By Rashwita Ravy

Ben Okri says, “Storytellers are the singing conscience of a land, the unacknowledged guides.” For him, the life of a nation – its health, its spiritual strength – can be deduced from the stories the nation tells, the stories it suppresses, the stories it sanctions.

Unlike historians who work with the past; the storyteller’s job is to weave individual sufferings into the fabric of time, connecting the past, the present and the future. History mostly revolves around leaders, winners, kings. It condenses individual grief and trauma in objective reports and cold statistics. But for the storyteller, ordinary suffering is supreme. In violent times like the Partition, war, communal riots, the voices that get erased due to fear and circumstance, and the experiences that are reduced to footnotes form the writers’ material. Their task is to observe, listen and put the unspeakable down.

No wonder, literature remains the place where ordinary grief, disenchantment, and suffering get the fundamental dignity of being recorded and memorialised. That literature became an important way to memorialise the bewildering rupture of Partition is significant. It is also significant that more than English, the bhashas – Hindi, Urdu, Bangla – spoke most eloquently about Partition horrors.

Mother tongues are the languages of our dreams and our mourning. Noted historian, Mushirul Hasan says, Partition literatures constitute “…a cultural archive of first-hand information, experiences and vivid impressions..” without which, the anguish, uncertainty, loss, confusion faced by those afflicted, can never be understood. Gyanendra Pandey of The Subaltern School of Humanities calls the inability of History to record ordinary suffering “the chasm between history and memory.’ The Subaltern School of Humanities, founded by Ranajit Guha, Shahid Amin, Gyanendra Pandey and others, asserts that this chasm can be bridged only by dipping into oral histories, written first person accounts, songs, folklore and literature – where the emotional and psychological echoes of collective violence continue to reverberate.

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