Anindya Raychaudhuri – All trains stop there: Trains and Railway Lines in Narratives of the 1947 India/Pakistan Partition

Event Date: 8 October 2013
McCrea 336
Royal Holloway University of London
Egham, Surrey
TW20 0EX

Royal Holloway University of London Department of History


Departmental Research seminars 2013/2014

Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri (St Andrews): “All trains stop there”: Trains and Railway Lines in Narratives of the 1947 India/Pakistan Partition

Probably the single most popular icon of partition narratives is that of refugee-trains being attacked and tuned into “death-trains”. There is hardly a single partition narrative in any genre that does not mention trains in some form or another. This talk therefore charts the ways in which train journeys have been represented in literature (Khuswant Singh’s Train to Pakistan [1956] and John Masters’ Bhowani Junction [1954]), cinema (the adaptations of the two novels mentioned above, and Ritwik Ghatak’s Komol Gandhar) [1961]), photography (Margaret Bourke-White’s work for Life [1947]) and in oral history testimonies in an attempt to explain the reason for this predominance. It argues that while trains have long been seen as symbols of Modernist trauma because of their effects on temporality; in the Indian context, its importance lies just as much in its contradictory relationship to social hierarchy. If partition can be seen as a violent re-inscribing of social hierarchies, then the icon of the ‘death-train’, becomes a space within which individual and collective agency can be expressed, as the dynamic between state and non-state forces is played out in this microcosm of the nation.

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