ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Cosmopolitan Memories: Reconstructing Urban Sites of Coexistence in Early Partition Novels


Raianu Mircea - University of Maryland, History, College Park, United States


08 – Imagining the city: Literary and religious practices of urbanity in early modern and modern South Asia


 This paper examines representations of urban space in three early Partition novels: Qurratulain Hyder’s My Temples, Too, Mumtaz Shah Nawaz’s The Heart Divided, and Yashpal’s Jhuta Sach (translated as This Is Not That Dawn). Despite extensive thematic and structural similarities, these novels from different literary cultures (Urdu, Anglophone, and Hindi) have never been considered together and through a historical lens. Each narrative features young protagonists who inhabit and move across heterogeneous sites in the North Indian cities of Lucknow and Lahore, which establish both the possibilities and limits of coexistence across religious, class, and political divides. The street as a space of consumption or mass protest, the neighbourhood alley and family estate as spaces of kinship and tradition, and the college as a space of education and social mobility, produce multiple subjectivities that overlap and conflict with one another. Following the violence and dislocation of Partition, coexistence is remembered and reconstructed in a more limited spatial imaginary of cosmopolitan urbanity that elides the political conflicts and tensions of the recent past. Rather than signifying universalist aspirations or longstanding regionally rooted ‘composite culture’, the distinct form of cosmopolitanism developed in these texts is grounded in the materiality of the city and produced in a particular historical moment of transition.