Of “other” histories and identities: partition novels from the Indian subcontinent

Ever since the Partition, novelists on either side of the India–Pakistan border have used fictional space imaginatively to formulate discourses on a humanistically-centred, multiplistically-defined Other identity, which writes itself into existence through the prism of the novelists’ contextual present. In this article, I will focus on three partition narratives: Salman Rushdie's Midnight's children (1980), Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice candy man (1988) and Amitav Ghosh's The shadow lines (1988). By employing different modes of knowledge, the novelists draw out the micro-history embedded within the historical event, and resonate the voice of the Other, a creation of partisan politics. Bapsi Sidhwa appears as a social historian who perceives the event through the eyes of an eight-year-old Parsi girl Lenny; Amitav Ghosh, akin to a modern historian, focuses on rigid and illusory territorial divisions from Thamma's (grandmother's) perspective; while Salman Rushdie emerges as a postmodern historian who draws attention to the ambiguity and opacity of both historical and fictional knowledge through Saleem Sinai, born on the day India won her independence. History, as it is perceived by the Other – each belonging to a different generation – is a palimpsest: it is always in a state of becoming, of being lived, evaluated and rewritten. Fiction, as it interprets the historical knowledge, fills in the fissures and absences between the history of the past and that of the present. The article will eventually study how fiction and history inform each other, and how the rhetoric of fiction and history together constitute a dialectical discourse on identity – mapped by borders – which sees a convergence of private and collective memories.

Vishnupriya Sengupta
Taylor & Francis Online