10 Meditations on Partition: India and Ireland in Ken McMullen and Tariq Ali's Partition

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:20 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon C (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Michael Silvestri , Clemson University, Clemson, SC
The experience of partition is one of the defining events of twentieth-century South Asian history.  My paper will analyze one of the most complex and multi-layered cinematic interpretations of the events of 1947, the British director Ken McMullen's 1987 film Partition. Partition is an adaptation of the Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto's famous short story “Toba Tek Singh.”  In addition to depicting Manto’s allegorical tale of a transfer of inmates between insane asylums in India and Pakistan in 1947, McMullen juxtaposes scenes of the “transfer of power” in which British colonial officials and their Indian and Pakistani successors debate the nature of colonial rule and the implications of its ending.

My paper will explore the ways in which Partition not only seeks to interpret the experience of 1947 in South Asia at various levels, but also the film’s broader exploration of the final decades of the British Empire.  McMullen, who had originally planned to call the film ‘Ten Meditations on Partition,’ explicitly links the partition of India/Pakistan to that of Ireland through an exploration of the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers.  In 1920, members of the regiment stationed in the Punjab staged a protest in opposition to the actions of the British Army in Ireland.  In one instance, the protests turned violent and one soldier was ultimately executed for his role in the mutiny.  Macmullen’s film thus responded not only to prevalent nostalgia for the British Raj in the 1980s, but also to the contemporary conflict in Northern Ireland.  My paper will explore how McMullen’s film links the histories of Ireland and India, and raises questions of anti-colonial solidarity among nationalists, the imperial service of the Irish and the inter-imperial analogies made by both nationalists and imperialists.