Home, Uprooted: Oral Histories of India's Partition

Home, Uprooted: Oral Histories of India's Partition

Home, Uprooted: Oral Histories of India's Partition

Home, Uprooted: Oral Histories of India's Partition

Synopsis

The Indian Independence Act of 1947 granted India freedom from British rule, signaling the formal end of the British Raj in the subcontinent. This freedom, though, came at a price: partition, the division of the country into India and Pakistan, and the communal riots that followed. These riots resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1 million Hindus and Muslims and the displacement of about 20 million persons on both sides of the border. This watershed socioeconomic-geopolitical moment cast an enduring shadow on India's relationship with neighboring Pakistan. Presenting a perspective of the middle-class refugees who were forced from their homes, jobs, and lives with the withdrawal of British rule in India, Home, Uprooted delves into the lives of forty-five Partition refugees and their descendants to show how this epochal event continues to shape their lives. Exploring the oral histories of three generations of refugees from India's Partition - ten Hindu and Sikh families in Delhi, Home, Uprooted melds oral histories with a fresh perspective on current literature to unravel the emergent conceptual nexus of home, travel, and identity in the stories of the participants. Author Devika Chawla argues that the ways in which her participants imagine, recollect, memorialize, or "abandon" home in their everyday narratives give us unique insights into how refugee identities are constituted. These stories reveal how migrations are enacted and what home - in its sense, absence, and presence - can mean for displaced populations. Written in an accessible and experimental style that blends biography, autobiography, essay, and performative writing, Home, Uprooted folds in field narratives with Chawla's own family history, which was also shaped by the Partition event and her self-propelled migration to North America. In contemplating and living their stories of home, she attempts to show how her own ancestral legacies of Partition displacement bear relief. Home - how we experience it and what it says about the "selves" we come to occupy - is a crucial question of our contemporary moment. Home, Uprooted delivers a unique and poignant perspective on this timely question. This compilation of stories offers an iteration of how diasporic migrations might be enacted and what "home" means to displaced populations.

Excerpt

To work and suffer is to be at home.
All else is scenery.

—ADRIENNE RICH, “The Tourist and the Town

Stories begin in memories. This one has its origins in a walking history, if there is such a thing. It finds its start in the early 1980s when I was seven years old. We lived in a small North Indian town called Moga, just thirty kilometers from the border with Pakistan. My grandfather had recently died, and Biji, my grandma, had come to live with us. She and I were forced to share a room and developed the love-hate relationship that inevitably ensues when a child finds herself rooming with a seventy-five-year-old grandparent.

Biji had many rituals—waking up at 4:00 A.M. to recite the Gayatri Mantra and portions of the Gita; cleaning her dentures as she whispered hai ram (invoking the Lord Rama) for the next hour; oiling her hair with coconut oil; eating her isabgol with warm water—isabgol is a traditional, Ayurvedic stomach cleanser, which everyone in generations previous to mine swears by. On weekdays, we held to a reluctant peace since I needed to wake up for school at 6:00 A.M. and with Biji around I was never going to be late. But during weekends, the room became a battle zone as I resisted getting out of . . .

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