Historical moments evince more about the present than the past. Rarely are they just moments or cut off from the drifts of the present. Memory is contemporary. So it is with 1947: a colonial legacy, the partition it its wake, struggles for self-determination, the dissonance of migration, dispersal, belonging murmur across generations. They are in jagged conversations with what constitutes home, sense of place, and identity, each of them acquired, destabilized, imposed and accommodated, cherished in a myriad of ways.
Longing and Belonging is another phase of Goethe-Institut’s Inherited Memories project. It assembles narratives of 1947 partition by those who experienced or were affected by that course of history. More than recollections, these are openings which offer an understanding of negotiations and attachments, their deepening or dissolution, from the cleaved circumstances of partition into the present. Participants in Longing and Belonging were from Dhaka’s – particularly Mirpur and Mohammadpur – Indian émigré communities. The project presents a collection of interviews and visual materials to trace the contours of those negotiations and attachments and to establish, in their fluid state, how a place makes subjects and subjects make a place. A family photograph shared by one of the Mirpur camp residents. Copyright: Juhi Begum and family. The accounts presented here evoke those jagged conversations. They are more in morsels than encyclopedic, but not abbreviated: an absorptive contemplativeness suffuses their tenor. There are reflections on home, family, friends, things seen and heard, journeys, looking back, ahead, and askance. With the presentation of composite narratives and materials, the project hopes to contribute to the critical, cultural, social questions around the 1947 partition that carries into the present.
A note on term: In Bangladesh, the terms of reference are ‘Urdu speakers,’ ‘stranded Pakistanis,’ ‘Biharis,’ ‘non-Bengalis,’ – each partial, inaccurate, and often disparaging – but following the poet Ahmed Ilias, ‘Indian émigré’ which is a more precise characterization, is used here.
Explore other terms in the project’s glossary
A weaver at work in a Banarashi karkhana in Mirpur’s Banarasi Palli. Photo by Sushanta Kumar Paul. © Longing and Belonging and Sushanta Kumar Paul. Longing and Belonging presents a collection of chronicles, fragments, stories, morsels of reflection from Indian émigrés living in Mirpur and Mohammadpur of Dhaka who or whose families were affected by the 1947 partition. But these are not simply partition stories as they are about multiple threads of events which continue to be woven to this day and beyond. The stories are not just about Mirpur or Mohammadpur either as there are risks to essentializing peoples, places, or events. Through these texts, documents and images, photographs from present day Mohammadpur and Mirpur, Longing and Belonging attempts to present composite narratives. These portrayals document places (Mohammadpur and Mirpur) and people (those affected by the 1947 partition) and the interplay and negotiations between the two. The stories are diverse and divergent, from recollections of migration to arrivals at camps, negotiations in and around camps and localities, identities and contestations, other journeys, professions, pursuits, and pastimes, musings on family and friendship – they are portrayals of longing and belonging.
Current day camp/street life in Mohammadpur. Photo by Sushanta Kumar Paul. © Longing and Belonging and Sushanta Kumar Paul.
The three poets – Naushad Noori, Shamim Zamanvi, Ahmed Ilias – who called Mohammadpur home at points in their lives, regularly congregated at Green Hotel. There, partaking in paan and tea, helped on by Md. Seraj, a longtime employee at the hotel and fellow traveler, they found a sense of home in friendship and poetry. Steadiness marked Seraj’s decades-long tenure at the hotel in contrast to the tumult and sorrows of his earlier and later years, but whose life is recorded, recounted, shared in honor by his son, Khalid Hussein. From homage to friendships and disheartening destinations and journeys to tender retelling of family lore, here is a catalog of intertwined stories from Mohammadpur.
Explore the Mohammadpur stories
A family photograph shared by one of the Mirpur camp residents. © Juhi Begum and family.
After her husband’s passing, Munni Akhter lost not just a companion but with that, her “desh,” the two inextricably linked in her mind. For Mehnaz Akter (no relation to Munni), home and rootedness were brokered through different negotiations and belongings. Others – workers at Mirpur’s Banarasi palli, mosque custodians – chart their desires and symbiosis with the locality from the vantage point of both being at a remove while also being intimate archivists of time’s progression. Although complex in their scope, these are singular stories and resident narratives, meant to offer a glimpse into a heady neighborhood that is Mirpur.
Explore the MIRPUR stories
Entrance to a mosque. Photo by Sushanta Kumar Paul. © Longing and Belonging and Sushanta Kumar Paul.
MethodThe stories presented here is the culmination of preparatory stages of collaboration and discussion, several rounds of conversations, informal chats, addas, and complementary material collection. At every stage of this process, the priority was to have the shapes of the narratives and stories guided by those who were telling them, those who wanted to share them, and the resulting collection was made possible by not only participation, but crucially, direction from and collaboration with them. The project team worked in concert with neighborhood residents, community members and organizations to listen and to select the stories. Specific components of the project included an inception meeting and grounding exercise to orient the team, discussions with community organizations and members, visits with neighborhood and camp residents in Mirpur and Mohammadpur, mid-project evaluation and discussion, collection of complementary materials. The final collection includes the stories, complemented by archival documents, images and documents shared by the participants, photographs from present day Mirpur and Mohammadpur. Majority of the work was completed in the period from autumn of 2019 through spring of 2020, with the remaining portion finished after COVID-19 lockdowns were eased.
Go to FULL site