Divyani Motla: JNU-SPECTRESS fellow at the Institute for Social Movements, Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany.

I boarded my first airplane ever when I flew to Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany in May-2017, as perhaps the youngest SPECTRESS fellow. My academic host was Prof Stefan Berger, the Director of the Institute for Social Movements at the Ruhr University.

SPECTRESS, a project about cultural trauma, was as far from traumatic for me as imaginable. The most important dimension of this project was the exposure to many different cultures and people from all across Europe, the exposure to the histories of various nations, the conflicts and compromises and the resulting traumas that shape each of those nations. Europe, for me, was a living embodiment of history, and the confluence of the medieval infrastructure with modernity was intriguing. I had never felt this close to the medieval ages than I did while travelling and exploring the centuries old remnants of medieval architecture, especially in Cologne, Gent, Prague, Zadar and Durovnik. I was more than impressed with the multiculturality of these nations that originated around ‘one language and one culture’, and the ever-friendly people.

My fellowship kick-started with the ‘SPECTRESS Summer School on Cultural Trauma’ organized by the University of Zagreb in collaboration with the IUC at Dubrovnik. In addition to understanding the traumatic national self-perception in context to Croatia and neighboring states, the interaction with the participants and the professors helped me to re-think and re-consider the silhouettes of post-colonial trauma in India. The Summer School was brilliantly productive and entertaining, also the first time I ever saw a sea!

In Bochum, I attended a few seminars, and a conference about ‘History, Memory and Social Movements’, organized by the ISB. Those in addition to my interactions and meetings with Prof Berger contributed extensively in the cultivation of my research ideas and questions. In our interactions we both also helped each other better understand the conflicts and traumas that consume our respective societies. Prof Berger was also very kind to ask a young scholar like me to deliver a talk (‘Khalistan: The ‘Unrealized’ Nation Within a Nation’) discussing the post-colonial conflicts in India, attended by senior research scholars, professors and students, where we tried to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a post-colonial democratic nation through several traumatic ruptures. I also had extensive discussions about the ‘trauma’ of caste and gender in India with many academics and laymen.

To understand better, I delved deeper into memory of traumas in Germany. I had many interesting discussions people with about the memory of the Second World War (in Bochum), Communism, the Unification of Berlin (in Berlin), etc. I also visited some Sikh temples in Germany to find out more about the Sikh diaspora’s participation in and the memory of the ‘Khalistan Movement’. Furthermore, my travels to Gent, Berlin, Cologne, Prague, Zadar and Dubrovnik made me wonder and analyze if and how each one of us is a product of traumatic pasts- national, regional, ethnic, racial, cultural, socio-political, familial, etc. Berlin and the Holocaust Memorial were the most thought-provoking visits for me, since that’s where I felt the eeriness of certain traumas, which were otherwise distant to me both spatially and temporally- the Jewish holocaust and the conflict between the Communists and Capitalists in Berlin.

I can write endlessly for there was so much that I felt, learned, experienced and miss, but before I conclude it is imperative that I express my absolute delight and love for the food and beer in Europe. I am also very grateful to the lovely friends I made on this exchange- Cristian, Pia, Verena, Niklas, Ivi, Andy, Zrinka, Kosta, Rebecca, and Prof. Nebojsa and Prof. Tomislav, for welcoming me with open arms and helping me understand the European ‘other’ better; friends back home- Aakash, Steve, Afzal, Sim, Ravinder, and my family for their constant support and belief in me, all of which made this a truly wonderful experience.

Special thanks to Dr. Jennifer Edmond, to Professor Stefan Berger and to Prof. Aditya and Mridula Mukerjee, who made this life-changing experience possible.


Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

New Delhi, India

(I am a pre-doctoral research scholar at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, exploring the themes of- nationalism, minority politics, space and violence, and the memory of political as well as cultural traumas, in a state of India called Punjab, which witnessed a secessionist movement for the establishment of a Sikh-republic called ‘Khalistan’ between 1975-95.)

LEFT: Outside the Institute for Social Movements, RUB (Before delivering the talk on ‘Khalistan’); RIGHT: Next to the big bell, displayed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1867, in front of the Bochum City Hall.

Divyani (3)

With Prof. Nebojsa and Kosta Bovan in the lanes of Dubrovnik (attending the Summer School on Cultural Traumas)

Divyani (4)

                                    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

Divyani (5).jpgInside the Prague Castle, in front of the Kohl’s Fountain

Divyani (6)

Lecture delivered at ISB, RUB

About Jennifer Edmond

Dr Jennifer Edmond, is the Director of Strategic Projects in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. Trained as a scholar of German literature, Jennifer is mostly engaged professionally with the investigation of knowledge exchange and collaboration in Humanities research and in particular the impact of technology on these processes.
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