This Side That Side Restorying Partition

Over sixty years of independence have done little to diminish the interest in and engagement with the division of the Indian subcontinent into two and then three sovereign independent states. Mapmaking, exodus, memories and curiosity have become permanent features in the lives of citizens on all sides of the various borders.

The most definitive formative moment in modern South Asian history for over three generations, Partition has remained a subject of constant engagement for scholars, artists, journalists and commentators manifesting their explorations through academic  research, reportage and most importantly, creative encounters through art, literature and films. This cross-border engagement, like cross-border migration, has not ended with the passage of time. Generations that have not witnessed Partition have certainly grown up with it. These ongoing exercises have also found expression in the virtual world, ostensibly sans borders, which many of us inhabit; and it has been interesting to see how we interact with the other side with equal, if not more, passion.

In this regard, we felt it was important to explore the creative engagement of the subcontinent’s younger generations with this iconic event in the form of a graphic narrative, exploiting and experimenting with the possibilities of visual storytelling. At the same time, no one artist can be expected to comprehensively tell the story of Partition, nor can he/she hope to represent the entire gamut of responses that the memory, history and legacy of Partition evoke. It was for this reason that we decided to involve artists from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in an attempt to weave together stories that would not only remember and revisit Partition, but restory it in comic or graphic narrative form.

Open call across the subcontinent

The process of putting together the anthology was threefold. We began with an open call for contributions that was circulated widely via mail across the subcontinent. Some of the responses to that call have been included in the book. After that, we pursued stories and experiences to see how they could be moulded into the form of graphic narratives. Since the idea was to be open to every form of storytelling, not necessarily graphic novels or comics, it was important to encourage multiple voices from diverse backgrounds. And while the book is in English, it also includes translations from original works in Urdu, Bengali and Hindi.
As a curator, I was aware of the sheer range of subjects this collection could bring together, but was equally cognizant of the fact that we could not possibly tell all the stories there are to tell. An anthology like this can bring together varied styles and art forms but putting them together was bound to be a considerable challenge. This is why it was important to carefully pair the writers and artists/illustrators for all the pieces in order to ensure a collaborative exercise. Given my personal interest in cross border collaborations, this phase was particularly interesting for me—to see how these conversations progressed, given the fact that many of the writers and artists had never met, nor were they aware of each other’s work. The most gratifying experience in the whole project was observing how their work came together to create a story in print while retaining the essence of their individual practices.
This mammoth anthology would not have been possible without the steadfast support of Farah Batool and Robin Mallick of Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Delhi, and Arpita Das, publisher, Yoda Press, who conceived this project and stood by it through its long gestation period. I was inspired by their passionate engagement with Partition. Much of this book would also not have taken shape without the hawk eye of Nishtha Vadehra who spent long hours on the editing table. I am indebted to them and to all the contributors of the anthology.
This Side, That Side contains 28 narratives by 46 contributors across the subcontinent. This is not and could never be the final word on Partition, but hopes to be one of many beginnings that attempt to encourage dialogue across borders.