Character of Tha’mma in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines

Character of Tha'mma in Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines
Character of Tha’mma in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines

Tha’mma is the protagonist in Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Shadow Lines.  She was narrator’s grandma. Born
in Jindabahar in Dhaka in a joint family, she grew up when the Indian National
Movement was gaining a militant note and fight against the British was jointly being
spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi and the militant nationalists together. Tha’mma was quick tempered with a deep
sense of freedom. She is proud, stubborn and strong-willed. She along with Ila
is an itinerant character.
Her dislocation
is a product of her circumstances. She is perplexed at the history that has led
her place of birth to be so messily at odds with her nationality and has made
her a foreigner in her hometown, Dhaka. She relates an incident of her college
life of 1920s when one of her classmates was arrested by the police for revolutionary
terrorism who looked shy and frail but had a great resolution and unrepentence
for serving the cause of national freedom. Tha’mma so fervently wished to help
him in any way she could, right from cooking the food to washing the clothes.
She states that she could even have killed the British and the Police Officers for
She gets married
to a man who gets postings in the neighboring countries and leaves Dhaka and goes
to different places before finally coming down to Calcutta after her husband’s
premature death from pneumonia. She takes up the teaching job in one of the
local schools and continues to serve there for twenty-seven years and retires
as a Principal in the year 1962. It was with this job that she brings her son
up and takes pride in her refusal for help from anybody especially from her
rich sister Maya Devi.
Tha’mma is a strict disciplinarian who was very
punctilious about the right use of time and lost her temper if anybody wasted
it. This was one of the reasons for her disapproval of Tridib and his waste of
The second person
that did not find her favour was Ila, the daughter of her sister Maya Devi. For
her, Ila is firmly outside the pale of sobriety and common Indians, her looks
and her clothes were inappropriate to her Bengali middle class origins: ‘Her hair
cut short like a bristle on the tooth brush, wearing tight trousers like a Free
School Street whore’
, she comments. Her concept of freedom is quite different
from that of Ila.
Tha’mma is a steadfast nationalist. She is in
love with her place of birth in Dhaka and cannot forget it in any way. The
partitioned India and the line drawn between Calcutta; her present place of stay
and Dhaka does not make any sense to her. She comes to realize that borders
have a weak existence and not even the history of bloodshed can make them truly
She is undiplomatic
and straight. For her, it is either this way or that but no in between. She had
believed that she would be able to see the borders between India and East Pakistan
from the plane.
She had long
believed that nostalgia is a weakness. ‘It is everyone’s duty to forget the
past and look ahead and get on with building the future’
, she used to say. But
one in Dhaka, she understands the harsh reality of the border and realizes that
dislocated people like her have no home but in memory. Stunned by her nephew
Tridib’s death by a riotous mob in Dhaka she develops a great hatred for
Pakistanis. She gifts away her only necklace, the last remembrance of her
husband to the war fund so that the Bangldeshi army may fight them properly at
last with tanks and guns and bombs. She says to her grandson ‘For your sake,
for your freedom.’
Her concepts of
nationalism, nationhood and the formation of Indian state are quite clear and forceful.
It is observed in her perception of her early days when she saw, felt and
experienced the tremors of British imperialism. Her sense of freedom and
nationhood was sharpened. She tells her grandson—It took those people a long
time to build that country; hundred of years, years and years of wars and
bloodshed. Everyone who lives there has earned his right to be there with
blood: with their brother’s blood and their fathers ’blood and their sons’
blood. They know they are a nation because they have drawn their borders with
blood. That is what it takes to make a country. Once that happens people forget
they were born this way or that, Muslim of Hindu, Bengali or Punjabi. They
become a family born of the same pool of the blood.

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