Also by Amitav Ghosh
The Hungry Tide Incendiary Circumstances The Glass Palace The Calcutta Chromosome In an Antique Land The Circle of Reason Sea of Poppies River of Smoke
The Shadow Lines
First published in Great Britain in 1988 by Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd First published in 2011 by John Murray (Publishers) An Hachette UK Company © Amitav Ghosh 1988 The right of Amitav Ghosh to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library Epub ISBN 978-1-84854-423-9 Book ISBN 978-1-84854-417-8 John Murray (Publishers) 338 Euston Road London NW1 3BH www.johnmurray.co.uk
For Radhika and Harisen
Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Going Away Coming Home
In 1939, thirteen years before I was born, my father’s aunt, Mayadebi, went to England with her husband and her son, Tridib. It startles me now to discover how readily the name comes off my pen as ‘Mayadebi’ for I have never spoken of her thus; not aloud, at any rate: as my grandmother’s only sister, she was always Mayathakuma to me. But still, from as far back as I can remember, I have known her, in the secrecy of my mind, as ‘Mayadebi’ – as though she were a well-known stranger, like a film star or a politician whose picture I had seen in a newspaper. Perhaps it was merely because I knew her very little, for she was not often in Calcutta. That explanation seems likely enough, but I know it to be untrue. The truth is that I did not want to think of her as a relative: to have done that would have diminished her and her family – I could not bring myself to believe that their worth in my eyes could be reduced to something so arbitrary and unimportant as a blood relationship. Mayadebi was twenty-nine when they left, and Tridib was eight. Over the years, although I cannot remember when it happened any more than I can remember when I first learnt to tell the time or tie my shoelaces, I have come to believe that I was eight too when Tridib first talked to me about that journey. I remember trying very hard to imagine him back to my age, to reduce his height to mine, and to think away the spectacles that were so much a part of him that I really believed he had been born with them. It wasn’t easy, for to me he looked old, impossibly old, and I could not remember him looking anything other than old – though, in fact, at that time he could not have been much older than twenty-nine. In the end, since I had nothing to go on, I had decided that he had looked like me. But my grandmother, when I asked her, was very quick to contradict me. She shook her head firmly, looking up from her schoolbooks, and said: No, he looked completely different – not at all like you. My grandmother didn’t approve of Tridib. He’s a loafer and a wastrel, I would sometimes hear her saying to my parents; he doesn’t do any proper work, lives off his father’s money. To me, she would only allow herself to say with a sardonic little twist of her mouth: I don’t want to see you loafing about with Tridib; Tridib wastes his time. It didn’t sound terrible, but in fact, in my grandmother’s usage, there was nothing very much worse that could be said of anyone. For her, time was like a toothbrush: it went mouldy if it wasn’t used. I asked her once what happened to wasted time. She tossed her small silvery head, screwed up her long nose and said: It begins to stink. As for herself, she had been careful to rid our little flat of...
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