Thinking Through Partition AMBER ABBAS THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN Partition for India’s Muslims was a profound national trauma, an extraordinary disruption of “the institutional underpinnings of the social order” (Neal 1998, xi). In Pakistan today, even in families directly affected by their partition move, many people choose not to speak of Partition at all. Those who do often describe the extent of Pakistan’s disadvantage relative to India in 1947. There is a common narrative about how poorly Pakistan fared in the division of assets that established Pakistan’s history in direct opposition to India’s. The oppositional aspect of this narrative is part of the triumphal story of the establishment of the nation-state as the culmination of the Pakistan movement. In the popular imagination, this national story must reconcile the intellectual antecedents of the Pakistan Movement with the demand for statehood and the competing calls of non-territorial and territorial nationalism. It is, as such, a fragmented tale stitched together by a series of myths and teleologies. For a particular group of Pakistani narrators, recounting their personal relationship to Muslim nationalism means developing a narrative in which they can emphasize their connection to institutions in India, without acknowledging India’s role as a space which contains Muslim history, houses important Muslim monuments and in which the Muslim dynasties flourished for hundreds of years. 1 These narrators, all men old enough to remember the events of 1947, are Aligarh educated professionals. They migrated to Pakistan during the period of the Partition and have built their lives there. They have used the national narrative to redefine India in officially acceptable ways, but by localizing their memories they have not fully allowed that national narrative to redefine their own stories.
1 These narratives do not illuminate the experiences of other marginalized communities, women or the poor. In fact, the narrators are myopic in their treatment of their own community, and this narrow view is a distinguishing feature of many of these interviews. This exploration, therefore, is similarly narrow, an exploration of narratives collected in interviews with a dozen people in the Pakistani cities of Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad in the summers of 2005 and 2006.