The Shadow Lines

by

Amitav Ghosh

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Tha'mma Character Analysis

Tha'mma is the narrator's grandmother. As a young woman in British India, she desperately wanted to be a part of the terrorist groups that fought for India's independence from Britain. When Partition happened in 1947, however, Tha'mma was too busy raising the narrator's father as a single parent to think much of it. When her husband died, Tha'mma became fiercely independent and refused help from everyone, including her younger sister, Mayadebi. Eventually, Tha'mma told herself that her relatives actually refused to help her, so she actively distanced herself from much of her family. Throughout the novel, she's cautious about family relationships, given that as a child, she saw her father and uncle feud and finally build a wall through their house to resolve it. She's also a stickler about using one's time wisely, also as a result of having to support herself and put her son through school alone. Because of this, she dislikes Tridib, who she believes to be a gossip. After she retires, Tha'mma withdraws and cedes control of the household to the narrator's mother. In a sudden shift in character, Tha'mma decides in her early sixties that it's her duty to bring her elderly uncle Jethamoshai home to India, given the rising tensions between India and Pakistan. The prospect of returning to Dhaka is a difficult one for her: she doesn't understand what Partition was for if the border itself isn't even visible, and she struggles to cope with the sudden realization that her birth in Dhaka means that she was born in East Pakistan. After Jethamoshai and Tridib die in the riot, Tha'mma sells her favorite gold chain to fund the war effort with Pakistan. She becomes nasty to the narrator when she deteriorates while he's in college, and calls Ila a whore.

Tha'mma Quotes in The Shadow Lines

The The Shadow Lines quotes below are all either spoken by Tha'mma or refer to Tha'mma. 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 felt a constriction in my throat, for suddenly it seemed to me that perhaps she was not so alien, after all, to my own small, puritanical world, in which children were sent to school to learn how to cling to their gentility by proving themselves in the examination hall.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Tha'mma
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

I would have been frightened, she said. But I would have prayed for strength, and God willing, yes, I would have killed him. It was for our freedom: I would have done anything to be free.

Related Characters: Tha'mma (speaker), The Narrator, Tridib
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

They know they're a nation because they've drawn their borders with blood […] War is their religion. That's what it takes to make a country. Once that happens people forget they were born this or that, Muslim or Hindu, Bengali or Punjabi: they become a family born of the same pool of blood. That is what you have to achieve for India, don't you see?

Related Characters: Tha'mma (speaker), The Narrator, Ila
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

But I knew I had made a mistake the moment I said it; I should have known that she would have nothing but contempt for a freedom that could be bought for the price of an air ticket. For she too had once wanted to be free; she had dreamt of killing for her freedom.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Tha'mma
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] I thought of how much they all wanted to be free; how they went mad wanting their freedom; I began to wonder whether it was I that was mad because I was happy to be bound: whether I was alone in knowing that I could not live without the clamour of voices within me.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Tha'mma
Page Number: 88
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:

But if there aren't any trenches or anything, how are people to know? I mean, where's the difference then? And if there's no difference, both sides will be the same […] What was it all for then—Partition and all the killing and everything—if there isn't something in between?

Related Characters: Tha'mma (speaker), The Narrator, Mother, Father
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Everyone lives in a story, he says, my grandmother, my father, his father, Lenin, Einstein, and lots of other names I hadn't heard of; they all lived in stories, because stories are all there are to live in, it was just a question of which one you choose […]

Related Characters: The Shaheb (speaker), Ila, Tha'mma
Page Number: 179
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:

They had drawn their borders, believing in that pattern, in the enchantment of lines, hoping perhaps that once they had etched their borders upon the map, the two bits of land would sail away from each other like the shifting tectonic plates of the prehistoric Gondwanaland.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tridib, Tha'mma
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:
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Tha'mma Character Timeline in The Shadow Lines

The timeline below shows where the character Tha'mma appears in The Shadow Lines. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Going Away
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Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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...to the narrator. The narrator decides that Tridib surely looked like him, though his grandmother, Tha'mma, insists Tridib didn't. (full context)
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Tha'mma doesn't like Tridib; she insists that a person must use their time wisely, and that... (full context)
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Tha'mma knows that Tridib visits primarily to "nurse his stomach." He comes when he finds himself... (full context)
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...his life in Calcutta, as the rest of his family is wealthy and travels often. Tha'mma is offended by this: she sees it as proof of Tridib's frivolity that he never... (full context)
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The narrator insists that Tha'mma was wrong about Tridib: he is openly dismissive of the gossips, and the narrator recognizes... (full context)
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...The narrator's mother is excited, as she never gets to take holidays. When she approaches Tha'mma to ask permission, Tha'mma sharply insists that Victoria only wants them so the narrator can... (full context)
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Two days later, the narrator, his mother and father, and Tha'mma wait at Gole Park to meet Ila's family. The narrator, overcome with excitement at getting... (full context)
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...that the two didn't look alike at all, and in fact, he looked more like Tha'mma than anyone else in the family. The narrator explains to the reader that this isn't... (full context)
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Tha'mma told Tridib and the narrator about a quiet boy she'd gone to college with in... (full context)
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Tridib asked what happened to the boy, and Tha'mma said she learned later that the boy had been preparing to assassinate an English magistrate... (full context)
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...story. He and Robi, who was a few years older, sized each other up as Tha'mma greeted the Shaheb by sniffing his face. Later, the narrator's father scolded Tha'mma for this,... (full context)
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...Lizzie are in another car. Finally, the other car pulls up. The narrator hides in Tha'mma's sari. Queen Victoria roars at Lizzie to fetch Ila, who's asleep in the backseat. Ila... (full context)
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Years later, when he's home on summer break from college in Delhi, the narrator tells Tha'mma this story. Tha'mma is very ill at this point, though nobody knows that she's going... (full context)
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The narrator's heart fills with a mixture of love and pity for Tha'mma. Later, when he told Ila about what Tha'mma said, she said something about her being... (full context)
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The next morning, when the narrator returns to Tha'mma's side, Tha'mma insists that Ila is in England because she's greedy. The narrator reminds Tha'mma... (full context)
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...Robi had been home. Upon the narrator's return home, his mother fed him lunch and Tha'mma drily told her to not worry about dinner—the narrator, she declared, won't be home for... (full context)
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After the narrator tells Tha'mma this, he knows he made a mistake: she doesn't think much of freedom that can... (full context)
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The narrator goes to Tha'mma the next morning. She now has a nurse and refuses to speak to her grandson.... (full context)
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...stop for a week right before his examinations. Finally, he receives a letter saying that Tha'mma died and has already been cremated. The narrator wanders around Delhi in grief, but he... (full context)
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Several days later, the dean summons the narrator and informs him that Tha'mma wrote to say that the narrator has been seeing prostitutes, and the school is going... (full context)
2. Coming Home
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Tha'mma retires in 1962, when the narrator is ten years old. She'd taught at a girls'... (full context)
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The school prepares a special meal for them after the ceremony, tying in Tha'mma's initiative to teach the girls to cook foods from around the country. As the girls... (full context)
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At first, Tha'mma is happy in retirement. However, after only a few days, the narrator overhears his mother... (full context)
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Tha'mma's interest in treatments like this is short-lived, and she soon takes to visiting her school.... (full context)
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A few months later, the narrator's father is suddenly promoted. Tha'mma, uncharacteristically, doesn't seem to care much. Soon after, the family moves to a big house... (full context)
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One night, the narrator throws his schoolbooks and asks Tha'mma why she looks so distracted. She explains that the house is very different from the... (full context)
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...never strong enough to truly hurt them and often bought them sweets in the aftermath. Tha'mma's mother, however, didn't understand this, and it began a feud between her family and Jethamoshai's.... (full context)
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Eventually, Jethamoshai and Tha'mma's father decided to divide the house in half with a wall. The wall went through... (full context)
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Tha'mma married four years before Mayadebi, and spent her early-married years traveling through railway colonies for... (full context)
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Tha'mma smiles at the narrator and admits that there's one regret she has about Dhaka: she... (full context)
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When winter sets in, Tha'mma begins going with the narrator to the park when he plays cricket. She walks around... (full context)
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...silence in the household, makes a cup of tea, and sits with her husband. Suddenly, Tha'mma bursts into the house and exclaims that she ran into a friend in the park... (full context)
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...mother is flabbergasted: though she places a great deal of importance on maintaining family connections, Tha'mma has always been wary of relatives and even pushed them all away after her husband... (full context)
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On Sunday, Tha'mma's friend's maidservant, Mrinmoyee, arrives to lead Tha'mma and the narrator's father to Tha'mma's cousin, but... (full context)
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...the car and tries to make the narrator stay, but he slips out and follows Tha'mma. When Mrinmoyee gets to the correct room in the concrete house, Tha'mma explains to the... (full context)
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Inside, the relative serves tea and tells Tha'mma that her husband went back to Dhaka several times to try to bring Jethamoshai back... (full context)
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...explains that the woman wonders if the narrator's father could get her son a job. Tha'mma scoffs and changes the subject: she worries about Jethamoshai, and believes her last quest in... (full context)
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The narrator's father loves to give people good news. In March of 1963, he tells Tha'mma at dinner that the Shaheb just got a promotion. Tha'mma scoffs that he's a drunk... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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One evening, Tha'mma asks if she'll be able to see the border between India and East Pakistan from... (full context)
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The narrator's father teases Tha'mma about how she used to travel in and out of Burma easily, and she retorts... (full context)
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...to say that May is going to visit Delhi, Agra, and Calcutta before traveling with Tha'mma to Dhaka, and asks if she can stay with the narrator's family while she's in... (full context)
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Two days before Tha'mma leaves for Dhaka, she receives a letter from Mayadebi. It explains that she hasn't been... (full context)
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That night, Tha'mma asks the narrator to sleep with her. He agrees, and as they lay in bed,... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...flat roof, 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... (full context)
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One morning while Tha'mma, Tridib, and May are in Dhaka, the narrator discovers that there's trouble in Calcutta. His... (full context)
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...drive, the streets look unfamiliar: they're empty except for policemen. The narrator is glad that Tha'mma and May aren't in Calcutta. The students see a rickshaw blocking a street and think... (full context)
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...agrees to let them go to the old house if they take a security guard. Tha'mma changes her sari three times and is very nervous, but finally, they head out. Robi... (full context)
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Suddenly, the car turns a corner, and Tha'mma cries out happily that she recognizes where they are. They reach a narrow lane, and... (full context)
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Tha'mma, Mayadebi, Tridib, May, and Robi approach the house. Children take May's hands as they walk.... (full context)
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Tha'mma is in awe that Jethamoshai lets Muslims care for him when he used to not... (full context)
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...simple at 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... (full context)
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Tha'mma approaches Jethamoshai, but he yells at her to stop, sit down, and tell him about... (full context)
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Jethamoshai asks Tha'mma to describe her case, and Tridib loudly explains that they're relatives. Jethamoshai's face lights up... (full context)
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Tha'mma gives up, but Saifuddin insists they need to find another way to convince Jethamoshai. Khalil... (full context)
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...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. The driver... (full context)
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...Khulna (a small town in Pakistan), however, experienced violent riots. The narrator realizes suddenly that Tha'mma, May, and Tridib left for Dhaka the day before these riots broke out. (full context)
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...return to the library for days. He lies in bed, wondering why his father allowed Tha'mma, May, and Tridib to even go to Dhaka—it seems his father sent them on purpose.... (full context)
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The narrator says that Tha'mma's only frivolity was a love of jewelry. She sold a lot of her collection after... (full context)
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...in 1965, the narrator comes home to find his mother lying down. She explains that Tha'mma went out in the morning, came home, and is sitting upstairs listening to the news... (full context)
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Tha'mma pounds on the radio and the glass front shatters, gouging her hand. She stares at... (full context)
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...uninterested but perplexed when his father made him promise to not talk to anyone, especially Tha'mma, about what happened. The narrator agreed, but only because he knew his friends wouldn't care... (full context)
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Tha'mma had yelled at the driver to drive away, but May screamed at her and got... (full context)