The Shadow Lines

by

Amitav Ghosh

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Mayadebi Character Analysis

Mayadebi is Tha'mma's younger sister. The narrator describes the two women as being like reflections in a looking glass. Mayadebi is lucky enough to marry the Shaheb, a wealthy diplomat. As such, she travels often throughout her life, including to London in 1939 with the nine-year-old Tridib, her middle son. She has an older son, Jatin, and a much younger son, Robi, who is only a few years older than the narrator. Mayadebi is a beautiful and shy woman, and she worries often about Tridib's safety while they're in London. Though she offers to help Tha'mma when Tha'mma's husband dies, Tha'mma refuses her help. Tha'mma often refers to Mayadebi as somewhat foolish, given that Mayadebi was afraid of scary stories and fully believed her older sister's tale that their uncle Jethamoshai's side of the house was entirely upside-down. However, Mayadebi agrees to take Tha'mma to visit their ancestral home when Tha'mma visits her in Dhaka. For much of the visit and during the riot, Mayadebi is silent. After Tridib dies, she gives the narrator his atlas.

Mayadebi Quotes in The Shadow Lines

The The Shadow Lines quotes below are all either spoken by Mayadebi or refer to Mayadebi. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Houghton Mifflin edition of The Shadow Lines published in 2007.
1. Going Away Quotes

I could guess at a little of what it had cost her then to refuse her rich sister's help and of the wealth of pride it had earned her, and I knew intuitively that all that had kept her from agreeing at once was her fear of accepting anything from anyone that she could not return in exact measure.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tha'mma, Mayadebi, Mother
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
2. Coming Home Quotes

But you know, the strange thing was that as we grew older even I almost came to believe in our story.

Related Characters: Tha'mma (speaker), The Narrator, Mayadebi, Jethamoshai
Related Symbols: The Upside-Down House
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

The price she had paid for that pride was that it had come to be transformed in her imagination into a barrage of slights and snubs; an imaginary barrier that she believed her gloating relatives had erected to compound her humiliation.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tha'mma, Mayadebi
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Once you start moving you never stop. That's what I told my sons when they took the trains. I said: I don't believe in this India-Shindia. It's all very well, you're going away now, but suppose when you get there they decide to draw another line somewhere? What will you do then? Where will you move to? No one will have you anywhere.

Related Characters: Jethamoshai (speaker), Tha'mma, Mayadebi
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mayadebi Character Timeline in The Shadow Lines

The timeline below shows where the character Mayadebi appears in The Shadow Lines. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Going Away
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Thirteen years before the narrator's birth, in 1939, Mayadebi, the Shaheb, and eight-year-old Tridib move to England. The narrator, who is now eight years... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
...outfits, each one appropriate for a different locale where he works as a diplomat. When Mayadebi gets out of the car, the narrator notes that she and Tha'mma look like the... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
...this isn't incorrect and meant that Robi was Tha'mma's favorite. Once, when Robi was twelve, Mayadebi sent Tha'mma an anxious letter implying that Robi got in trouble at school. Tha'mma summoned... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...preparing to assassinate an English magistrate and was sent to prison. Afterwards, whenever Tha'mma and Mayadebi passed the place where the boy had lived, Tha'mma told Mayadebi the boy's story, which... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
...Ila wasn't coming but winked at the narrator's father. The narrator believed it, and when Mayadebi noticed how sad he looked, she explained to him that Ila, Queen Victoria, Tridib, and... (full context)
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...stands between Dan and Alan, dressed in black and looking unbelievably elegant. Mrs. Price and Mayadebi stand on the edge. Mrs. Price never liked Francesca, and struggled to figure out which... (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...Dan, and Mike sit in an armchair, laughing. Alan stands behind the chair in between Mayadebi and Mrs. Price, who's holding the infant May. Alan looks down with a smile at... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...and Mike joined the navy and died in 1943. Tridib went with Mrs. Price and Mayadebi to collect Alan's things a few days after he died, and he found a photo... (full context)
2. Coming Home
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
...distracted. She explains that the house is very different from the house that she and Mayadebi grew up in. Over the next few months, Tha'mma tells the narrator about her childhood... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...feud, Tha'mma's mother and aunt supported each other in silent ways. Her aunt helped arrange Mayadebi's marriage to the Shaheb, though the women never spoke of it. (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
Tha'mma married four years before Mayadebi, and spent her early-married years traveling through railway colonies for her husband's work. She had... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...about Dhaka: she never got to see the upside-down house. She explains that she told Mayadebi that on Jethamoshai's side of the house, everything was upside down and backwards. She remarks... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
...but the narrator explains that Tha'mma really just thought the Shaheb was weak and that Mayadebi did most of the hard work for him. The narrator's father, annoyed, finally offers the... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
A week later, a letter arrives for Tha'mma from Mayadebi. The narrator carries it to Tha'mma's room, and she shoos him away before she reads... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
After three months, Mayadebi calls. The narrator and his parents anxiously hover, and at the end of the call,... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
In November, Mayadebi writes to say that May is going to visit Delhi, Agra, and Calcutta before traveling... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
...was owed one, given that it had been a bad day: for no apparent reason, Mayadebi wouldn't let him outside. (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...house and went down to look at some of the bomb holes in the park. Mayadebi found him and angrily led him home. Back at the house, Mrs. Price kindly explained... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
Two days before Tha'mma leaves for Dhaka, she receives a letter from Mayadebi. It explains that she hasn't been to the house yet, but she met a man... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Years later, Robi tells the narrator that the first thing Tha'mma said to Mayadebi was, "where's Dhaka?" Her Dhaka, the narrator says, disappeared long ago, and all she had... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...tall walls, and a beautiful garden in front. At dinner that first night, Tha'mma and Mayadebi discuss when to go fetch Jethamoshai. The Shaheb insists they need to wait a few... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...up posts at the front and back of the car. The driver whispers something in Mayadebi's ear, and she relays his message to Tha'mma and Tridib: they must come back quickly... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
Tha'mma, Mayadebi, Tridib, May, and Robi approach the house. Children take May's hands as they walk. When... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...all. He insists that Jethamoshai won't leave, but agrees to try. He leads Tha'mma and Mayadebi across the courtyard and into a grimy room in the house. Mayadebi and Tha'mma laugh:... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...get out of bed, and Tridib helps lift the old man into the rickshaw. Outside, Mayadebi and Tha'mma take one last look at the house and then walk towards the car.... (full context)