Methodical Worlds: Partition, Secularism, and Communalism in India

By Krishna, Sankaran | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, April-June 2002 | Go to article overview

Methodical Worlds: Partition, Secularism, and Communalism in India


Krishna, Sankaran, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


Saleem Sinai, the protagonist of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, was the bastard offspring of a one-shot encounter between a departing Britisher, William Methwold (last of a long line of angrezi robber barons), and Vanita, wife of a poor Maharashtrian accordionist--a proletarian Mumbaikar given to singing maudlin Broadway hits in the homes of the rich to earn his supper. The seductive allure of Methwold rose largely from the clean-cut parting that ran through the middle of his brilliantined hair. Hypnotized by its clarity and metric precision, Vanita, like many another Indian in Methwold's circle, succumbed to his charm. As the sun set on August 14, 1947, over Methwold's estate on Malabar Hills, Bombay, and Vanita went into an excruciating labor that would produce Saleem Sinai/Modern India but that she herself would not survive, Methwold stood in the center of the courtyard and his "long tapering white fingers twitched towards centre-parting, and the . . . secret was revealed, because fingers curled, an d seized hair; drawing away from his head, they failed to release their prey; and in the moment after the disappearance of the sun Mr Methwold stood in the afterglow of his Estate with his hairpiece in his hand." (1)

Rushdie may be read as suggesting that the whole enterprise of British colonialism in India was, ultimately, a con job--in the real sense that it was a confidence trick resting as much on the willingness to believe deeply on the side of the duped as it did on the machinations of the trickster. Just as the clarity and precision of Methwold's parting proved illusory, the methodical world that was to arise from the Indian subcontinent's entry into postcolonial modernity has turned out to be a promise belied, full of false solutions and con jobs, most propelled by a desire for neat and precise solutions to the vexing, but ultimately unresolvable, "problem" of human difference. Rushdie may also be read as suggesting that the business of nation building is the endless effort to colonize all forms of belonging into conformity with a simulacrum called the nation, an idealized copy based on an original that does not exist anywhere. Ultimately, the seduction of Partition lay in the belief entertained by many in the sub continent that the enormity of this rupture may bring us into conformity with an ideal and normalized original called the nation that exists ever elsewhere--an elsewhere whose coordinates can never be precisely established because it is more a statement of desire than of reality.

In this article, I engage in a series of ruminations that seek to dislodge the solidity of mainstream narratives about partition in South Asia. My reasons for doing so stem from a realization that mainstream narratives have energized and sustained the animosity and violence between communities in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and are, even as I write this, preparing the ground for yet another war fought by antagonists convinced of the historical and ethical correctness of their actions and choices. There is something about the ways in which history has been narrated in South Asia that has corralled our entire future into a box labeled "The Unfinished Business of Partition," and this article is an effort to escape its confines.

Displacing the Assumed Singularity of Partition

In an influential essay written a decade ago now, Gyanendra Pandey noted the assiduousness and energy with which Partition was not talked about in mainstream histories of the subcontinent. It is variously elided as the price to pay for national independence, as an irrational and inexplicable event remarkable for its suddenness, naturalized by metaphors that removed it from the realm of human agency and seen as an aberration in the story of the coming-to-being of an immanent destiny called "India." In all these ways the actual details of the events themselves have escaped sustained or frontal attention. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Methodical Worlds: Partition, Secularism, and Communalism in India
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.