Braiding Anamnesia: Imaginal Interpretations of the Gendered Body in Deepa Mehta's Earth and Urvashi Butalia's; the Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India

By Cook, Bruce | International Journal of Humanities and Peace, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview

Braiding Anamnesia: Imaginal Interpretations of the Gendered Body in Deepa Mehta's Earth and Urvashi Butalia's; the Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India


Cook, Bruce, International Journal of Humanities and Peace


BRAIDING ANAMNESIA: IMAGINAL INTERPRETATIONS OF THE GENDERED BODY IN DEEPA MEHTA'S EARTHAND URVASHI BUTALIA'S THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE: VOICES FROM THE PARTITION OF INDIA

The 1999 film Earth, second in Deepa Mehta's Fire, Earth, Water Trilogy, explores events around the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan through the eyes of Lenny (also called Lenny-baby), an eight-year old Parsee girl living in an upper middle-class family in Lahore. The film, based on the book Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa, illustrates a number of issues regarding the female/gendered body and its relation to nation-state, and both complements and illustrates Urvashi Butalia's seminal ethnography The Other Side of Silence." Voices from the Partition of India (hereafter OSS) published in 2000. Primary issues presented include: religious imprinting of the body; the male logics (and mythologies) in which the modern state is defined as female/ Mother; the gendered production of the relationship between land and women's bodies; objectification; and, purity and pollution as somatic regimes.

This essay discusses and compares images of the gendered body in the film while simultaneously exploring the work of Urvashi Butalia's. Further, it examines processes wherein the state is identified with masculinity through the realms of mythology, gender, and creating the Other--a process that all to frequently results in abuse of the bodies of women and children.

It is important to approach these issues from a number of perspectives that assume the existence of multiple modernities, while at the same time recognizing bodies as crucial sites for articulating relationships within these modernities. Viewing the personal as an interface between the collective and social, and the body as a map or template reflecting social, religious and political experience is imperative.

The Other Side of Silence provides fundamental evidence for many observations and interpretations of images in the film Earth. During the 1980s Butalia began interviewing peoples affected by the partition of India that resulted in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Her interests are in finding out what happened to thousands of missing women and children in order to fill in the historical record with voices of experience left out of historical narratives. She writes, "... how can we know the [Indian] holocaust except through ... ways it is handed down?" (Butalia 2000:7). Uncovering a number of issues from these voices, including social status and the relationship of the body to post-colonial ethics--she asks throughout this decade of ethnographic inquiry whether these stories can expand and "stretch the definitions and boundaries of history and find a place in it. Is there a way history can make space for the small, the individual voice?" (Butalia 2000:10).

Gathering at the Table, Part I

The issue of swaraj (self-rule) is explored in the film's early scenes preparing for and leading to Partition. The first of these revolve around typical communal dinners and illustrate tensions between the diners who represent different subject positions. In the beginning of the film we witness a dinner in the home of a Parsee family--a supposed neutral ground for all present as the Parsecs were viewed as existing outside the conflict between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. We see the young girl Lenny and her male cousin Adi playing beneath the table while the adults speak and argue about India's coming independence. The table here is a metaphor for the partitioning of child and adult experience, and when all the adults look beneath the table at the end of the scene it represents their wish to return to a more innocent state prior to the present conflicts. This also reflects the external vs. internal body and the "fluid boundaries" Butalia explores (OSS:222).

There were two types of post-abducted children who had the common characteristic of being of mixed blood/heritage, and the question of where they belonged--whether to India or Pakistan-Hindu, Sikh, or Muslim--was problematic. …

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