Sunanda Sikdar

A Life Long Ago

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A stirring memoir that opens the floodgates of one woman’s memories of a land, and a life, previously forgotten.In the 1950s, ten-year-old Dayamoyee watches with bewilderment and curiosity as her whole world changes before her eyes. The people she knows and loves start to pack their belongings and move away. India has been partitioned, and her village of Dighpait has now become part of a new country, (East) Pakistan. Forced to leave her beloved home, her friends, and especially the family retainer, Majam, whom she loves like a father, Dayamoyee resolves, on her journey from Pakistan to Hindustan, never to mention the home she left behind. And so, from childhood all the way through middle age, Dayamoyee never speaks of Dighpait. And then, in the early 1990s, she hears of Majam’s death and all of her memories come rushing back, begging to once and for all be told. Sunanda Sikdar’s beautiful and moving memoir was awarded the Lila Puraskar by Calcutta University in 2008, and the Ananda Puraskar in 2010.
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    Translator’s Note
    Anchita Ghatak

    The Partition is the meta-narrative of the Indian subcontinent. It describes the birth, in the twentieth century, of the newly independent nations of India and Pakistan (1947) and Bangladesh (1971). Bengalis, irrespective of which side of the border they grew up on, have however lived with the story of two partitions—that of the country and that of Bengal. Within Bengal too, there are two histories: of the first partition in 1905, when India was under colonial rule, and of the second in 1947. Both brought to the fore sharp questions of identity— questions that continue to be discussed the world over and certainly in South Asia. Can a people be defined by borders, administrative machinery, language, religion?

    In August 1947, when India was partitioned, large parts of Bengal, colloquially known as East Bengal, became part of Pakistan and eventually came to be referred to as East Pakistan. The issue of a Bengali identity was a critical one in Pakistan and a little less than a quarter century after Partition, a war of liberation led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. The birth of Bangladesh was greeted with joy all over the world. India was proud to have played a part in creating this new nation. Yet, Bengalis all over the world—in India, in Bangladesh, and elsewhere, carry a sense of loss—they mourn a lost way of life, the divisions in families, the disappearance of cultures, and the appearance of borders.

    A Life Long Ago tells the story of a little girl, Dayamoyee, who lived in East Pakistan in the 1950s with her widowed aunt. Dayamoyee’s parents lived in India because they were both teachers in West Bengal. Dayamoyee lived in East Pakistan, in a village called Dighpait, till she was ten. As a child, she watched the transformation of her village, Dighpait, as many people started to leave Pakistan for Hindustan or India. She saw her aunt prepare for the now inevitable move. And
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    My older brother, my Dada, was dead.

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    Penulis Asia
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    Asian Writers
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