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Addressing the American Reader

Bodh Prakash

Edited by Frank Stewart and Sukrita Paul Kumar
University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2013, pp. 219, price not stated.


Crossing Over is the special issue of Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing and is devoted exclusively to Partition Literature from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. As the Introduction states, the work is addressed specifically to an American readership and more generally to English speaking readers. According to the editors, given ‘American intervention in global affairs’ in the last couple of decades or so it has become important for American readers to be exposed to the insights and knowledge provided by the literatures of ‘other’ nations and regions. There is perhaps a fine, though probably unconscious irony here in that the British imperialists too wanted to acquire a thorough knowledge of the colonized ‘other’. Nevertheless the intentions of the present editors are unquestionable. The American reading public’s insularity certainly needs to be broken and what better way than to make available to it some of the finest short stories written over the last five decades by the most renowned writers of Hindi, Urdu and Bengali on the subject of the partition of India.   The contents page lists two sections in the volume, one comprising two essays by Joginder Paul and Urvashi Butalia and the second one of short stories and extracts from novels. In the actual layout of the pieces, Joginder Paul’s essay ‘On Writing Sleepwalkers’ comes just after the extract from his novel Sleepwalkers, and the extract from Butalia’s celebrated work The Other Side of Silence has been placed after the equally famous short story ‘Lajwanti’ by Rajinder Singh Bedi. In this the editors have ensured the continuity of the material in the volume in an innovative manner.   Apart from stories written originally in Hindi and Urdu by some well known authors, five stories in Bengali by Rashid Haider, Prafulla Roy, Samaresh Basu and Abu Bashar have also been included. ‘Incognita’ by Rashid Haider reminds us of the second partition of 1971 when Pakistan was divided, a partition whose roots lay in the first one.   In sharp contrast to the work of researchers and academics, creative works on partition have been shaped by two concerns. Firstly the writers are interested in representing ‘what really happened’. For them it is not the political debates and considerations that preceded partition or the statistical figures that enumerate the number of dead or displaced or abducted women that are significant. What are important are the responses and emotions of ordinary people, ...

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