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Borders and the ghost of partition

  • Published at 12:44 am November 18th, 2017
Borders and the ghost of partition
Different panels held on the opening day of DLF discussed issues arising out of the great event of India's partition in 1947. The panels titled “The Bengalis: A race divided” and “A past divided” sought to understand partition and its consequences from the wreckage of two hundred years of colonial rule. The first panel discussion, held earlier during the day, consisted of Sudeep Chakravarti, Kushanava Choudhury, Ikhtisad Ahmed and Ananya Kabir with David Davidar moderating. The second panel was moderated by Parsa Sanjana Sajid and the speakers were Ananya Kabir, Ali Riaz and Perween Hassan. Held at the tightly packed Vaskar Novera Exhibition Hall the panelists of “The Bengalis: A race divided” discussed the language, customs, culture and predispositions of Bengalis as they tackled a slew of incisive and pertinent questions from the moderator David Davidar, a leading publisher and bestselling author from India, the panelists attempted to answer. Answering the question “Are Bengalis liberal?” Ananya Kabir said, “We certainly like to think of ourselves as liberal.” Kabir, a professor of English Literature at King’s College London, also noted that the notion of “bhadralok” and “chotolok” still permeates through the Bengali culture. London based author of Bangladeshi origin Ikhtisad Ahmed flatly dismissed the proposition saying, “No, we are not liberal.” Ahmed echoed Professor Kabir, saying that the Bengali psyche was still mired in orthodoxy. Sudeep Chakravarti, author of “The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community,” said that even though Bengali women were elevated and put on a pedestal in songs and poems Bengali women in real life faced domestic abuse. Ananya Kabir said that she as a woman was aware of patriarchy but “that's not a fight I fight as a Bengali woman. I fight that as a woman.” Kushanava Choudhury, a scholar, journalist and the writer of “The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta” (2017), raised the question if colonialism really went away. Choudhury said that imposing the so called standard Bengali marginalises other legitimate ways of expression in the same language. Kushanava Choudhury also noted that the Bengali language has certain exuberant qualities that propel revolution. “I think certain languages, like Spanish, are more prone to revolution,” he said. Responding to Choudhury's remark, Sudeep Chakravarti jokingly commented, “Spanish? What Spanish? We got there first, before Che Guevara.” The second panel, titled “A past divided,” was held at the Poet Shamsur Rahman Seminar Room. Talking about the memories of the partition and how that formed established narratives, Professor Ananya Kabir explained how she came up with the phrase “post-amnesia,” which appear in the title of her book “Partition's Post-Amnesias: 1947, 1971 and Modern South Asia” (2013). Professor Kabir said that she realised that there was an inter-generational transition of memories from the partition and later the memories of Bangladesh's liberation war in 1971, and that was when she wanted to use the phrase 'postmemory'. First used by Marianne Hirsch in 1992, who coined the phrase to elucidate the relationship between the children of Holocaust survivors and the memories of their parents, the term has since been expanded to describe a kind of collective memory. “I even wrote to Marianne and said 'I hope you don't mind me using the term, because it's yours.' But then I realised that it wasn't actually postmemory that I'm talking about. In our South-Asian case what we are dealing with is 'post-amnesia',” Professor Kabir related. Professor Perween Hasan, the vice-chancellor of the Central Women’s University and a former professor of Dhaka University’s Department of Islamic History and Culture, praised Ananya Kabir's book saying that it was the most vastly researched book of its kind that she has ever read, calling it “awe-inspiring.” “One of the terminologies Ananya used in her book to describe the experience of 'post-amnesia' was 'biraha' or 'biroho'. It just stuck to my mind,” Professor Hasan said. She recommended two books for people interested in literature on the partition: “Bishad Brikkho” by Mihir Sengupta and “Agunpakhi” by Hasan Azizul Huq. Professor Ali Riaz, Professor at Illinois State University, said that history was often reduced to events and incidents, which does not help the building of a historical narrative capable of making the connections running through history. “There is this constant leapfrogging,” Professor Riaz said, referring to the linear understanding of historical events. “We must interrupt the leapfrogging,” he concluded.