My association with the SPeCTReSS project goes back to when a group of universities, including JNU, my university, came up with this extremely innovative project. I was one of the original members. Later I was awarded a secondment at the Trinity College, Dublin in the summer of 2016 to pursue my research project on Partitions of India and Ireland: Memory and History.
At Trinity College Dublin, I was affiliated to the Long Room Hub, the Advance Studies Institute, headed by Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer, an insightful historian with incredible leadership skills. The Long Room Hub was a most intellectually vibrant space under her directorship. I most enjoyed weekly presentations by research scholars and visiting professors, workshops and tea time conversations with fellows. There was never a dull or empty moment.
At Trinity Long Room Hub, a young research scholar told me about the practice of keening, a ritual following upon the death of a person, where collective mourning was practised. She came up with this information because I had talked about the traditional practice of public mourning in Punjab, India, when women would together wail about the death in the family, beat their breasts, etc. I had spoken about this in the regular eleven o’clock weekly meetings we had at the Hub. The next day she brought a CD of a film in which keeling was portrayed to share with me. This compelled me to look closely at my argument about culturally specific ways of remembering and the uniqueness of the mourning rituals in India, which, I argued, had not been practised for the deaths that occurred during partition, and hence there being no closure. How could I make an argument about cultural specificity when the practices appeared to be the same in a very different country?
The SPeCTReSS fellowship gave me the opportunity for fieldwork in Belfast, to conduct an oral history interview in Cruit and to visit the University of Brighton to meet Graham Dawson, the author of the brilliant book on reparative remembering.
A highlight of my stay at Trinity was the conference on Ireland and India organized on 23 and 24 June 2016. My paper at the conference, titled “Memory, History and Narratives of Conflict: Partitions, India and Ireland”, in the session on Nationalism was a preliminary presentation of my work so far.
The SPeCTReSS secondment at Trinity was followed up by a conference at the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil in August 2017 organised by the SPeCTReSS project and the Association for Irish Studies in Brazil on Rethinking Cultural Trauma from a Transnational Perspective. Researchers from the project from different countries interacted with experts in Irish Studies and other scholars on the theme of trauma and conflict. I presented a paper on “Coming out of Conflict: Oral Histories of Partition, India and Ireland”in the panel on Historical continuities and discontinuities.
The project has been remarkable in transforming my understanding of trauma and giving it a transnational mooring.