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Speaking from the borderlines
ADITYA MANI JHA  22nd Feb 2014

Vishwajyoti Ghosh at The Four Conversations

"There is no limbo, no black and white, when it comes to incidents like the Partition and how we process our lived memories of these events. The interesting part is how people deal, in time, with living in a land that continues to see them as refugees, even after years and years of staying on." Thus spoke comics writer/artist Vishwajyoti Ghosh, at The Four Conversations, a day-long event organised by The Four Quarters magazine at The Attic, Connaught Place last Sunday. The unifying theme for the four conversations therein was "Bordering, Translation" Ghosh was part of a panel discussion called Post-Memory, Commemoration and Trauma: The Partition Retold, that also included Ankit Chadha, Debjani Sengupta and was moderated by the poet Aditi Rao. Ghosh's most recent project was the 2013 Yoda Press anthology This Side, That Side, a collection of graphic narratives about partition featuring contributors from India, Pakistan as well as Bangladesh.

Speaking about his formative years in Delhi, Ghosh said, "It's the fate of certain places to be refugee settlements forever, like Lajpat Nagar in Delhi. I remember, growing up, that in Lajpat Nagar, the biggest moment of victory for residents would be when they came home holding tin signboards with the name of their soon-to-be-opened shops. These objects were as important as letters."

Later on in the afternoon, another fascinating conversation featured translator Arunava Sinha, in conversation with Giriraj Kiradoo, moderated by journalist Abhimanyu Singh. Singh kicked things off by invoking Foucault's criticism of his mentor Jacques Derrida's Madness and Civilisation, noting that madness is a ubiquitous theme in partition literature — most famously, of course, in Manto's short story Toba Tek Singh. Kiradoo recalled the example of his maternal grandmother, a woman from Bikaner who "lived like a cultural Other in Bengal," refusing to learn Bangla — or any other language apart from "the very particular dialect of Rajasthani she spoke". And yet, her sentiments about Muslims seemed to contradict popular wisdom about tolerance.

"She came from a closeted Marwari household. She was scared of Muslims and never, in fact, had a single Muslim friend all her life. And yet, she said, "I wasn't happy with the partition, I wanted them (Muslims) to stay. This is an untranslatable sentiment."

Sinha's numerous translation credits include the Bangla novel Dozakhnama, which he translated from a Bengali translation of the book. Dozakhnama, written as a series of imagined conversations between Ghalib and Manto beyond the grave, predictably has a sizable number of Urdu couplets, translated into English in the text. As Singh said, "Urdu is itself at a sort of partition between Hindi and Persian." Concluding the event with a vote of thanks, Arjun Chaudhuri from TFQ said that no effort would be spared to make The Four Conversations an annual event.

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