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Linear Accounts

Deepak Mehta

Edited by Ian Talbot and Daljit Singh Tatla
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 234, Rs. 595.00


This is a book on memory and on ques- tions. On questions that we all know but for which we have inadequate explanations, questions that compellingly address us from within contemporary social sciences in India and from within contemporary history. Talbot and Tatla provide a range of first hand contemporary accounts of Partition survivors from Amritsar, a city that became a major transit camp for refugees from Pakistan during the Partition years, and whose geography enabled a recovery of abducted women.   The book carries twenty-five interviews with survivors of Partition violence and an introduction, which places the text within contemporary research on Partition. The interviews are conducted with individuals who speak of their experiences of violence, but also of resettlement and rehabilitation. The latter theme has often been missed in Partition studies and it is to the credit of Talbot and Tatla that they do not censor themes of restitution. The introduction locates the interviews within the broad themes of violence, migration and resettlement and points us to some of the pitfalls in relying on memory as an adequate tool of scholarly analysis. My main problems with this text are twofold: it assumes a direct and referential relation between language and acts of violence; it assumes a perfectly reflective (and rational) speaking subject. In both cases we are unable to read silences, we are forced to a mimetic theory of language, but one that is peculiarly denuded of affect. Manto apart, a vast literature on the play of silence in evoking the terror of Partition, forces us to critique the culturally regnant views of violence and trauma. The text appears to be in a privileged position to critique the ‘trauma industry’ and to establish the profound links between violence and rehabilitation but it does not. The interviews themselves are straight renditions of people speaking (eloquently, it must be mentioned), but their speech is not placed within contemporary events or everyday life. Perhaps, a case could be made for the extraordinary experiences of survivors but some contextual details would have helped. The interviews themselves are linear accounts, alerting us to the possibility that the language on violence is as much about concealment as expression. The authors mention that these oral accounts are silent on the issue of abducted women and personal agency in the violence, silences that are filled in by documentary evidence. But we do not get a reason for ...

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