Cartographies of Difference: Inventing Difference in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines

Author: Suravi Roy, Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, India

Citation: Roy, S. (2022). Cartographies of Difference: Inventing Difference in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines. IAFOR Journal of Arts & Humanities, 9(2).


The central image in Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Shadow Lines (1988) is that of the “upside-down house”. The “upside-down house” was a product of a notional exercise undertaken by Thamma, the narrator’s grandmother, when she was a young girl. When their ancestral home was partitioned with a wall due to persistent familial disputes, the young children of the family found it difficult to cope with the now hostile environment. In response, Thamma invented stories about the portion of the house that belonged to their Jethamoshai, her father’s elder brother. The stories told herein are absurd and comical, but they contain a deeper social message, as they suggest that such irrational narratives are indispensable when drawing lines and erecting walls that separate people and communities from each other. As such, the upside-down house becomes a metaphor for the consequences of the Partition that shook the Indian sub-continent in 1947, when two communities that had long co-existed suddenly found themselves on opposite sides of an arbitrarily drawn fence. Collateral to the metaphor is the intimation that, in order to sustain myths of nations and nationalism, the interested players need to concoct narratives of difference and othering. Through the image of the “upside-down house”, this paper seeks to explore questions of home, nation and borders as depicted in The Shadow Lines.


borders, difference, home, invention, nation, nationalism