Partition Trauma in The Dark Dancer

Partition Trauma in The Dark Dancer

The novel, The Dark Dancer (1958) written by Balachandra Rajan is noteworthy for its multiple themes. This partition novel shows the consequences of the partition of India and Pakistan on the people through its fictional characters like V.S Krishnan, Kamala, Cynthia, Kruger, Vijayraghavan, parents of Kamala and Krishnan, Pratap Singh and so on. Here, this paper attempts to analyze the novel from the lens of partition trauma and see how it affects the individual. Basically, this paper focuses on the activities of V.S Krishnan, Kamala, and Cynthia to show the effect of partition in India. More precisely, this paper analyzes the role of partition in order to create trauma among the people with the theoretical support of Larry Ray, Jeffery C. Alexander, and Dominick LaCapra.


The Dark Dancer had been written in the historical background of the partition violence between India and Pakistan. In midnight, some declaration has been made and some of the people like Muslims are compelled to migrate from India. It promotes the incident of rape, kidnapped, murder and different types of violence between Hindu people and Muslim people. The writer, Rajan has justified how the innocent and powerless people have been victimized by the powerful authority and how they have been traumatized due to the partition violence. During the time of partition violence, so many innocent people lost their lives in the name of their religion and they were also hypnotized by the so-called religion. This novel was written in such a particular ground of reality which reflects the sense of trauma. When India got independent from the British colony at a very particular time. There occurred big communal tension which ultimately led to the communal conflict between Hindu and Muslim that leads to partition violence.

Larry Ray. Ray opines; “Mourning, Melancholia, and Violence” tries to theorize through how public remembrance or commemoration mobilizes the people politically in the present world. This theory also examines the relationship between memory, remembrance of the dead, and national/ethnic conflicts. It suggests that when a person gets an attack or any disaster in his/her life then that creates mourning or melancholia. Where mourning is working through and short time process in which a victim suffers for a short time whereas melancholia is acting out and long-lasting process in which a victim sometimes remembers and sometimes forgets the event which affects for a long time.  Ray explained, “Violence happens as a result of ‘disidentification’ between ethnic groups along with a campaign to strengthen identifications among the rest of the population, thus creating increased polarization” (136). In the novel, The Dark Dancer, a narrator narrates, “The British, [the speaker of the rebellion mass] observed judiciously, had ruined India politically, economically, physically, psychologically, socially and morally” (35). Again the same feeling is shared by Viyayaraghavan to Krishnan, “Frightful rotters the British. Absolutely satanic” (35). Here, from both of the statements, it is shown that Indians are gathered in order to protest against the British due to the feeling of disidentification of their Indians. This feeling takes rebellion form and they raise their voice against the British and at last, they become the success to create increased polarization. Similarly, within India Muslims also feel the same with Hindu and Sikh. And they also raise their voice to make their own country. Pakistan in the name of their ‘identification’ therefore, so many riots occur between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim people. People go towards Pakistan in the search of their true identity and on the way they face a very severe attack. Finally, some of them reached there and created increased polarization with Hindu and Sikh: India. Muslims feel that in India they cannot get their identity so for that they fought for creating a new nation- Pakistan. In both narrations, it is shown that ethnic groups engage in violence when they feel their identity is in threat.

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Larry mentioned, “The civil war [ …] created an obsession with enemies within and with what Julia Kristeva calls ‘familiar foreigners” (137). In Novel, when the tow drunkard men killed Kamala. She is familiar with them though also they kill her. Similarly, when Krishnan was going to Shantipur in search of Kamala, he faced many severe incidents. So, by this one thing is clear that Krishnan and Kamala are the familiar foreigners for Sikh people. It is shown in the novel that at the time of partition, within a community also there is enmity due to the belief of familiar foreigners. Rays Claimed;

“Nationalism can be seen as a way of repairing the rupture in collective memory […] but nationalism is linked to death [….]” (142).

In the chapter ‘Demonstration’, there is a riot between British representatives and Indians. And while going Shantipur, Krishnan sees Sikh man searches Muslims to kill because they are the threats to their family as well as their country which indicates nationalism. Muslims move from India to Pakistan in order to make their own nation but get trauma in the name of nationalism, they are victimized and again get traumatic experiences. Who does not leave India, they are more victimized by the Sikh people in the name of their nation. So, nationalism demands death rather than healing the collective memory. It reminds the happened event and encourages participating in the war.

In the latter part of The Dark Dancer, Kamala was killed by Hindu. Kamal was in favor of non-violence. Kamala’s death is represented as Gandhi’s death in the novel. Both are loving and caring for the people. This partition and death of Gandhi are part of trauma in the history of India. Death of Kamala is about the death of common people in the partition. The return to the restorative phase is indicated even earlier on right in the middle of the violence in Shantipur when the narrator of The Dark Dancer compares the sleeping foundling-a survivor of the partition violence being raised by Kamala to Krishna:

In the center of the storm, the child lay naked, its ambiguous pose ready to kick and welcome. Krishnan thought of Lord Krishna, the infant doomed to death by the tyrant king, carried into the safety of a different storm, into the welcoming of a different torrent. Perhaps, it would grow up into justice, into the playing of mischievous music to milkmaids, one day into a captivating of the truth. (253)

The comparison of the founding to Lord Krishna, on the one hand, expresses the hope that beauty will survive the ugliness of partition violence and, on the other hand, suggests that the violence is relegated to the domain of unreason, which forms exceptionally rather than regular moments in the development of Indian civilization.

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Ray explained;

“Victims are sought outside the group, especially among resident minorities not protected by sentiments of sympathy’, and women serve more frequently than men as objects of the cruelest rites of mourning and as scapegoats” (147).

As in the novel, when Krishnan finds himself in the hospital camp after the murder of Kamala, nobody asks him about his condition. Though the doctor sympathizes with him actually he gives him more pain than the others by talking about his strength rather than the death of Kamala. Similarly, women are more victimized and more traumatized than men. First, Krishnan leaves Kamala then to Cynthia; this act indicates the victimization of women. There is another proof that is the murder of Kamala. She has not done any crime rather she has helped needy and victimized people but she is killed without any reason. The act of chasing a Muslim girl also indicates the plight condition of the women. These shreds of evidence show the worst condition of the women in the comparison of men at the time of partition. Kamala, Cynthia and Muslim girl are the main female figures who are the representatives of all victimized female figures.

Larry Ray further elaborates […] “memory work that enables reconciliation with loss- and melancholia, where the loss is continually revisited, is vital, intrusive and persistent” (145). The presence of mourning, melancholia is there in the novel. When Krishnan says to Kamala that he wants to live with Cynthia, she does not say anything just remains silent. Remaining silent at such a moment indicates her melancholic condition. Normally, a woman cannot remain silent while her husband is going to be someone else. When Kamala dies, Krishnan does not cry out so it also indicates the melancholic condition of him. Kruger does not talk about his past though he suffered in the First World War which also indicates his melancholic situation. When Krishnan betrays Kamala, his parents as well as Kamala’s parents become angry and write letters to him, this act of responding to his action comes under mourning. In the riot at the beach, Vijayaraghavan cries when police beats, this crying comes under mourning. Pratap Singh wants to take revenge for his parents’ death which also comes under mourning. At the time of staying with Cynthia, he is in the condition of what to do and not to do- whom to select and whom to reject, which comes under melancholia. Similarly, he again goes in the process of melancholia when he remembers his wife while going to meet Kamala at Shantipur, he remembers about the behaviors of her. Remembering past and getting hurt is the act of being in melancholia.

There are several incidents that indicate the violence of partition. Gathering at the beach, their demonstration, their clash with police and the injuries due to that gathering indicate the violence which happens due to the act of British government which creates mourning and melancholia on people of India. The next one is while going towards Shantipur, Sikh men come inside the train and search out to Muslims to kill them. This also indicates the violence between Sikhs and Muslims. Similarly, when M. O., Kamala, Krishnan and other help to Muslims who are suffering from Cholera at that time Sikh people come and command to let them kill Muslims. When M. O. including others refuse them they burn out to the hospital. At the time of the violence, rioters target to the women so, here, in this story also women are targeted like Kamala, Cynthia, women of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh.

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Cultural trauma is something that makes a certain group feel the threat to think about their past, present, and future. In trauma, social theorist, Jeffery C. Alexander point outs;

“The cultural construction of collective trauma filled by individual experiences of pain and suffering. But it is the threat to collective rather than the individual identity that defines the suffering at stake” (22).

For trauma to emerge at the level of the collectivity, the social crisis must become a cultural crisis. In the process of cultural trauma, individual experiences do not matter rather common shared experience matters. In the essay of Jeffery C. Alexander, the writer has post-colonialism and the slavery system goes together post-colonialism is a broader literary practice. The author tries to dig out some of the problems of post-colonial Indian partition. Indian people see this partition as a disastrous thing in history but Pakistan takes it as a glorious thing.

Partition Trauma in The Dark Dancer and Dominick LaCapra

Partition Trauma in The Dark Dancer

How does Dominick LaCapra define the trauma?

Dominick LaCapra writes in “Writing History, Writing Trauma”, “Trauma should be seen as raising the question of identity, rather than simply founding an identity.” LaCapra claims that trauma not only helps to find out the identity rather it questions too. Likewise, in India, Muslims question their identity and they found their identity is in crisis so they revolt against the Hindu, power holders. They demanded separate Muslim state, which leads to the partition.

Recapitulation of  Partition Trauma In The Dark Dancer:

Thus, literary work by Balachandra Rajan, the Dark Dancer is all about the partition trauma which involves imagination and creativity with fictional influence. As a literary representation, it may not be able to fully mirror what actually happened during the partition period. In fact, this novel can be taken as the process of memorialization for the writer to neutralized his traumatic memory as he himself witnessed the terrifying reality of this historical period. Overall, this is the study of both the novel and the theory comparatively with traumatic reading. The author Rajan, by writing the text remembering the partition violence. It is manifested belated memory. Partition is the source of cultural trauma. In particular, it is historical trauma in the form of post-memory that is transformed into the next generation. The new generation is also traumatized because that memory has been transformed into them. The writer Rajan is also a traumatic patient. Later after ten years, he remembers that partition violence in the form of literature. His work is the cure for his trauma.

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Works Cited

Alexander, Jeffrey. ‘Cultural Trauma: A Social Theory.’ Trauma: A Social Theory. Cambridge, Policy, 2012:1-30

Rajan Balachandra. The Dark Dancer. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1958

LaCapra, Dominic. “Writing History, Writing Trauma” Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore, 2001.01-47.print

Ray, Larry. “Mourning, Melancholia, and Violence”. Memory, Trauma and World Politics. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1999






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