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Blackout. -  Traveling Art.
The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
From an early age, wandering children learn the act of carrying a journal. The diaries themselves tell a story, bruised and creased at the journey’s end; the scent of new visions and reformed ideas soaking their pages.

Travel: A distance crossed, a state altered through time.

At the heart of all ancient, ritualistic artistic, performance and storytelling traditions is this ‘Trans-identity’: all life is transient and constantly transforming until a feeling of transcendence is achieved.
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By Rattanamol Singh Johal, Issue 10, Traveling Art, May 2012
The soul will fly away alone
Leaving behind this spectacle of worldly carnival
Like the fallen leaves of a tree
It is difficult to meet again
Don’t know where the leaf will fall
Where the gust of wind will carry it away
 

Displacement, disruption, disorientation…Temporary Loss of Consciousness (2005), Monica Bhasin’s visual essay seeks a suitable aesthetic language, through the medium of film, to address both the immediate physical experience and the enduring trauma of an exodus. Emerging as a response to the events that unfolded in Gujarat ten years ago, Bhasin travels through the relatively brief but troubled story of independent India, whose birth was scarred by one of the largest and most bloody mass migrations in history. The film looks at the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 as an epoch defining moment, the trauma of which continues to manifest itself among communities over long periods of time.

Bhasin traverses the length and breadth of the country with her camera…the machine mimicking the motion of a train, capturing extensive lengths of track and expanses of land slipping by. Archival footage is interspersed with the present-day as hordes of people continue to be rendered refugees following widespread communal violence and caste/class strife. As such the Partition isn’t just limited to a specific historic instance of political action, casting a trans-generational shadow and defining our age as a ‘partitioned time’.

My own family history is inextricably linked with this rupture – both my grandmothers were school-going girls when they were compelled to abruptly and permanently leave their homes, taking only those belongings that they could carry on themselves. Journeys by foot, train and car brought them from one newly born nation into another, with a grave uncertainty about their future and the possibility of returning to their ancestral home and land. The stories they brought with them, witness accounts and hearsay, became integral to my understanding of history and the present. In every account, the subtext was evident – there were thousands less fortunate than them who had experienced violence firsthand, lost or been separated from their loved ones, who didn’t have the support of friends and family or the cushion of land holdings that would grant them some chance of a new home, occupation, life.  

Bhasin unearths these enduring truths; her protagonists are still in flux…unable to grow new roots in refugee colonies, still searching for lost family members, invisible to society and silenced by their own fears and regrets, doubts and indecision. Treading the margins of society, from Delhi and Punjab to West Bengal and Kashmir, Bhasin creates a conversation between the displaced and disenfranchised using powerful visual metaphors narrative tools. The demolition of a house, the presence of empty milestones and prohibitive traffic signs tell stories of endings, departures, dislocation and the inability to turn back. Journals and letters reveal the fragility of our material worlds, reduced to ruin in a matter of hours, and the struggle between trying to remember and trying to forget. Bishen Singh’s cry pierces the annals of history, drowning out Nehru and Jinnah’s lofty proclamations and leaving us all stranded in a kind of No Man’s Land.

Temporary loss of consciousness in medical terms refers to an interruption in the awareness of oneself and ones surroundings. As the train chugs along, the camera jumps and the squeaking and screeching become unbearable, one begins to dig deeper into the rubble of memory in the hope of recovering lost time and severed connections. Unfortunately, the broken bridges are too tedious to mend and the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction, understanding and intolerance, lived experience and recounted memory only induce from within an acute feeling of nausea.

Rattanamol Singh Johal is a writer and curator living in Delhi.

Monica Bhasin was born in 1974 and currently lives in Goa.

Also in this issue


Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.