Shuchi Kapila, "Postmemory and the Partition of India: Learning to Remember" (Palgrave MacMillan, 2024)


Dr. Shuchi Kapila, Professor of English at Grinnell College, has a new book that explores the India/Pakistan Partition in 1947 through the lens of memory, generational conversation and inheritance. Postmemory and the Partition of India: Learning to Remember is most clearly focused on this idea of how we learn to remember the past, particularly the complexities of a past that includes trauma and violence along with independence and hope. This book, part of the Palgrave MacMillan series on Memory Studies, examines these ideas of memory and nostalgia and how they have shaped the cultural and political understanding of Partition in India, but also in the diaspora. Kapila starts with her own lived experiences, recalling bits of stories her mother told of her life before Partition. This is the path that Postmemory and the Partition of India continues along, as Kapila notes that the memories of Partition are fragmented, are communicated in bits, often in a non-linear way. Thus, the memories themselves were not fully communicated to the children of those who experienced Partition, and this generation of children, now adults, are reflecting on their own inheritance from Partition, even though they themselves did not live through it. Part of the focus in Learning to Remember is drawing out this approach to remembering—what is it that the traumatized generation passed along, even unknowingly, to their children. The transfer of more than 12 million people without much planning or organization, in context of the British removal of colonial power from the Asian subcontinent, and the establishment of independent India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, were all jarring events, leaving individuals stateless, or newly engulfed in nation-states that had not previously existed. Families were separated, women were abducted, violence and displacement all dominated this period—and for those who lived through it, it was not necessarily contextualized by a state power committing crimes against particular populations, as was the case in the Holocaust, or the Apartheid regime in South Africa, or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Thus, the responses that happened in regard to these events, with the Nuremburg Trials, or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, did not happen in the same way in terms of Partition.

Kapila explores different avenues that have been developing to rectify some of this missing memory of Partition. She does interviews with those who experienced Partition and she also interviews her generational contemporaries, examining how different generations have essentially experienced Partition and also how they have learned to remember this assaultive experience that is also the foundation of independent nation-states. This is the thrust of the first half of the book—these intergenerational conversations and understandings of Partition. The second half of the book looks more closely at the two physical spaces that have been established to communicate about Partition. These two physical spaces include the Berkeley, California 1947 Partition Archive, which now contains at least 10,000 oral histories of Partition, available for researchers, scholars, and individuals to explore and examine. India has also recently opened the Partition Museum, Amritsar, the first museum of its kind in India. Museums tend to craft particular narratives of events or experiences, and Kapila considers this new museum, and how it is participating in that narrative design, while also engaging with critiques and analysis of the newly established museum, which opened in 2017.

Postmemory and the Partition of India: Learning to Remember is a fascinating interrogation of this concept of remembering and memory, and how we craft narratives of our understandings of events through our memories or the memories of others. Ultimately, Kapila is asking the reader to consider how it is we learn to remember, particularly how we learn to remember complex, political events that shape who we are and how we think of ourselves in the world.

Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-host of the New Books in Political Science channel at the New Books Network. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012). She can be reached

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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