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Event, Memory, Catastrophe

Modhumita Roy

Edited by Jasodhara Bagchi and Subhoranjan Dasgupta
Stree, Kolkata, 2003, pp. 272, Rs. 500.00


August 1997 marked fifty years of Indian Independence and the creation of Pakistan. It marked, as well, the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most miserable migrations in twentieth century history, a bloody carnage the likes of which was previously unknown in the history of the region. Even by conservative estimates, 10 million people were displaced (4.7 million on the western border alone) and a million killed. The pain and horror of that sudden and violent severance continues to reverberate in the consciousness of the subcontinent. The past decade has seen an explosion of historiographical studies about the Partition. In addition, several anthologies of Partition literature have been put together and a few essay-length critical assessments of this literature have begun to appear as well.   The Partition on the eastern border, however, has remained largely outside the purview of the numerous collections that have been published on the subject. Urvashi Butalia in her book The Other side of Silence (1998) acknowledged this inattention in her introduction, “A serious gap is the omission of experiences in Bengal and East Pakistan (Bangladesh).” Others, such as Ritu Menon and Kamala Bhasin, co-authors of Borders and Boundaries (1998) , too, have acknowledged this gap in their work. In the 50 or so years following Partition and Independence and the creation of two (and subsequently three) sovereign nations, the attention has been almost exclusively on the division of the Punjab and the bloodbath that accompanied and followed it. The experience of the unspeakable horrors on the western borders, the long line of kafilas, have come to dominate, indeed, form the very image of that moment in our shared history. Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas, (especially in its popular, elevision version) for example, or the earlier (and in many ways different) Garam Hawa, the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto (in particular one thinks of ‘Toba Tek Singh’), or Khuswant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, the short stories of Kishan Chander (‘Peshawer Express’), Rajinder Singh Bedi among many others have come to constitute the very representation of that moment in our history. By contrast, almost no writing from Bengal has been included in the recent literary anthologies on the Partition.   The Trauma and the Triumph: Gender and Partition in Eastern India edited by Jasodhara Bagchi and Subhoranjan Dagupta steps into this lacuna. This is an important collection of essays—the first in a proposed series of four—that re-focusses our attention not only to ...

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