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Jagged Ends of a Shattered World


Roopa Vajpeyi


Edited by Ritu Menon
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2004, pp. 202, Rs. 300.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 7 July 2004

Ritu Menon in her introductory essay to No Woman’s Land, describes the Partition of India as “one of the most massive peace-time upheavals ever”, and goes on to say that “it is generally agreed that its reverberations persisted and are still being felt, with varying degrees of intensity in the three countries most affected by it”.   In my own experience, my parents’ generation, with full blown households and entrenched lives in what is now West Pakistan, was the one that experienced the uprooting in its totality. Their genteel and settled way of life blew up in their faces, as they were forced from the very top of the rung to the bottom of the societal heap, to become refugees in their own land, amongst their own people before they became enemies. The upsurge of fear and violence was so overwhelming, that while it carried them on its crest, it seeped into the lives of our generation by default. We spent our growing years in the shadow of ‘what was’ and ‘what could have been’, while they struggled to patch together their shredded lives and tried to provide us with the bare minimum of survival.   Our father shuttled from city to city in search of work, precisely because in his earlier avatar of landed gentry status, formal education had not been a priority. Before their refugee lives, our mother had been the odd one out, with an education which was of no use, but the Partition had changed all that, and her education was what ensured some sort of order in our destroyed lives. It was she who could command, and did get a job in post-Partition India. If there was some continuity and stability in our lives, it was due to her education.   Ritu Menon goes on to say that “if we were to look for a people’s perspective on that epochal event, we would find it elusive and patchy, mostly fictional, mostly male” and that there is no “gendered” narrative to match that. That maybe true, but the narratives that moulded the lives of my generation, and that of our children (more remotely), came mostly through women. It was all pervasive and ever present. The first adjustment was linguistic. We had a smattering of Urdu and spoke our mother tongue along with some English, while our parents struggled with the Hindi script as part of the rehabilitation ...


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