Oral History Society and Institute of Historical Research Seminar Review

Posted on 28/02/2013 by

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The last seminar was led by Anindya Raychaudhuri, a post-doctoral fellow at St Andrews University, who talked about his research into the Indian partition.

The partition in 1947 was perhaps the single largest migration in human history, with 15 million people crossing borders between India, Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh, and 2 million killed.

Dr Raychaudhuri’s research compares film and literature portraying the partition, with oral history accounts.

“There has been very little research that compares memory narratives. In my work I look at oral history narratives, literature and film as examples of cultural texts,” he said.

He said the memories of partition carry across the generations. “I myself did not witness the events but I carry the post memory,” he said.

He said his research was very much a “work in progress” and so far he has interviewed 85 people, with more interviews planned.

Losing family was a key motif in his interviews, said Dr Raychaudhuri. “Everyone has a story of family killed, lost or left behind. Partition texts can be elegies for lost relatives,” he said.

One of his interviewees, Kiswar, talked about lost relatives and how she had no grandmother or grandfather. Most of her extended family were killed crossing between India and Pakistan and a few years ago she discovered a half sister she never knew she had. Another interviewee, Jogesh, spoke of an aunt who was lost during partition and explained her feelings of guilt of having failed to provide adequate protection for her.

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Dr Raychaudhuri compared these accounts with the film Scorching Wind (film poster pictured right), which shows the “gradual disintegration of an aristocratic Muslim family. As the family leave the ancestral home the protagonist faces the dilemma of whether to stay or go.
He showed a clip from a 2003 film Silent Waters, which features a Muslim woman left behind in India forced to convert to Sikhism. One of Dr Raychaudhuri’s interviewees found a cousin in India who also converted to Sikhism.

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