Mapping the Transnation: Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines
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Central to Ghosh’s oeuvre is the idea that the nation is a fiction whose boundaries are continuously being reimagined and redrawn. Nationalism creates binary divisions, and projects a kind of “false” history which would buttress its own interest. The ideology of modernity and its various avatars, like Western geographical and ideological expansionism, modernist knowledge production strategies, and racism, create a Manichaean dialectic between the self and its other. Ghosh’s engagement with the frequency of boundary-crossings within and outside India, challenges the essentialist definitions of nations and societies. Ghosh‘s endorsement of the syncretism and humanism that downplay cultural differences explains his antipathy towards nationalism and its divisive epistemology. Despite his celebration of cultural pluralism, an acute sense of the sameness of man across “looking glass borders” and temporal divides underlies his work. Questioning the authoritarian and coercive actions of the postcolonial nation state, Ghosh pines for the Nehruvian utopia of a secularist, democratic national unity which assimilates Indian diversity in a syncretic whole. Based on an ethically conceived solidarity, this feeling of communitarianism would provide an ideal alternative to religious and ethnic chauvinism and “Majoritarianism”, as well as political dispersal and the religious/ethnic violence rampant in contemporary Hindu nationalism. Ghosh distrusts the nationalist political and official discourse of a faceless and dehumanizing statist machinery detached from the actual lives of people. In The Shadow Lines, Ghosh thematizes the migrations of people(s), the importance of connections between the past and the present, the changing status of nation-states, the fluid nature of boundaries, intercultural communication beyond nationalism, the spread of Western modes of production, and encounters between different cultures – all of which are the fallout of globalization.
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