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Humanities 2019, 8(1), 19; doi:10.3390/h8010019

Subverting the Nation-State Through Post-Partition Nostalgia: Joginder Paul’s Sleepwalkers
Concurrences: Center of Postcolonial Studies, Department of Humanities, Linnaeus University, 35195 Växjö, Sweden
Received: 18 September 2018 / Accepted: 18 January 2019 / Published: 23 January 2019


With the advent of the Progressive Writers Movement, Urdu Literature was marked with a heightened form of social realism during the Partition of British India in 1947. Joginder Paul, once a part of this movement, breaks away from this realist tradition in his Urdu novella, Khwabrau (Sleepwalkers), published in 1990. Sleepwalkers shifts the dominant realist strain in the form and content of Urdu fiction to open a liminal “third space” that subverts the notion of hegemonic reality. Sleepwalkers is based on a time, many years after the Partition in the city of Karachi, and focuses on the “mohajirs” from Lucknow who construct a mnemonic existential space by constructing a simulacrum of pre-Partition Lucknow (now in India). This paper examines the reconceptualization of spaces through the realm of political nostalgia and the figure of the refugee subject “performing” this nostalgia. This nostalgic reconstruction of space, thus, becomes a “heterotopia” in Foucauldian terms, one that causes a rupture in the unities of time and space and the idea of nation-hood. The refugee subjects’ subversion of the linearity of time opens a different time in the narration of a nation that necessitates that the wholeness of the “imagined” physical space of a nation be questioned.
memory; partition; nation-state; Foucault; heterotopia; India; Pakistan; Partition fiction; refugees
“Time is a strange chemistry. First we wanted to forget and then we wanted to relive the time that was!”
—Krishna Sobti, “Memory and History of Partition”
This essay focuses on a unique novella, Sleepwalkers (1990) by Joginder Paul, who was one of the active members of the Progressive Writers Movement in its heyday, as the Indian subcontinent drew near the catastrophic and bloody Partition of 1947 that also ended the British Raj and split the land between India and Pakistan. Joginder Paul’s Sleepwalkers forms a significant text in the oeuvre of Partition literature and shifts the dominant realist strain in the form and content of Urdu fiction to open a liminal “third space” that subverts the notion of hegemonic reality and the nationalist imaginary of the two nation-states. To trace the importance of Paul’s novella in the trajectory of Partition literature, it is significant to briefly chart the history of the Progressive Writer’s Movement.
The Progressive Writers Movement was initially founded in 1935, London, by a group of writers, namely, Mulk Raj Anand, Sajeed Zaheer, and Jyotirmaya Ghosh. This meeting saw the emergence of a manifesto that stated, “Radical changes are taking place in Indian society … we believe that the new literature of India must deal with the basic problems of our existence today—the problems of hunger and poverty, social backwardness, and political subjection” (Anand quoted in Progressive Writers’ Association (1979)). Later, in April 1936, the official inaugural meeting of the movement took place in Lucknow, India, where the manifesto was modified thus—“Indian literature, since the breakdown of classical literature, has the fatal tendency to escape from the actualities of life. It has tried to find a refuge from reality in baseless spiritualism and ideality” (Ali and Rashed 1977–1978, p. 94). Thus, it legitimized the need for a movement such as this that had a significant space during the peak of Indian nationalism and freedom struggle in which mainly Urdu writers (and some Hindi writers) wrote with a heavy presence of social realism that reflected the anticolonial and localized struggles of the people.
Joginder Paul, a noted Urdu fiction writer and a renowned figure in the Progressive Writers Movement, was born in Sialkot, Pakistan and moved to India during the Partition of the subcontinent and lived there till his death in 2016. He is a writer who traverses boundaries and his Urdu writings are still widely read in both India and Pakistan.1 Paul was part of the Progressive Writers Movement at a time when its glory was fading, and he also breaks away from this realist tradition in his Urdu novella, Khwabrau (Sleepwalkers 1990). Sleepwalkers is based on a time, many years after the Partition in the city of Karachi and focuses on the “mohajirs2” from Lucknow3 who construct a mnemonic space by constructing a simulacrum of pre-Partition Lucknow. This essay examines the reconceptualization of spaces through the realm of nostalgia and the figure of the refugee subject performing this nostalgia in the text. The argument is divided into two parts—first, the essay explains how nostalgia and memory works in subversive ways to create this simulacrum of a lost home and land against the strict territoriality of nation-states post-Partition, between India and Pakistan. Next, using Michel Foucault’s notion of the “heterotopia” it argues how nostalgia enables a deviant heterotopic space, one that causes a rupture in the unities of time and space and the idea of the newly created nation-hood. The refugee subjects’ subversion of the linearity of time opens a different time in the narration of a nation that necessitates that the wholeness of the “imagined” physical space of a nation be questioned. The paper also explores the hyperreal city of “Lucknow” within the territorial spaces of Karachi and argues that the act of not forgetting becomes a political one, through which the refugees pose as deviant subjects resisting to be a part of the cartographic domination of nation in post-Partition times.
As aforementioned, the historic setting of the novella is the traumatic and unsettling presence of the Partition of India based on the two-nation theory, dividing the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947. The ending of British colonialism, ironically, also marks the painful memory of Partition, when arbitrary borders were aligned, and millions of people were either deracinated or found themselves subject to physical and sexual violence, or as rootless refugees in derelict camps. The loss of home, identity, and trauma that people underwent during and after the Partition has been recorded in literature across the border in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan in a rich body of texts, loosely termed as Partition literature.
Joginder Paul has noted that the inception Sleepwalkers was during one of his visits to the city of Karachi in Pakistan, where he was amazed to see “so many Uttar Pradesh4 towns there” (Paul 1998, p. 113).5 Paul felt that he had never left India and that the people of Karachi were in a “deep sleep” and spoke the grand lofty Urdu reminding him of Lucknow in Pre-Partition times. Almost all the characters in Paul’s text are migrants and are caught in the liminal state, not only in the in-betweenness of borders of India and Pakistan, and their concomitant national identities, but also in a liminality between reality and dream. Using Gloria Anzaldua’s concept of the “third country,” Sleepwalkers, thus, gives rise to a “third country” (Anzaldua 1980, p. 11) for the refugees, a space which exists in a realm of fluidity. The protagonist of the novella, Deewane Maulvi Sahab, transplants the entire Lucknawi culture, with the houses, localities, and essence of the mnemonic Lucknow in Karachi and feels no sense of loss after the Partition. Interestingly, this imagined reconceptualization of space through memory not only undermines the Partition narrative, but it also threatens Partition’s project of mapping out extremely nationalized spaces.
Sleepwalkers is particularly interesting in its use of magic realism to present the haunting trauma and mnemonic experiences of “mohajirs” trapped in a liminal space, who construct this dream-like mnemonic space of existence against the forced territorial realignment. The text was first published in Lahore, Pakistan in 1990, and the next year saw its Indian publication. Post-partitioned Karachi was mainly a refugee city with its population rising tremendously after the refugee influx from Partition, since it was relatively easier for mohajirs to cross the Gujarat border on the Indian side of the Western frontier and enter Pakistan into the city of Karachi. In the novella, Karachi’s resemblance with Lucknow, in the spatial and imaginative mapping is such that the gap between the real and the imagined Lucknow is erased; what remains, in Baudrillard’s terms, is a “hyperreality” of Lucknow within Karachi. Baudrillard in “Simulacra and Simulation” explains that one lives in a society which represents a simulation of the reality through codes and signs, rather than the reality itself. Everything, from economy to socio-political life are dominated by the simulation, whereby the distinction of the real and the simulation is often lost. In this context, this simulacrum of Lucknow becomes more significant than the “real” city of Lucknow. The reality of Lucknow is, thus, replaced by the refugees’ mnemonic experiences which are simulations of the reality. All the inhabitants exist in a realm where they believe that they have never moved out of Lucknow after Partition. Interestingly, it is through the simulacrum of Lucknow, that the characters reconstruct memory constantly through an act of not forgetting.
The very first line of the text starts with the emphatic announcement—“This is Lucknow”—which frames the spatiality, cartographic and “cognitive mapping6” associated in the determination that within Karachi there lies a Lucknow. The narrator tells us that people in Karachi walk with their “Lucknawi caps titled to one side” (Sleepwalkers p. 12) and the old “chowk7” of Ameenabad in Lucknow is present there in all its glory and chaos. As the narrator states:
They say people come and go, places stay where they are. But, in this case, the mohajirs had transported an entire city within the folds of their hearts. With some came the bricks of their houses, some carried entire homes, intact. Some brought a whole gali, and others transported the bustling main road beyond the gali—whatever they could contain in their hearts! As soon as they recovered their breath after reaching Karachi, the entire city emerged from their hearts, brick by brick.
(Sleepwalkers p. 13)
In fact, Pakistan, for these mohajirs is a distant name of an unknown, othered place; even at night when the sleepwalkers roam the streets of “Lucknow,” they shout slogans and create political rallies for Pakistan, a land which they think has not emerged or even been established. The sleepwalkers harken back to a Lucknow they reminisce through nostalgia that helps them reconceptualize their present. The trope of nostalgia is particularly significant for Partition narratives and plays a significant role in the Partition refugee memoirs and testimonies that have been collected and documented. Historian Subhasri Ghosh, whose work has extensively studied such testimonies, underscores the dual reality of Partition refugees on both sides of the border and explains that memory of the Partition had a double impact on the refugees—trauma of Partition on one hand, and an intense nostalgia of the lost homeland on the other. Ghosh’s study is primarily based on the testimonies of refugees from the eastern borderland between India and Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) and she explains that although there were economic, class and religious factors at stake for the refugees to find a stable home in the new land again, the lack of “psychological assimilation” was key. The refugees were trapped into their “cage of nostalgia” (Ghosh 2013, p. 19). Albeit, the politics of the eastern border between India and Bangladesh is different from that of the western frontier between India and Pakistan, yet the understanding of trauma and nostalgia and how it impacts the refugees is the same. In fact, what Ghosh highlights in her work is the longing of home that becomes a part of the refugee subject’s survival, and yet the nostalgia of the past homeland also leads to a creation of their identities, and marks a distinctiveness from the immediate present of rootlessness. As Ghosh points out, “Thus, they led a dual existence where one part of their being yearned to be a part of the present social fabric while the other part put a check on that desire by constantly engulfing them in the nostalgia of their bhitamati (home and hearth)” (“Representation of Forced Migrants”, (Ghosh 2013, p. 16)).
In another discussion of nostalgia and its varied types, Sventlana Boym in The Future of Nostalgia, explains the genesis of the word nostalgia and states that nostos refers to returning home, and algia—longing for a home that no longer exists (Boym 2001, p. xiii). Boym distinguishes between two kinds of nostalgia in her work—restorative and reflective nostalgia. According to her, restorative nostalgia creates a “transhistorical reconstruction of the lost home,” whereas, “reflective nostalgia thrives in the longing itself” (Boym 2001, p. xviii). Where restorative nostalgia is an attempt to find originary homes, reflective nostalgia “creates ethical and creative challenges” through the longing (Boym 2001, p. xviii). Yet, in Sleepwalkers, one does not find a specific kind of nostalgia; rather, a merging of both kinds constructs this surreal space of Lucknow within Karachi. At first it seems that the sleepwalkers only strive towards a return towards an originary home, yet as the text evolves, one notes a wistful longing that creates an understanding of cultural memory and the trauma of Partition. While part of their nostalgia seems to have a restorative aim to create originary, transhistorical homelands, it is also important to note that their reconceptualization of geographical place and the space also becomes a part of “Karachi”—hence, using Homi Bhaba’s term, a third space is created, where both Karachi and Lucknow are enmeshed together in a liminal zone. Bhabha in The Location of Culture discusses the “interstitial perspectives” of a nation that creates liminal spaces between borders that recreate new political initiatives, identities, and possibilities (Bhabha 1994, p. 148). I extend Bhabha’s idea to analyze this reconfiguring of spaces through nostalgia in the Sleepwalkers to show how the imagined space becomes a third space enabling subversive possibilities against the newly created nation-states.
Wazir Agha in his critique on the also novella notes, the story of Deewane Sahab’s existence in the reconstructed imaginary space of Lucknow, is not one where everything is static in its reproduction of the past through an exercise of memory—“A constant process of creating and destroying” (Agha 1998, p. 125) takes place in the story that shows how the reconceptualization of space undermines the nationalist project of defining space and territory. Agha’s emphasis on the dynamism of the imagined space of Lucknow is also a reminder of how the sleepwalkers create a third space that belies the constricted nationalist spaces of the two-nation theory in post-Partition times. This third space enables a dynamic state where Partition’s onslaught on people and their conflictual belonging is thwarted in a unique way.
In a further discussion on the distinctions of space and place, Donnan and Wilson explain, “Space is conceptualization of the imagined physical relationships which give meaning to society, where things should be in cultural relation to each other” (Donnan and Wilson 2001, p. 9). They note that place is a more geographically bounded construct, which “encompasses both the idea and the actuality of where things are or live” (Donnan and Wilson 2001, p. 9). Henri Lefebvre in his theory of space also observes, “space is the very fabric of social existence, a medium of the woven relationships between subjects, their actions, and their environment” (qtd. in West-Pavlov 2009, p. 19). In the context of Sleepwalkers, Deewane Sahab and other refugees from India, thus carry Lucknow first as a geographically bounded place in the refugees’ imagination but more importantly Lucknow also becomes a fabric of their “social existence” through which they imagine their identity and subjectivity. When migrating from India, Deewane Sahab and others, like his brother-in-law, Hakim Jamaluddin, carry “the plans of the ancestral haveli8 of Malihabad” which enable them to “continue to live in the same haveli as before” (Sleepwalkers p. 29). When Deewane Sahab’s cousin visits him from Lucknow, India, he exclaims in wonder, “I am beginning to feel that the real Lucknow is, in fact, here. And it is not you who have migrated from our place to this, but it’s we who have moved from here to there” (Sleepwalkers p. 18). To which Deewane Sahab emphatically stresses, “we haven’t moved anywhere, Bhai! ... Our Lucknow is the only Lucknow. We don’t recognize any other Lucknow” (Sleepwalkers p. 18). Anusua Basu Raychaudhury also focuses on the function of nostalgia in post-Partition subjects and claims that the spatial significance of the originary homelands loses significance, and what remains is the nostalgia for a home, recreated by memory. She quotes Dipesh Chakrabarty that, “a traumatized memory has a narrative structure which works on a principle opposite to that of any historical narrative” (“Nostalgia of Desh”, (Raychaudhury Basu 2004, p. 5653)). In Paul’s text, the traumatized after-effect of Partition acts against history and creates this replica of home to survive the loss. The nostalgia and yearning of the lost home also form collective memories for the refugees to deny the historical reality of divided lands. While Raychaudhury does not differentiate the varied kinds of nostalgia like Boym, her idea of post-Partition memory and nostalgia is useful here to understand how the refugees create a survival coping mechanism through their memory in a unique fusing of spaces and places.
Similarly, Edward Mallot in the article, “A Land Outside Space” observes that all around Maulvi Sahab “are fellow mohajirs, fellow sleepwalkers, fellow men and women, who at some level deny that they ever left home. Indeed, it may be the case that a certain measure of forgetfulness is the only way to psychologically cope with geographical madness” (Mallot 2007, p. 268). The nostalgia of home leads the refugee subject to defy the state and he/she “explores the bizarre liminal mental zones generated by a discrepancy between known orientations of space and cartographically imposed territoriality” (Mallot 2007, p. 267). The refugee subjects’ recourse to nostalgia and mnemonic space to reconfigure space and time against the state apparatus then leads to a deterritorialization that constructs the city of Lucknow as a “heterotopia”. The concept of deterritorialization, was pioneered by Arjun Appadurai in “Sovereignty without Territoriality: Notes for a Postnational Geography” in which he argues for an alternate spatialization against strict control of statist borders. Appadurai explains that the “principle of sovereign territory” exists as the foundation of nation-states (p. 41). The nostalgic re-conceptualizing of spaces, and even renaming Karachi as Lucknow, then creates a certain de-territorializing that destabilizes the coherence and unity of the nation-state. This deterritorialization of space against statist borders whose menacing presence created havoc in the lives of millions of refugees, thus, creates a unique “counter-site” as opposed to regularized, statist spaces that leads to the creation of a heterotopia within the nation-state.
In his posthumously published essay “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias,” originally published in 1967, Foucault claims that “the anxiety of our era has to do fundamentally with space, no doubt a great deal more than with time” (Foucault 2002, p. 229). In this essay, Foucault shifts his concern towards the centrality of space in the production of meaning and knowledge. According to him, against the utopias and “real” spaces there exists “counter sites” or contested spaces which are “outside of all places” (p. 231). He calls these “counter sites” heterotopias which he classifies in two ways—crisis heterotopias and deviant heterotopias. Here, I briefly explain both kinds to show why the latter kind is relevant for my discussion of Sleepwalkers in constructing a deviant heterotopic space. Crisis heterotopias denote forbidden or sacred spaces or places, which Foucault argues are rapidly disappearing from most cultures, although some are still present. The example of these crisis hetereotopias are menstruating women, pregnant women or the elderly who inhabit this “othered space” (“Of Other Spaces”, (Foucault 2002, p. 232)). The other kind of heterotopia, what Foucault terms “heterotopias of deviation” are spaces where subjects whose “behavior is deviant in relation to the required mean or norm are placed” (p. 232). Foucault gives examples of people in psychiatric hospitals and prisons as inhabiting such deviating heterotopias.
Paul’s novella illustrates how the sleepwalkers of Karachi construct a heterotopia of deviation against the national imaginary of rooted spaces and border control, one that not only deterritorializes space, as explained above, but one that also begins a process of re-territorialization by fusing the signifier and signified of Lucknow within the Karachi culture. The heterotopia that Sleepwalkers presents is one that is a heterochrony, which in Foucault’s vision is a necessary trait for a heterotopia, meaning that it has a break with traditional time. Hence, the sleepwalkers of Karachi create a unique heterotopia that ruptures spatial unity as well as time. In Paul’s story, the sleepwalkers break away from “real”, linear time with their deviant sleepwalking across the streets of Karachi and open a fluidity of time. In one passage the narrator describes such a break from linear time with “apparitions” walking in an active bazaar in the dead of the night:
In the dying hours of the night, when the silent lanes of Ameenabad are lit with the eerie glow of colourful lamps, people lying deep in sleep in the pitch dark of their homes roam about the bustling chowk, as if it were day. In the beginning, Manwa Chowkidar would constantly bang his lathi on the road, wide-eyed with fear and astonishment, as he stared at the dazzle around him … The entire Chowk is deserted; who on Allah’s earth do I keep bumping into, in this dead silence? What was even stranger was that, within a few days, he actually began to see apparitions… He could clearly see all the people who had walked to the Chowk through their sleep.
(Sleepwalkers p. 13)
In such a space that exists beyond the unities and confinements of time and place, Manwa Chowkidar, the city’s night guard, views this heterotopic space from outside and to him the people appear as “apparitions.” As mentioned earlier, the break with normative time is possible through the sleepwalking in the city chowk as if it were day, which usurps the distinction between night and day. Therefore, the sleepwalkers inherently reside in a liminal space that is against the circadian linearity of time. Manwa even exclaims that if these people were roaming about in the city at night, then he might even consider opening his tea-stall business for them at night in the city. Interestingly, enough, Quami Awaaz9, a popular Urdu literary daily noted in its review of Sleepwalkers, “In Khwabrau, not only has Time been confounded, but the Unity of Places too has been undone … Joginder Paul has set the dream so perfectly in reality that one cannot be distinguished from the other …” (Blurb on Sleepwalkers book. (Paul 1998)).
The subjects of this heterotopia, primarily represented by Deewane Maulvi Sahab and his followers, are also caught in a double liminality. As refugees, they are already in a liminal space in-between borders, countries, nationalities. As the narrator in Sleepwalkers exclaims, “The problem that the mohajirs in Karachi face is that they are compelled to be mohajirs in spite of being permanently settled here” (Sleepwalkers p. 20). Thus, they are eternally liminal subjects and their agency to construct their “simultaneous mythic and real contestation of space” through the “heterotopology” also makes them “othered” figures whose human status is negated (“Of Other Spaces”, (Foucault 2002, p. 232)). They are trapped in an in-between space between human and non-human, and remain as apparitions or in a ghost-like state. It is particularly telling that in the history of Partition migration and refugees, the Muslim refugees did not find state security and easy acceptance in the newly created Pakistan and after being disappointed many crossed the borders once again to find their home within Indian territory. Vazira Yaccobali Zamindar especially traces this history of Muslim refugees crossing borders post-Partition in the incisive book The Long Partition and The Making of Modern South Asia, and explains that since the territorial divide in 1947, the state and bureaucratic discourse on refugees met the thousands of Muslim refugees in Pakistan with “ambiguous reception” (Zamindar 2007, p. 86). Quoting a leading editorial named Jang, she notes that the Pakistani state did not “like to see Hindustan’s Muslim muhajirs in Sind” (Zamindar 2007, p. 86).10 This plight or rejection of the Muslim refugees, especially in the province of Sindh11 is a significant underlying subtext to the sleepwalkers story in Karachi and highlights the way in which subversive memory functions against the statist discourse.
If Deewane Sahab’s heterotopia is one which acts as a “counter-site” to the cartographic imagination of nation-states, Karachi itself, as a border city of refugees, becomes a heterotopia, as the old settlers of the city, who are unlike Deewane Sahab and other sleepwalkers, “find some truth in the utterances of the eccentric Deewane Maulvi Sahab” (Sleepwalkers p. 17). The final irony in the text comes from the fact that the entire city of Karachi becomes the city of wandering people who are on the fringes of the city. For instance, Sain Baba, the house cook in Maulvi Sahab’s house, claims that he is also a mohajir (Sleepwalkers p. 73). When pressed further to prove his refugee status by Deewane Sahab’s wife, Achhi Begum, he emphasizes, “nobody in Karachi belongs to Karachi” (Sleepwalkers p. 73). Later, he unravels his past and tells them that he belonged to Sakkhar in Karachi, but wandered along to various places and cooked for an Indian doctor in Hyderabad, Pakistan. Post-Partition he loses his job at the doctor’s home, flees, and wanders across the land of Sindh until he finally returns to Karachi. He declares that he has “no home, no neighborhood, no bonds with the past or the future” and that he is a “real” mohajir (Sleepwalkers p. 75). He finally explains to Achhi Begum, “in truth, we are all mohajirs” (Sleepwalkers p. 75). It is an interesting moment in the text when a refugee identity becomes the pronounced claim over self; more significantly this claiming of the refugee self is noteworthy because, refugees threaten the stability of the order of nation-states; due to their in-between status, neither here nor there, their ability towards constant movement defies the rooted territoriality of the nation-state.
Russell West-Pavlov notes that “heterotopias are thus places of epistemological and representational disorder on the margins of a society’s order of representation” (West-Pavlov 2009, p. 137)—they illuminate a moment of rupture where the hegemonic epistemological categories become elusive and such spaces defy normative classifications. Yet, it is important to note here that Paul’s portrayal of the post-Partition heterotopia through a deviant mnemonic use is not just a chaotic space with “disorder.” Foucault certainly does not generalize and construct a theory of essentialized heterotopias, rather he explains that heterotopias in different contexts and histories function differently. Thus, here the heterotopia of “Lucknow” constructed by memory is not apolitical or disorderly. Edward Said, in an essay titled “Invention, Memory and Place” also argues that the invention of a certain memory is not devoid of politics. According to Said, “the representations of memory” enable us to understand the questions of power and authority, and is “far from a neutral exercise” (Said 2000, p. 176). Said’s argument is focused on the construction and “invention” of Israel as a space and “home” for Jewish people, which to him negates the possibility of discussion of the Palestinian dispossession. However, I use his idea about memory and its political stance in its nuanced way for the purview of my argument about mnemonic space used by refugee subjects to transcend the territorial onslaught of Partition. If the representations of memory help us to engage with the idea of power and authority, the refugee’s mnemonic codes become a subversive political act to construct an alternative imaginary against the nation-state. Of course, it may be argued that against such a construction of imagined “dream” space where the refugee subjects continue to remain is a dubious one. In “reality” they did move from Lucknow to Pakistan, and continue to reproduce the mores and ethos of Lucknow in Karachi, “believing” that they reside in India. However, for these people Pakistan is a distant reality where they have never been. Thus, in a way, the actual territorial sovereignty of the post-partitioned nation-state is given a lie in the imagined space they create.
Said also stresses that “geography can be manipulated, invented, characterized quite apart from a site’s merely physical reality” (Said 2000, p. 180). This is what Sleepwalkers illustrates, that a physical entity of the place of Pakistan, which is also an “imagined” space created for the Muslims, is ‘manipulated’ when Karachi is re-invented through a simulacrum of Lucknow. As aforementioned, it may be argued that this imagined space that poses a heterotopic existence against the national hegemony is a yearning for the originary culture of the grandeur of Lucknow. Yet, this heterotopia is not one that is unchanging. As mentioned earlier, Wazir Agha claims that Khwabrau is not a fiction about stasis (Agha 1998, p. 125). Agha explains that the migrants from Lucknow carried with them the “entire tree of the culture of Lucknow which they entrusted to the new land” (p. 121); but this tree draws its sustenance from the new soil of Karachi and gradually the mohajir culture merges and fuses with the local culture of the Sindhis12 and establishes itself (Agha 1998, p. 121). Thus, even this alternative imagined space, initiated by nostalgic yearning, comprises a constantly shifting, fluid space and recreating. A further example is demonstrated by the character Ishaq Mirza who cannot “tolerate” his father’s chaste, lofty Urdu dialect but finds comfort and familiarity in talking to his Punjabi neighbor, Babu Fakir Mohammed, a local native of Karachi, whose speech for Ishaq is like “speaking in my own tongue” (Sleepwalkers p. 89). The question of language purity keeps recurring in the text, especially with Deewane Sahab’s continuous efforts to retain the grandeur of ancient Urdu of Lucknow against his son’s desire to “corrupt [his] tongue” (Sleepwalkers p. 27). In addition, through this, a mixed hybrid culture appears that has the Urdu and Sindhi13 adopted in it and reshapes the “real” Lucknow into a site, which is also recreated and not stagnant.
Ishaq Mirza, who never believes in the concocted imagined space of Lucknow and criticizes the sleepwalkers, questioning how long the nostalgia for India would continue for people who had migrated to Pakistan years ago, admits to his cousin Hasim in a letter that he considers his father’s insanity “a blessing.” He concludes while considering the politically strained relationships and controlled borders between India and Pakistan—“There is but one Lucknow in the whole world and that Lucknow is here in Karachi … Wait a minute, Hasim, I am overcome…” (italics mine Sleepwalkers p. 86). It is particularly interesting that Ishaq leaves the last comment unfinished, which possibly reflects his swaying to his father’s side and his acceptance of the “third space” finally, after realizing how crossing over the territorial borders or meeting people between the two nations is almost impossible without getting staunch government attention and vigilance. His last utterance also marks his surprise that even he is finally “overcome” like the sleepwalkers of Karachi. Elsewhere, the narrator reveals that Ishaq would rather “inject a dose of madness” into all mohajirs who possess the yearning for a lost “home” (Sleepwalkers p. 86). He concludes that “insane people are so pure, so innocent and carefree that even the harshest governments would feel ashamed once it looks into their eyes” (Sleepwalkers p. 86). Ishaq’s ultimate move to the other side in becoming a member of this heterotopia happens in his realization that the group of “insane” people were the ones who had actually “liberated” themselves from the constant “official doubts and queries” regarding the refugee status, and had defied the government by constructing this space where they were at home, against any territorial limits.
At one level it may seem slightly problematic to expect that simply “forgetting” or a reinvention of mnemonic codes to recast space and place can belie national and international borders and the power they transmit. Yet, read in Foucauldian vision of a heterotopia, what I have argued is that within this imagined mnemonic construct, the “cognitive mapping” of the liminal refugee subjects “becomes a metaphor for the processes of political unconscious” (Preface, MacCabe 1995, p. xivf) to move beyond cartographic domination towards a re-envisioning of space. The sleepwalkers choose not to forget pre-partitioned Lucknow and it is significant to distinguish the political, affective act of choosing not to forget from the act of remembrance. Ontologically, the structures of both coalesce and performatively critique the present, but not forgetting becomes a stronger refutation of the normative reality, whereas remembrance of the pre-Partition time denotes nostalgia and some form of acceptance of the present. Therefore, in choosing not to forget the sleepwalkers transcend the hegemonic reality of Partition. Such moments of alterity presented by the refugees to enact a counter space of Lucknow then leads to the delineation of a new political practice built on their agency and collective solidarity.
Salman Rushdie, in an essay on the resurgence of religious discourse in the narrativity of nations, explains that the modern concept of time is one that “moves forward”. “It is a ‘homogenous empty time,’ in Benjamin’s phrase” (“In God We Trust”, Rushdie 1991, p. 382). Rushdie quotes Benedict Anderson on his concept of the “imagined community”—“The idea of a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogenous, empty time is a precise analogue of the idea of the nation” (Anderson qtd by Rushdie 1991, p. 382). This is especially important since this linearity of time as moving forward shapes the construction of nation, and it is this calendar-bound forward-moving time that is disrupted and rejected by Sleepwalkers by invalidating the time-space unity of the progressive idea of a nation. Thus, founded by Deewane Sahab, and accepted in full cognizance by the other characters in the text, Paul presents the idea of “imaginary homelands” in Sleepwalkers where the residents of “Lucknow” reside in the Lucknow of their imaginations and, yet, they are not locked in stasis.14 Their notion of time in the paradigm of the nation’s time has diverted from the unity of linear time to a ruptured time that opens up a different temporality, which necessitates that the wholeness of the “imagined” physical space of a nation be questioned. Through the reconceived space of “Lucknow” in Karachi, the arbitrary borders that constrict or forcibly transform the imagination of the nation are not only questioned, but as Edward Casey states, the idea of imagined space enacts a new “placefulness” [that is] “no longer beholden to physical space but starts acting on its own quasi-autonomous psychical terms” (Casey 1997, p. 309).
Interestingly, Deewane Sahab’s psychical heterotopia does not end even when the bombing due to the political conflict between local natives and refugees destroys his mansion Nawab Mahal. After losing his wife, elder son, Nawab, and daughter-in-law in the bombing, he is shaken out of the idea that this is “Lucknow” and realizes that he, in fact, exists in Karachi. Yet, as the house is destroyed, he starts waiting for the time when he would leave Karachi and return ‘home’ to Lucknow. Deewane Sahab refuses to accept the truth and this refusal becomes a reminder that the refugee subjects continue to live against the reality of political strife between India and Pakistan, the civil war between locals and refugees in Pakistan, in their heterotopic existences that defy the national narrative.
The notion of a heterotopia is very unsettling for cartographers because of the complexity in denoting a subject’s identity living in a heterotopia. Imperialistic cartography, especially in the context of Partition, attempts to carve out homogenous lines of given spaces, here with religious and communal basis that marks the subjectivity of people in that space. However, that notion of cartographic containment does not exist in a heterotopia. Lucknow as the heterotopia in Karachi is potentially extremely unsettling since the identities of the subjects living in such heterotopias are always shifting. Deewane Sahab may support the clamor for Pakistan in his nocturnal sleepwalking at Karachi’s city chowk, but he is also the “Hindustani15” from Lucknow. Such subjects living within the heterotopic space constantly reinvent the city and their identities. Read in the context of a heterotopia, this essay has focused on an imagined construct which becomes representational of the resistance to move beyond statist reality towards a re-envisioning of space. The heterotopic space in Sleepwalkers shows the constrictions of space and place and enables ways of negotiating memory and nostalgia that can re-imagine space and illustrate different ways and modalities of being.


This research received no external funding. Part of this article belongs to Ghosh’s doctoral dissertation titled, “Towards Alternate Imaginaries: Rethinking the Nation-State in Partition Texts” (2011) at Drew University, USA, in which she writes about Sleepwalkers. This article is a much longer and modified version of that.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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  • Almost all Joginder Paul’s works are with the Library of Congress in USA.
  • Urdu word for refugees.
  • Lucknow is a significant northern city of India, populated by Urdu speaking Muslims. Lucknow has been historically associated with the grandeur of Muslim culture, linguistic superiority, and tradition.
  • Uttar Pradesh is a state in Northern India.
  • Paul’s essay “On Writing Sleepwalkers” provides the context and backdrop of this novella and explains that it was based on his observations in one of his visits to Karachi which reminded him of Lucknow and Uttar Pradesh in India (p. 113).
  • Phrase coined by Frederic Jameson which refers to the process by which a subject represents the larger ideological totality.
  • Chowk means city center in Urdu.
  • Haveli is Urdu word for house, usually mansion.
  • In Urdu—Community Voice.
  • Muhajir (same as Mohajir) is an Urdu word meaning refugee.
  • Karachi is the capital of the province of Sindh in Pakistan.
  • The Sindhi community is predominant in Karachi, speaking a different language (Sindhi).
  • One of the many languages spoken in Pakistan (and India), mainly by the Sindhi community, apart from Urdu.
  • Rushdie in his famous essay titled, “Imaginary Homelands” discusses the idea of exiled and migrant writers who construct and yearn for the idea of home that is locked in their memories and is unchanging.
  • Meaning Indian.

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