Reconstructing the Bengal Partition

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‌Dr. Jayanti Basu presents a psychological study of the Bengal Partition,a traumatic time that remains in the psyche of the generation who faced it and its successive one.Thus its impact, she and other scholars of the Partition have suggested, is discernible in Bengali society,in the very being of its citizens; ‘the wound still bleeds’,Why has it been so hard for Bengal to recover from this catastrophe,shared with the people of Punjab,who faced much more brutal and horrendous violence over a short period? Was it due to very different historical circumstances? The violence in Bengal was of a different kind, defined by the author as ‘soft violence’, in which bloodshed,abduction and rape did take place,albeit in smaller numbers, and did not lead to as much loss of life.The refugees were targets ‘of a different violence, an extreme form of mental assault that chilled them with fear till fled.They could no longer tell with confidence weather old friends had now become new foes.Perhaps they were imagining this.Or perhaps it was a true reading of the situation. The enemy too seemed shadowy.Departures were spread over many years, preventing a sharper break with the past, prolonging their confusion over identity, the grief of being uprooted and being wounded by their hostile reception in West Bengal, now a truncated state that had to accommodate the millions of East Pakistan.Dr. Basu interviews a limited number of respondents who were young children or adolescents during the Partition, drawn from the middle and upper classes,the educated section of society known as the bhadralok, to gauge their understanding of Partition and how it affected their lives.She uses an approach that combines the insights of psychoanalysis and cognitive psychology.As Alan Roland, the distinguished psychoanalyst, points out in the Foreward, ‘the validity of her relatively small sample is bolstered by the depth of her interviews and her psychological understanding of each person’, In doing so she draws the reader to a new understanding of memory and the reconstruction of Partition in people’s minds.Presenting perhaps the first psychological study of the Bengal Partition, the author raises vital questions on how the loss of meaning affects lives, of the fragmentation of Identity that creates further confusion.She argues that the psychology of the Partition is such that it may defy too deep an entry into its history as yet.Her book serves as an introduction to its psychological complexity.

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