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Stories of Partition-related displacement continue to haunt

NO RETURN ADDRESS – PARTITION AND STORIES OF DISPLACEMENT

Compiled and edited by: Manjira Majumdar

Publisher: Vitasta Publications

Price: Rs 495

The Partition riots that accompanied the Independence of India, and the birth of Indian and Pakistan, resulted in the death of 500,000-10,00,000 people, and the displacement of millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. However, the communal riots that resulted in sowing seeds of discord and disharmony in the two major religious communities of Bengal between 1905 and 1947 did not end with Partition and the exodus (from Pakistan) of the Hindu population into post-partition India.

Ethnic cleansing spearheaded by the authorities in charge of the new state of Pakistan in 1951 and 1964-65 saw a sharp decline in the Hindu population in subsequent years. The trend has continued to this day, with spurts in communal violence triggering an influx of refugees from Bangladesh, which has been the successor-state to East Pakistan since 1971. (Not to speak of the huge numbers of people who fled the large-scale massacre and rapes that ushered in the birth of the new state of Bangladesh in 1971.)

Notwithstanding the vast body of literature on Partition-related displacement in existence in the vernacular, there is very little writing on the issue in English. Manjira Majumdar’s edited volume of fiction, No Return Address – Partition and Stories of Displacement, is, hence, a laudable effort.  Yet, the volume, divided into four sections – Displacement, Alienation, Belonging and Revolution – somehow fails to live up to its promise.

The opening section starts off well enough, with well-crafted stories by Monideepa Sahu, Manjira Majumdar, Shoma Chatterji and (late) Dibyendu Palit. The long trek across the international border, and the trauma of upper-class families ending up in poverty and in cramped homes in the city, or getting sheltered in unknown rural settlements and camps, is poignantly described in Sahu’s Pishi’s Room, Majumdar’s No Return Address, and, in a lesser way, in Chatterji’s The Woman Who Wanted to Be A Tree. Palit’s story, Alam’s Own Home, dwells on the post-Partition trauma that families from both communities underwent, in a masterful way.

But thereon, the quality becomes uneven. Aniket Majumdar’s The Shelf Life etches out the difficulties encountered by an uprooted refugee-immigrant in a foreign land, after having fled Partition-related violence. However, the story fails to flesh out certain ingredients fully well, such as Goalando Ghat, the important junction in East Bengal that played such a pivotal role on the Calcutta-Dhaka rail route ( besides lending its name to the famous Goalando chicken curry) and the rail links which connected the two Bengals, when speaking of a common heritage. Rimi Chatterjee’s story of an Anglo-Indian family, alienated in post-Independence India, does read well, although it does look a trifle out of place in a book ostensibly crafted to talk of Partition and displacement.

The other stories in the volume do not really fit into the theme, nor do they convey much. The editor, I feel, ought to have worked harder on the compilation, since there is such excellent fiction on the theme waiting to be explored. In selecting stories that do not speak of Partition, post-Partition trauma, displacement and alienation on our eastern borders, the book falters and sort of loses focus.

On the positive side, Vitasta Publications has done an excellent job, where design and production values go. The cover is excellent, and brings out the pathos of millions of families who could never return to the homes they abandoned, ever.

(Reviewed by Rina Mukherji, senior journalist in Pune.)

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