Bengal Partition Literature Offers More Than Stereotypical Discourse
New Delhi- It’s a question that has continued to haunt to this day, even after seventy-five years of Partition. Cyril Radcliff, whose fateful demarcation line divided Indian territory into a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan, had never been to India, nor had the skills to draw a decisive boundary. But it was he who emerged as the fate of the partition story that involved horrific sectarian violence, the persecution of minorities and large-scale migration whose legacies (unfortunately) are still visible to this day.
“The Bleeding Border – Stories of Bengal Partition” (Niyogi Books) is an anthology of twenty-four partition stories written by prominent and lesser known authors from West Bengal and Bangladesh. The harrowing descriptions of various forms of violence, tension and anxiety on the porous border of two countries make these tales disturbing to read. They describe the horrific communal riots in various places and the trauma and disruption of memory they caused, the exodus of refugees from the former East Pakistan and their bitter struggle for survival in newly sprouting settlements on lands unknown, and above all, nostalgia for an imaginary “desh” (homeland) that defies cartographic barriers.
It is often said that the partition of Bengal from that of the western frontier of India has not received much literary attention. Some even go so far as to say that famous Bengali writers have more or less remained silent on this cataclysmic issue. Thus “partition literature” has become almost synonymous with the writings of Saadat Manto, Bhisham Sahni, Intizar Hussain, Joginder Paul and others, and we often tend to overlook the contribution of authors from the east and north- east of the country. and Bangladesh.
This obviously speaks of a politics in the formation of the canon, especially when it is evident that the fiction of the partition of Bengal is no less powerful and attractive than its Western counterpart. One can think of short stories and novels by authors like Jyotirmoyee Devi, Pratibha Basu, Manik Bandyopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Prafulla Roy among many others, from the Bengal side, and Syed Waliullah, Hasan Azizul Huq, Rizia Rahman and others from the Bangladesh side. The list of authors of the partition literature of Bengal is not only huge in its corpus, but immediately relevant in today’s socio-political context.
The stories in this present anthology include some of the most striking and dominant themes of the partition of Bengal and its aftermath. A major theme, of course, is the relentless movement of rootless masses seeking safe haven in an atmosphere of generalized violence.
The literature on the partition of Bengal offers more than stereotypical discourse. It has a tremendous sense of contemporaneity and tackles various issues with which today’s readers can immediately relate.
“The stories are representative of the partition fiction of Bengal in their harrowing depictions of various forms of violence, agony and anxiety on the ‘porous and still bleeding’ frontier,” said Joyjit Ghosh, co-editor of the book.
“Most of the stories included in the volume have been translated into English for the first time. They are largely concerned with the human dimension of partition and describe the discontent and trauma of countless refugees when the partition of the country was imposed on them overnight. But they are also nostalgic tales, as they express a thirst for a desh’ that knows no margins or barriers,” said co-editor Mir Ahammad Ali.
Upon publication of the book, Trisha De Niyogi, Director and COO of Niyogi Books, said, “Sometimes all it takes to revisit your story is just to relocate you in a time frame. long left with unheard, suppressed or perhaps ignored tales. The Bleeding Border: Stories of Bengal Partition is a collection of such partition stories on the Eastern Frontier – a rare assemblage. As a publisher, it’s kind of our responsibility to dig up these untold stories and re-evaluate the story as it is. (IANS)