Telling the Tale in Tales

The Partiton is perhaps among the bloodiest series of events that the Indian subcontinent has endured. The horror and trauma of it all never was, is, or will be easy to reveal to those who weren’t there.

Just like any wound that is inflicted upon someone takes time to come to terms with, so too do historical wounds need time. I consciously refrain from saying “to heal” since unnlike a physical wound (or a mental one for that matter), an historical wound may not heal. But for any wound, it taks time to come out of the shock produced as a result of the wound. It is with that in mind that I suggest that for any historical trauma, there needs to be time given for generations to come to terms with the events as they took place. This may or may not involve closure.

This holds true for the Parttion as well. Indeed, among the first to say anything about this catastrophic event were the people directly involved in them. Academic writing followed in huge numbers but it was only after the refugees had had their say.

Among the responses to the Partition – to understand the madness and irrationality behind the very rationally-calculated Radcliffe line – were not books on history but other sorts of writing, namely in the form of short stories, novels, oral narratives, etc.

This has a lot to do with the type of event that was sought to be recorded. As the event itself was in the form of a wound, was too traumatic to put down in words, it had to be disguised. Direct history had no place here – not because the events covered were not part of history – but because to record it as history was too painful. It is as the incomparable historian Ramachandra Guha has stated: “The memories were too painful to set down in memoir or history, so they were camouflaged and perhaps made more evocative through the medium of fiction.”

What this tells us then is that tales – oral or written – tell us through their own was truth that is at once historical and symbolic, especially since it seeks to both hide and reveal the pain that has been suffered.