- Revisiting India's Partition: New Essays on Memory, Culture, and Politics ed. by Amritjit Singh, Nalini Iyer, and Rahul K. Gairola
The year 2017 marks the seventh year anniversary of the setting into motion of the partition of colonial India into independent India and Pakistan (and in 1971, the eastern half of Pakistan into Bangladesh). Much more than a mere marker of the transfer of power from European imperial rule into independent nation-states, this event set into motion a host of traumas that mark the decolonization of South Asia: displacement, refugee creation, gendered violence and assault, contestation over newly implanted national borders, and enduring legacies of unresolved debates and conflicts that easily inform any discussion of South Asia in the present day. Represented in cinema, art, prose literature, music, poetry, and theatre, the partition is no simple event in modern history, but rather evocative of the political and cultural condition of modern South Asia.
Revisiting India's Partition: New Essays on Memory, Culture, and Politics attends to this condition through an inventory of now-classic as well as emergent scholarly debates about the nature, extent, and meaning of partition within humanist and social science disciplines. Deploying Vazira Zamindar's concept of the "Long Partition," as analyzed in her masterful The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia (New York, 2007), the editors frame the partition as "an evolving moment in history with a resounding impact on all of contemporary South Asia and its inhabitants" (xxvii). From this point of departure, the editors introduce five sections of essays, on approaches to partition, nations and narration, borders and borderlands, from Pakistan to Bangladesh, and partitions within. Though the work is interdisciplinary in its orientation, the dominant line of vision emanates from literary criticism and cultural studies. As mentioned in the preface, the three editors are literary critics who generated the concept for this book out of a conversation at the 2013 South Asian Literary Association (sala) conference. This conversation revealed the enduring relevance of the partition in South Asia and its diasporas, as well as the need to [End Page 582] transcend over-emphasis in literary scholarship on well-known texts and authors. Though the book is wide-ranging in scope and inclusive of many objects of study, the dominant methodological frame (barring a few exceptions) comprises literary and cultural criticism.
Contributions in this volume build on earlier models to focus on contemporary issues that speak to new realities of memory, nostalgia, and advertising in the twenty-first century. Reviving older efforts to analyze literature and forms of cultural production in order to both evaluate, and offer moral critiques of both the partition and the worlds that resulted in its wake, receive an update here with respect to particular texts and issues confronting South Asia today, in essays by Masood Raja, Kaiser Haq, and Tasneem Shahnaaz and Amritjit Singh.
Additionally, the book offers a number of essays that speak to areas of new research that combine sophisticated discussions of critical theory with heretofore under-referenced empirical domains. One of these areas is the evolving scholarship on borders and borderlands in the northeast, and essays in particular by Babyrani Yumnam and Amit R. Baishya respectively. Baishya's essay on Debendranath Acharya's 1982 Jangnam and the exodus of Indians out of Burma in World War II, along with related topics in eco-criticism and the problems of human and non-human agency in history, suggests that such methods that "interrogate anthropocentrism can open up new modes of inquiry in Partition studies writ large" (190). Other welcome interventions include an inclusion of East Bengal in the section "From Pakistan to Bangladesh," on the Bengali Muslim narratives of partition, as well as essays about south India and partition studies by Nazia Akhtar and Nalini Iyer.
As the collection maintains a focus primarily on literary criticism, it opens up new vistas that likely will generate new and compelling research agendas, on digital...