Memory, Trauma and Partition: Reading Sunanda Sikdar’s Dayamoyeer Katha

Abstract

In recent years the scholastic emphasis on the refugee narratives, which conventionally focused on the loss of lives, homes and resources, is now reimagined as stories of survival and resurrection of people deprived of their homes. Nostalgia for a lost homeland often takes centre stage in refugee narratives. To be physically severed from a space internalised as the safest eternal abode and start afresh is a daunting task. Anchita Ghatak’s translation of Sunanda Sikdar’s Dayamoyeer Katha, A Life Long Ago narrates the life events of Dayamoyee, who chooses to revisit her past, deciding to write about the first ten years of her life in the East Pakistan village of Dighpait following the death of Majamda, a Muslim brotherly figure who sells his cows to come and meet her in India. The return to her childhood’s blissful land unearthed several hidden memories that brought the politics of religion, caste, class, and gender to the forefront. Without paying attention to her aunt’s continuous warnings not to mingle with the Muslim neighbours, Daya found it possible to eat, touch, and have fun with them in her childlike innocence. As the refugees arrive at Dighpait, her aunt remains unwilling to equate them with the native Muslim folk, the ‘bhoomiputra, the “sons of the soil”. Besides the narrator, we also have Snehalata, Daya’s aunt, her foster mother and a child widow. As she narrates how she grieved over the withdrawal of fish and other materialistic pleasures from her daily life rather than her young husband’s demise, we are reminded of the unfair austerity imposed on them in contrast to the elderly widowers who had no restrictions and even remarried occasionally. Characters like Modi bhabi, the woman who lost her mind as her childhood companion Suresh Lahiri left for Hindustan; Mejobhabi, wife of Khalek, who had to be ‘modernised’ to join her husband, now a senior army officer in Pakistan; Sudhirdada, the effeminate male whose murder portrays a show of power in the village, and Gouri, an instance of widow-remarriage needs scholarly attention. The novel further mentions Daya’s mother, the headmistress of a school in Hindustan, and Anita, a leading actress opposite Kishore Kumar, thus representing the educated, empowered women. The very moment of Daya deciding to write about her past is auspicious; it is the moment of finding one’s voice, of illuminating the horrors of the past, and the moment of triumph and healing. Dipesh Chakraborty mentions two aspects of memory: “the sentiment of nostalgia” and the “sense of trauma”, which pervades Dayamoyee’s narrative, but for her, it is equally therapeutic. The proposed paper looks forward to understanding Daya’s notion of her lost motherland and childhood and how the marginalised gender conceptualises home and rootedness. It proposes to analyse the politics of remembering, forgetting and retelling the stories from the point of the female subaltern who consciously buried her past and later chose to speak up, and in the process, portrayed a realistic picture of women during partition

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Last time updated on 07/03/2023

This paper was published in The Creative Launcher.

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