchalant treatment of new places.
“Cairo? oh yes! The ladies is way over at the other end of the departure
“Calm down it’s just the underground, you’d think we were going on the
bloody Concorde”
On the face of it : Calcutta
 Text has large measures of the ideological elements prevalent in post-colonial
 'The Bengali in The Shadow Lines’ by Minoti Chatterjee points out that the text
is essentially rooted in Indian Ethos and in the collective memory of a
generation of Bengalis which still believes in ‘the tenuous nature of borders
that no amount of bloodshed can make real and impermeable’
 The Calcutta riots of 1964 have been portrayed through the eyes of the narrator
as a child, outlining his own experiences of helplessness and silent terror
“I opened my mouth to answer and found I had nothing to say. All I could
have told them was of the sound of voices running past the walls of my
school, and of a glimpse of a mob in Park Circus”
The Shadow Lines (1964, Calcutta Riots)
On the face of it : Memory
 He points to the abyss of forgotten “history” which makes written history
“By the end of Jan 1964 the riots had faded away from the pages of the
newspapers, disappeared from the collective imagination of responsible
opinion‟, vanished, without leaving a trace in the histories and bookshelves.
They had dropped out of memory into the crater of a volcano of silence “
- The Shadow Lines
 The Shadow Lines represents his most direct confrontation with nationalism
and national identity and it is simultaneously about each character’s personal
 He develops the characters and the theme with the hand of somebody who has
a thorough understanding of human nature and social behaviour; a social
On the face of it : Power
 Childhood spent in a setting intimate with power.
 In the text, certain characters display a similar reverence towards power though
they might not comprehend it completely, while some appear to be completely
comfortable with it.
 He mirrors his own childhood experiences with power through these characters
and their behavior towards power : reverence and intimacy
“I could not bring myself to believe that I could be related to such people..”
 Example of the latter would be Robi who grew up in a household wherein the
patriarch (‘The Saheb’) was the personification of power. Furthermore, Robi
himself eventually joined the IAS
On the face of it : Physical
 The Calcutta 1964 riots incorporated the burning of two rubber
factories in Calcutta. He has sought to further develop the
correlation through the narrator’s father serving as an executive
in the rubber industry
 Ghosh himself had been involved in protecting a Punjabi youth
from the mob during the 1984 Delhi riots while travelling in a
bus (“ The ghosts of Mrs Gandhi “).
 In the text, he seeks to recreate a similar theme through the
narrators brush with communal violence in the 1964 Calcutta
riots while travelling in a school bus.
Going deeper : postcolonialism
 A major part of his life was set in post-colonial India.
“His fictional works are marked by extreme themes that go side by side with post-
Promilla Garg
 In his essay “The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi” (1995) he quotes that the book was
inspired by the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in Delhi
“It became a book not only about any one event but about the meaning of such
events and their effects on the people who lived through them”
 Hence, the principle theme in the book “The Shadow Lines” is the post-colonial
communal violence in India and it’s effect on the survivors.
Going deeper : The motive
“My next novel was bound to be influenced by my experiences, but I could see no way
of writing directly about those events without recreating them as a paranoma of
violence - "an aesthetic phenomenon," as Karahasan was to call it. At the time, the
idea seemed obscene and futile; of much greater importance were factual reports of the
testimony of the victims. But these were already being done by people who were, I
knew, more competent than I could be. “
 Attempting to provide a voice of reason to the communal violence without being
objective, he personifies his feelings through the various characters in the stories and
recounts his own experiences and terror through various settings.
The 1964 Calcutta riots as being told through the eyes of a schoolboy narrator travelling
in a bus, reflects his experiences during the 1984 Delhi riots, through which he was able
to provide an adequate propriety to the description of the carnage that had ensued.
Going deeper
“Of the year's (1984) many catastrophes, the sectarian
violence following Mrs Gandhi's death had the greatest
effect on my life. Looking back, I see that the experiences of
that period were profoundly important to my development
as a writer; so much so that I have never attempted to write
about them until now”
Amitav Ghosh (“The Ghost of Mrs Gandhi”,1995)
Mirrored Images
 It is in the prominent post-colonial theme, the
elements of travel, the importance of education, the
idea of the Bengalee and a childhood brush with
power displayed in the text that his own life can be
seen to be mirrored
Structure of the Novel
 Non-linear structure and digressive narrative
 It is a novel without a defined Beginning, Middle and End;
relying on a loop-structure of a story- within a –story.
 In turn linked to digressive narrative which interferes with
what is called the ‘unity of theme and action’ as a hallmark of
good writing as perceived by the Western poetics.
 This novel is told through stories; the narrator is more of a
listener than a speaker.
 His method of narration is in ‘bringing together’ available
versions rather than telling new stories.
Structure Contd…
 The narrator remains unnamed throughout.
 He tells the story from various vantage points in time & space.
 Most of the stories begin like jigsaw puzzles with a limited
meaning but conclude with an intelligible pattern. The various
parts of a jigsaw puzzle or the incomplete story are supplied by
various characters.
 He is important to the extent of bringing all of them together
without which, in spite of their existence these versions remain
at best partially meaningful.
 The book has two sub-sections: Going Away and Coming
Home. Both phrases indicate the queer sense of home and
homelessness that the partition victims have experienced that
allows them to dispense with a fixed point that signifies a point
of departure.
All our intuitions mock,
The formal logic of the clock
Rhetorics of Time
 Geographical and historical time vs normal time
 Selective memory, Ghosh selects and organizes only
such material from history as serves his artistic
Primary Illusion
 Experiential Life or Virtual Life or 'Primary Illusion' as
Susanne Langer calls it
Tridib's time in England is woven into the novel through
recollections of the narrator and other characters, This VL is
created out of collective memory
Presented in the mode typified by memory, i.e the past
 Characteristic of VL - composed only of significant
emotional events, mundane activities have no place in the
Primary Illusion Contd…
 Use of present tense for creating unchronological
freshness, as if the events happened now.
Robi's account of his dream in which his brother is
killed by the mob. It is narrated in the present tense
even though he has had it periodically because even
after all these years it is a harrowing experience and
thus has not lost the immediacy of an intense
Primary Illusion Contd…
 Experiential (significant events) and non-experiential
(boring, everyday stuff) elements of actual past.
The VL thus has a tautness to it, including events the are not
only very significant but also organically related. It has the
feel of a tightly knit story.
 Organically inter-related events
England coming alive at the beginning of the book (“People
were becoming friendlier”-Mayadebi) is contrasted with the
dying of euphoria (in India) as the Chinese army drives back
the Indian army in 1962 (at the end of the book).
Time –Shift
 The novel does not move forward as such. It deals only
with STATES (vignettes) rather than ACTIONS. It moves
in and around the past. This is the Secondary Illusion,
dealing with states instead of moving forward with
 Time-Shift is a very useful technique which allows Ghosh
to make connections of causality and irony between
temporally separated events.
Tridib’s 'made-up-story' about London and his relations
with the 'foreign' people there is juxtaposed with incident of
the narrator finding a picture of May in Tridib's possession.
In light of the later incident, the first story sounds true.
Stream of Consciousness
 A literary style in which a character's thoughts,
feelings, and reactions are depicted in a continuous
flow uninterrupted by objective description or
conventional dialogue.
 James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust are
among its notable early exponents.
Objective of Time-Shift
and SoC
 To throw into relief those moments of heightened
consciousness, or epiphanies. These are moments that extend
the boundaries of our emotional experiences.
May's epiphany at the end where she realizes that Tridib had
sacrificed himself.
“I thought I had killed him…For years I was arrogant enough to
think I owed him his life. But I know I didn’t kill him; I couldn't
have if I‘d wanted. He gave himself up; it was a sacrifice. I know I
can’t understand it, I know I mustn’t try, for any real sacrifice is a
 The narrator has a 'glimpse of the redemptive mystery'. Such
moments comprise 'Life as a collection of vignettes' rather than
'Life as lived by the clock'.
 The shape and direction of the novel is largely
determined by the traumatic event of Tridib's death.
 There is a glaring discrepancy between the content
and the reading time that it is given.
 The incident is a very brief one, yet scores of pages in
the book are devoted to the victim Tridib, the times
in which he lived and reminisces of that tragic event.
 As against this, the Grandmothers' married life of 12
years gets a couple of pages.
Significance of Space
 This novel is a historical narrative which deals
mainly with the national borders and geographical
boundaries that separate people.
 The absurdity and the arbitrariness of the
geographical borders and cartographic demarcations
is shown in the novel.
 The narrative moves fast from Calcutta to London to
Delhi to Dhaka, back and forth repeatedly.
The Shadow Lines
 Ghosh chooses his title to suggest that the borders which
separate people are mere “shadow”, and nothing more
than artificial lines created by politicians.
 Robi says: "And then I think to myself, why dont they
draw thousands of little lines through the whole
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?"
Significance of Space
“It is the fear that comes of the knowledge that normalcy is
utterly contingent, that the spaces that surround one, the
streets that one inhabits, can suddenly and without
warning become as hostile as a desert in a flash flood. It is
this that sets apart the thousand million people who inhabit
the subcontinent from the rest of the world-not language,
not food, not music-it is the special quality of loneliness
that grows out of the fear of the war between oneself and
one’s image in the mirror.“
Significance of Space
 He metaphorically presents the story of the partition of
Thammaa's ancestral house in Dhaka.
 The story of this house’s partition started when Thammaa
was still young. The house has been divided with wooden
partition wall going through doorways.
 The two parts of the family accepted this partition of the
house to stop the continuous quarrels between them.
Ironically, they could not find the peace they were
searching for; instead, this partition of the house created
bitterness between the two families.
 He uses this allegory of the house partition to represent
the political partition of the nation.
 The whole narrative is woven around historical
incidents of violence resulting from border divisions
and cartography.
 In the end, the futility of sub-continental politics
intending to erase the truth of human lives by
inventing “shadow lines” of divisions emerges
acutely through the work. Therein lies its greatest
Circles On Atlas
 The narrator takes Tridib's atlas. Taking Khulna at the center
and Srinagar on the circumference, he draws a circle.
 The narrator says, "And so, 15 years after his death, Tridib
watched over me, as I tried to learn the meaning of distance.“
 He discovers that a place like Chang-Mai in Thailand is much
nearer to Calcutta than Delhi is and Chengdu in China is nearer
than Srinagar is, considering the tidy ordering of Euclidean
 And yet, a disturbance in one of those places would hardly
have caused a backlash in Calcutta or Khulna. But in the case of
Srinagar and Khulna, it took only a week for the rumor to
trigger a riot.
Circles On Atlas Contd…
"They had drawn their borders, believing in that pattern, in the
enchantment of the lines, hoping perhaps that once they had
etched their borders upon the map, the two bits of land would sail
away from each other like the shifting tectonic plates . . ."
 The simple fact that there had never been a moment in the
four-thousand-year-old history of that map, when the
places we know as Dhaka and Calcutta were more closely
bound to each other than after they had drawn their linesa 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."
Post-Colonial Narrative
 The fictionalized narrative is interwoven with history and
validated by actual experiences in the lives of the major
characters – the narrator, Tridib, Ila, and Tha’mma.
 It explores the deceptive nature of national borders that
are constructed to project an image of difference across
political divides.
 The partition is projected as an act of meaningless
 At the end, Tridib aspires to become a global citizen. He is
a man without a country. He meets his tragic end at the
hands of a rioting mob in Dhaka. His vision seems to
succumb to the brute forces of reality.
 Ghosh has used these memories to construct the concept
of freedom and its undertones in the modern world.
 Amitav Ghosh has focused on the changing middle
class ethos in India during the pre- and postIndependence era.
 The lives of the characters in this novel are
determined largely by their idea of freedom. This
idea is shaped by the history of the times.
 There are also the failures of nationalism and
nationalist governments, which find voice in the
characters’ memories, and views of the partition,
militancy, and the riots.
 Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines: Re-Reading its Craft and Concerns, Murari
 Education: Liberation or Imprisonment? (The Case of Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow
Lines), Prof. Dr. Christiane Schlote, Laureen Zanotti
GHOSH’S THE SHADOW LINES [1988], Dr. Rajkumar M. Lakhadive
 Geographical Borders and Political Maps in Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines and
Kanafani’s Men in the Sun
 Amitav Ghosh’s “The Shadow Lines”: Problematics of National Identity, Pabitra
 Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines: Critical Essays, edited by Arvind Chowdhary
Thank You

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