ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Crossing Boundaries in Women’s Literature about the 1947 Partition


Bhatia Nandi - University of Western Ontario, English and Writing Studies, London, Canada


02 – Rewriting Hindu Women within Contemporary Popular Media


 In Anita Badami’s novel Can you Hear the Nightbird Call?, Leela Bhat, a mixed-race woman from Bangalore with a German mother and a Hindu father, marries a Brahmin and migrates to Canada, where she forges a friendship with Bibi-Ji, a migrant from  Punjab, who lost her family in the 1947 riots, and subsequently loses her niece Nimmo in the 1984 riots. As she tracks the stories of 1947, 1984, and the 1985 Air India tragedy through these women’s entangled lives, Badami complicates their religious identities by emphasizing their interdependence. Other stories, such as Ismat Chughtai’s “Roots,” and “Quit India,” while representing characters from different religious groups, also reveal their attachments across religious and ethnic lines. And Suraiya Qasim’s “Where Did She Belong?” a story about courtesans who migrate to Delhi from Lahore poses questions regarding the identities of courtesans. By telling such stories, these writers “mitigate conflict” that emanated from the trauma of Partition and propose a poetics of love and camaraderie through protagonists who navigate tensions within the public and familial realms. With attention to women’s fiction about the Partition, this paper argues that writers’ attempts to cross boundaries through representations of Hindu, Sikh, and mixed-race women and their friendships, literalize the triumph of community bonds over religious divisions and stand as a metaphor for unity in the face of separatist discourses in India and its diasporas.