Difference in Memory - Shadow Lines

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Difference in Memory
Sociology, Binghamton University, SUNY
Everyone lives in a story . . . because stories are all there is to live in, it was just a question of which one you chose . . . (Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines)1


The study of popular memory is necessarily relational. It involves the exploration of two sets of relations: (1) that between dominant memory and oppositional forms across the public field, including academic productions; and (2) the relation between public discourse and a more privatized sense of the past generated within lived culture.2 This paper is concerned with the second of these two constitutive relations in the study of popular memory— the often vexed but close linkages between public constructions and private reminiscences. The project began with what seemed to be a simple question: what might we learn about the final decades of colonial rule in Bengal, and especially about Acknowledgements: My biggest debt in writing this paper is, of course, to the women I interviewed for generously sharing their experiences with me. Professor Hossenur Rahman and the late Mrs. Gaur Ayub helped me with my first contacts with members of the Muslim middle class in Calcutta. I am deeply indebted to them. Many of my contacts in Bangladesh, in turn, came through the personal networks of the women I interviewed in Calcutta. I am grateful for the hospitality of Mrs. Kishwar Jahan Quader, Mrs. Zeenat Ameen, Mrs. Selina Hossein, Mr. Akbar Hossein, Mr. Reza Ali and Mrs. Nayeema Ali, Susan Lee, Nripen and Meena Sarkar, who opened their homes to me in Calcutta and Dhaka. My parents, Bhabani Bhusan and Lily Sarkar, supported me throughout my fieldwork; this paper would not have been possible without them. A travel grant from The Program in Comparative International Development, Department of Sociology, The Johns Hopkins University made the initial trip to India possible. I am grateful to Beverly Silver, Antoinette Burton, Prasad Kuduvalli, Attila Melegh, Mita Datta, Dharni Vasudevan, and especially Kamala Visweswaran for their comments on various drafts of this paper. I thank the anonymous reviewers for CSSH for their very useful comments. Earlier versions of the paper were presented at the Annual South Asian Conference in Madison, Wisconsin in October 2000, and the Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University in March 2001. I thank the participants, especially Mrinalini Sinha, Bhaskar Sarkar, Bishnu Ghosh, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Pika Ghosh, Jayati Lal, and Siba Grovogui for their encouragement ´´ ´ ´ ¨ ¨ and comments. I am deeply indebted to Jeno Jedloczki and Jozsef Borocz for lending their technical expertise and time in transferring the interviews from tapes to compact disks. Finally, my ´ deepest thanks to Jozsef for his many critical insights. 1 Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995), 182. 2 Popular Memory Group, “Popular Memory: Theory, Politics, Method,” in The Oral History Reader, ed. Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (London: Routlege, 1998), 75–86. 0010-4175/06/139–168 $9.50 # 2006 Society for Comparative Study of Society and History




the changing lives of urban Muslims, by approaching them through the memories of Muslim women—an archive that has rarely made its appearance within dominant historiographies of that era. I was especially interested in tracking the resonances, if any, that constructions of Muslim-ness—normalized within both British and Hindu nationalist discourses in the late colonial period—might have had in the lives of middle class Muslims in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Bengal. What were their conceptions of processes of “change” at work at that time? How did Muslim women perceive themselves, and in what terms? The oral testimonies I gathered, mostly from middle class Bengali Muslim women who were born and lived in Calcutta or Dhaka between 1910 and 1950, and a few from middle...
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