Partition Trauma in Balachandra Rajan’s The Dark Dancer

-Anup Joshi
Partition Trauma in Balachandra Rajan’s The Dark Dancer

This paper explores the partition trauma in Balachandra Rajan’s novel The Dark Dancer. Published in 1958, the novel is set during the partition of India and Pakistan as two different countries from the orientation of Hindu-Muslim religious faith of the population.  Partition followed by Indian independence from British Raj in August 15, 1947, was a catastrophic event of dreadful religious clash, massacre, rape, vandalism and mass migration. During partition, “millions of Muslims trekked to West and East Pakistan (the latter now known as Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction. Many hundreds of thousands never made it” (Dalrymple par. 1).  More than 750,000 people were slaughtered with cruelty, hundreds of thousands maimed and about 12 million people fled their homes. The Dark Dancer portrays the horror of partition from the humanistic point of view through the protagonist Krishnan who has returned India after ten years of education in England and Kamala, a Gandhi like preacher of non-violence whom he gets married to. We can find traces of violence, murder and emergence of trauma throughout the novel.
Cathy Caruth describes trauma as an “overwhelming experience of sudden, or catastrophic events, in which the response to the events occurs in the often delayed and uncontrolled repetitive occurrence of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena” (181). In the novel also such overwhelming experiences of catastrophic events leads to emergence of trauma. We encounter the first scene of violence when Krishnan, Kamala and Vijayraghavan participate in demonstration against British Raj in front of the makeshift platform. During the non-violent protest when Vijayraghavan is brutally hit by lathi of police, Krishnan grows furious and “picked up the lathi and waved it over his head. ‘come on and get it,’ he shouted to the policeman” (Rajan 40). He mocks police and clashes with them. As a result, Krishnan is counterattacked and falls on the ground unconsciously, severely injured leading to hospitalization. We can see the aftermath of this traumatic incident in the psyche of Krishnan throughout the novel though his father claims, “once you have recovered from your injuries…there is no reason why you cannot return to a normal, reasonable and constructive life” (Rajan 44) and the residue of the injury remains in his psyche. An audacious person willing to be a teacher, ends up being a civil servant as instructed by his father. He seems to lose the grip of his desire and is seen as unstable and aloof personality. He is ultimately changed by the sudden catastrophic incident in his life.
During partition, Sikh and Hindus were on one side and Muslims were on the other side. The conflict inflicted when the minority Muslims migrated to Pakistan from the new formed geography and the Hindus and Sikh migrated towards Hindustan. The majority group killed and raped the minority group branding them as faceless enemy. The trains came carrying thousands of corpses. We can see such incidents in The Dark Dancer too. When Krishnan travels to Shantihpur by train to finally unite with his wife whom he betrayed for his extramarital affair with Cynthia (his former classmate from England who came to study about India), there are several confrontations taking place. He meets a Muslim man who is travelling in disguised Hindu costume for the defense. During conversation Krishnan continuously argues that all religions have similar motto and advocates for humanism but the man suddenly becomes violent and puts knife in Krishnan’s throat disclosing his true identity. When the man becomes touched by the good words of Krishnan, he tells his story. “There were six of you against myself and my wife. You did the only thing you know how to do with a woman, and when you’d done enough of it you killed her…I was there…I ran away. I wasn’t able to stand it” (Rajan 192). It is evident from his statement that he wasn’t a bad person from the beginning, the situation made him go aggressive against Krishnan. Losing his wife and son in front his eyes in most dreadful way, the Muslim is melancholic and traumatized.
Later, a mob of armed Sikhs search the train to execute Muslim travelers. “The butchery was in progress now and the door that protected them could only veil the screaming. The blood came oozing underneath the door, depending in color, licking its way toward them” (Rajan 196). There was murder and mass killing in the train. One of the Sikh enters the compartment where Krishnan and the Moslem was hiding. On recognizing the Moslem, “The Sikh struck again and unnecessarily, again” (Rajan 198) with kirpan and kills him in spite of Krishnan’s attempt to defend. The eyes of Sikh were frenzy in thirst for revenge. He later tells that his revenge sprouted as Muslims killed and raped his wife. This scene clearly depicts the reality of the violence. One religious killed member of another group and the genocide initiated as revenge against each other.
When Kamala is murdered by fellow Hindu men on her attempted to defend a helpless Muslim girl from their attack, Krishnan becomes traumatized. A witness to her murder, we can sense in later part of the novel inerasable trademark of her death on him. He becomes aloof when he meets Cynthia for the last time, and shows indifference to her. His infatuation for her is no longer visible. He becomes a transformed man. Though the novel ends without showing the delayed traumatic effect on Krishnan, we see himself being intertwined in incubation period.
“At last the hunger was no longer in him. There wasn’t the ache to be part of something larger, or the other pining for the island’s relief. He could look at the sky and river and the emptiness without wanting to paint them with significance. It was as the Sikh had said: he wasn’t owed by the remembrance or by the future, or by longing or hope” (Rajan 308)
Traumatized, the past, present and future is blurred for Krishnan. He seems to be in trance like state. But yet we can expect him to work out through trauma as after the death of Kamala he becomes her devotee and amplifies the significance of her sacrifice. He contemplates with the Medical Officer, “The riots are ending, though, aren’t they?...couldn’t it be the beginning of difference?” (281). As Dominick LaCapra claims, “Working through is an articulatory practice: to the extent one works trauma…one is distinguish between past and present and to recall in memory something happened to one back then” (55). So, if Krishnan succeeds in realizing the incident and consciously undergoes through the memory, he will heal over time. As he is internalizing Kamala and glorifying her deeds, it is likely that through this creative process, he will work through trauma in spite of the melancholic mood in the ending of the novel.
            Partition trauma was not an individual trauma but a cultural trauma. As Jeffery Alexander puts it, “Cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have fallen subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways” (6). During partition, individual trauma was transferred to cultural trauma. When a member of one religion was attacked by another religion, the whole community became traumatized. The murder of Kamala emerged as cultural trauma and from it the people learned that killing each other was not right. Hopefully, riots stopped. “now that the first rush of their anger is over, the shock of how she died may make a difference” (Rajan 281). Her death made a difference among the people and they realized killing each other is immoral. Apparently, Shantihpur became quitter place. But trauma does not wipe out so easily from the memory. Somehow, it keeps lingering in the memory. Now more than a half century has elapsed after partition, but still there is the existence of enmity between India and Pakistan. Still a Muslim feels threatened among majority of Hindus and vice versa. This shows how trauma roots deep in the memory even after so many years have passed.  
            Partition of India and Pakistan followed by the death of a million people, mass migration, rape and looting separated a husband from his wife, a child from his father and due to such horrendous genocides taking place, the survivors of the conflict became traumatized for generations to come. In The Dark Dancer also Kamala is murdered, but the memory of her death envelopes the remaining life of Krishnan. Due to the massacre of their family members in front of their eyes, the Sikh man and the Moslem man in the train were frenzy with vengeance. The same cultural vengeance lead the Hindus of Shantihpur to form a mob for attacking their own hospital even at the cost of spreading of cholera. They could not endure the presence of Muslim in the hospital bed. This representational story of partition happened in large scale during partition. Punjab and Bengal which were spilt into two countries, were the center for violence. In the novel, also the violence exceeds as Krishnan travels from New Delhi to Shantihpur. The partition was triumph for Muslims as their dream of two nation came into reality. They got their independence from India. But for India, it was loss, a defeat. Both the countries, commemorate partition from their own viewpoint each year in 14th and 15th of August since then. By constructing the narratives of partition violence like Rajan did in his novel, the upcoming generations will learn the moral lessons from the consequences of such terrific genocide. Jeffery Alexander claims that, “Sufficiently persuasive narratives have not been created, or they have not been successively broadcast to wider audiences. Because of these failures, the perpetrators of these collective sufferings have not been compelled to accept moral responsibility” (107). So, we should broaden the traumatic consequences of the partition violence and by doing so, it will provide guideline for future not to involve in such conflicts. The non-violence based statements of Kamala also suggest for the elimination of such catastrophic religious and ethnic clashes in the novel.
            To conclude, Rajan’s The Dark Dancer portrays vivid realities of India-Pakistan partition in 1947, and its aftermath as a result of ethnic riots between Hindu and Muslim. The novel appeals for the essence of humanistic side in such brutal situation. Only clinging to non-violence and brotherhood, humanity can strive. The event that ended with millions of casualties, should now be a moral guideline among people to acknowledge the catastrophic consequence of ethnic, racial and religious intolerance. We can guarantee peace in the world only by respecting each other’s culture and tradition.

Works Cited
Alexander, Jeffery.  Trauma: A Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity, 2012. Print.
Caruth, Cathy. “Unclaimed Experiences: Trauma and the Possibility of History”. Yale French
Studies.181-192. Print.
Dalrymple, William. “The Great Divide: The Violent Legacy of Indian Partition”. The
New Yorker. 21 Mar. 2017. Web. <
LaCapra, Dominick. Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001.

Rajan, Balachandra. The Dark Dancer. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1958. Print.
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About Anup Joshi

Anup Joshi is an emerging young writer searching for space in Nepali literature. He writes poems, stories and lyrics for songs. As a student of English literature he loves reading books. He is also a passionate photographer and enjoys travelling.
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