April 20, 2003
Prose behind and beyond the shadow lines
The Imam and The
by Amitav Ghosh. Ravidayal and Permanent Black, Delhi.
Pages 361. Rs 495.
those who see nothing authentic in Indian English writings, Amitav
Ghosh’s collection of prose pieces is a striking reminder of
modern Indian English writer’s unflinching activist proclivities.
In an earlier prose collection entitled Countdown, Ghosh had warned
us about the possible perils of nuclear war. Also, it was Ghosh who
withdrew his much-acclaimed novel The Glass Palace from the
Commonwealth competition for Best Fiction because the competition
considers novels written in English only.
Much like Salman
Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands, the prose pieces compiled in
the book collectively constitute a necessary prelude to the
understanding of the making of Ghosh as a writer of fiction.
Writing, for him, is not an intransitive act; it is an act of
involvement and conviction. It is living life dangerously.
"Words cost life." The novel The Shadow Lines (1988),
much appreciated for its cartographic imagination as one learns from
the reading of his essay "The Ghosts of Mrs Indira," stems
from his first-hand encounter with anti-Sikh rioters in 1984. Ghosh
recollects how at the cost of his own life, he along with his friend
saved the life of some Bawa couple in South Delhi. In another essay,
"The Greatest Sorrow," Amitav discloses how the 1984 riots
re-activated in his mind the impressions of Dhaka riots (1964). The
Shadow Lines as a novel, he says, owes more to the events of
1984 than to the memory of 1964.