Dr. Chitra.V. S

Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, Mahatma Gandhi College (University of Kerala)
([email protected])


Literature offers a fertile soil for depicting the feelings of displacementgenerating psychological aberrations of trauma. Inthis sense, the term trauma of displacement offers a new perspective. Undoubtedly, the imprints of trauma in the displaced is irrevocable and creates a condition in an individual in which one has to accept and learn to live with the fluidity of identities with their emotional tortures and cultural shocks. The perpetual impression of political and social oppression instigating psychological trauma on the lives of the writers and characters ensues as the nostalgia giving vent to a strong creative impulse evident through the analysis of Herta Muller’s The Passport and Temsula Ao’s These Hills Called Home: Stories from a War Zone.Discussions on the displacement and its consequent trauma in two different contexts can lead to discourses on specific characteristics of trauma. Traumatic experiences are stabs on the mind that harm the internal as well as the external co-ordination of a human being. TheAmerican Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s normal life.In these two novels under discussion,memory provides an immaculate intending to the traumatic experiences caused by displacement.

Keywords : Displaced, Psychological trauma, Identity, Oppression, Memory.

The concept of displacement has never been extraneous to any of the literatures across the globe. In a wider context, displacement may be a quintessential, claiming that nearly all creatures are displaced beings. The inquiry of first possible displacement results in the departurefrom the paradise of the mothers’ womb, the safest place imaginable. The security offered by the mother’s womb or its role in shaping the identity acts as a source to spot the agonies of displacement. Displacement and its associating issues have offered a good scope to trauma studies.

Displacement, essentially results in far reaching consequences such as loosing contact with people, culture, landscapes, and language or the so-called native place. It is nothing but a standard logic that the nostalgic remembrance of motherland juxtaposes itself with a sort of inevitability of settlement in new land. This article encompasses anastute explanation of the concept of displacement as a sense of dislocation within the self, regardless of the contexts in which they occur-European or Indian. Here, the trauma of displacement has been studied mainly from three levels.Firstly, the writers chosen for this study are women writers or could better be rephrased as women narratives of displacement. Theconditions of Central-Eastern Europe and North East India seems comparable with reference to displacement. Another level ofcomparison is the past or post war situations in connection with the trauma and identity displacement within the countries where abusive regimes destroyed social bonds and had an enduringimpact on the people lives. This perpetual impression of political and social events instigating psychological trauma on the lives of the writers adds to the rationale of the study. The analysis is carried out on the hypothetical assumption that the imprints of trauma on the ‘self’ of the writer results in an ingenious impulse, ensuing in a realistic portrayal of this emotional extremities in their characters. The extent ofsuffering and the resultant trauma remains alike for all women across the world. They are seen to be doubly victimised in both societies and such trauma narratives are often perceived as their attempts to voice the unspeakable.

The concept of “home” is apparently seen as incongruent to the term “unhomely”, a key concept relating to displacement and referring to the estranging sense of the relocation of the home in an unhallowed place(Bhabha 141).  Writers as well as critics refer to scores of social, political, economic, cultural and ideological issues involved in making “home” quite “unsafe” to sustain life peacefully. Coming into close contact with these developments, the use of the term “unhomely”, does not mean “homelessness” (Bhabha 141-142). Same home becomes the most sought-after place for people living overseas or in diasporic set up. They prefer having home to assert their identity and the sense of belongingness or rootedness. Any prospect of losing one’s home in this context results in restlessness and much complexity. Critics like Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jacqueline Bhabha, Saskia Sassen, among others, have taken to post colonialism in terms of globalization and the transnational circuits of economic and political displacements. Discourse on “home” bears new color and dimension in accordance with the fast-changing social, cultural and political milieu, highlighting insurgency, ethnicity, violence, illegal migration, governance deficit, underdevelopment and unrest as some of the key areas.

Although there are immense illustrations of literary narratives initiated by politically and sociallyignited displacement and its consequent trauma, thisarticle focusses on two works- The Passport by Herta Muller, the German-Romanian writer from the East Central European context and These Hills Called Home: Stories from a war zone by Temsula Ao, a writer from North Eastern part of India.Violation of rights owing to thestrategy of authority forms a rampant featurein the society making home a problematic part, accentuates the rage of the common masses and makes them at ease with militant outfits instead of coming for the help of the security forces to eradicate anti nationalist and disquieting elements.

Trauma mayresult from one distressing experience or recurring events of being overwhelmed which will be precipitated in weeks, years, or maybe decades because the person struggles to deal with the immediate circumstances, eventuallyresultingin serious, long-term negative consequences. This is reinforced through experiences like man-made, technological and natural disasters, including war, abuse or violence and differs from individual to individual. Moreover, the sudden impulses of trauma induced stress alwaysgerminate future bearings on the individual. Traumatization, as Van der Kolkmentioned “occurs when both internal and external resources are inadequate to deal with external threat” (393). Unswervingly Cathy Caruth defines trauma as “an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events during which the response to the event occurs within the often delayed, uncontrolled, repetitive appearance of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomenon” (Unclaimed 11).Comparison of the conditions existing in East Central Europe and North East of India reveals that the political conditions within the respective countries instigates displacement or dislocation from their native place inflicts unresolvable wounds within the minds of the victims, oftenidentified as psychological trauma. Theattitude reflected by the women writers selected for study is crucial as women are doubly victimised and traumatised in such political situations and in a patriarchal society.

Primarily, the life and narratives of women writers instigated by the political conditions are considered. These writers incorporate alongside the political unrest the intimations of history and culture of the state – issues that have held the state together despite such vehement sorts of violence within the post-war years. Herta Müller, a representative of East Bloc German writers, demands attention through her works depicting a realistic picture of the oppressive life under the totalitarian regime. Compatible to this,are the circumstances inspiring the writings of North East India. Müller’s The Passport recounts the socio-political oppressions imposed by the totalitarian regime on the private life and professional life of the intellectuals and individuals which is assumed to have hastened the trauma.The gradual deterioration of ethnic Germans into a displaced minority sums up the central vein of Muller’s novels. The stories from the book These Hills Called Homenarrates North East India as neighbourhood that has been inflicted in wounds for many years. This collection of Ao’s stories throws light on the importance of peace and cultural values and movingly depict the agonies of the Naga society within the fifties and sixties of the last century, caught between the stubborn militancy and therefore the repressive Indian State forces. But insurgency and Nagaland are quite synonymous sometimes in reading the state’s history. The narratives recount the trauma faced by the Nagas within the hands of the Indian soldiers. It also highlights the universality of the topic of women’s suffering in times of conflict in several parts of the globe. Psychic numbing or behavioural or memory disorders resulting from ‘shell shock’ syndrome symptomized by memory loss, physical tension, uncontrollable emotions, and numbness encouraged psychologists to probe deep into the forfeits of trauma on memory. The Passport and These Hills Called Home: Stories from a War Zone prove as illustrations of this process.

Secondly, consequences of the trauma of displacement in the post-war years and repressions of state’s regime on the memory of the characters are analysed. In The Passport, memory of victims is exemplified through certain images, events and memories. Some of them being the war memorial, the pot hole, the tear glass, the juxtaposed images of Windisch and also the watcher alongside the disbelief in women’s fidelity and also the strained relationship of Windisch and his wife. The Passport could be a completely unique in that most of the present events are visualized regarding incidents that happened earlier in time and different in space. Memory of the past shadows all happenings of present. Windisch, the village Miller, is seen as the utmost victim of trauma. The image of Windisch counting “two years by the war memorial” reveals that even after two years the remnants of the war torments remain unhealed (Muller 7). The pot hole by the poplar could also be a reminder that “the end is here” and perhaps “the tip” refers to the pinnacles of his traumatic life which he imagines to end alongside his emigration to the West (Muller 7).

The picture of displacement and its resultant trauma women feels is clear from the eloquence of Windisch regarding his wife’s fidelity and her way of life during the war. The rift in Windisch’s life together with his wife is an after-effect of the traumatic incident that happened even before the very beginning of their married life. Windisch’s remark that “whoring is healthier” is an outcome of his trauma (Muller 74). His fear of his daughter’s sexual subjugation and its practical value over procuring the passports discloses the role played by heart in igniting the sparks of the past and its correlation to present. Trauma gradually advances to the sensation of being dispossessed.

Another resonance of trauma within the novel is when the narrative moves between past memories and present experiences. The political conditions and its impacts too build up extreme states within the psyche. The image of trauma inhabiting its victims without which they feel alienated and empty is evoked by the loneliness suffered by the Sacristan after the burning down of the fruit tree which ate its own fruits: “he felt all the loneliness of the years. His life was transparent. Empty” (Muller 32). The narrative depicts a real trauma of psycho-social burden of totalitarianism, infesting the Romanians as an inescapable condition of life.

In These Hills, Ao portray the human suffering in Nagaland shocked by the brutal soldiers and militancy. She writes about quest of Nagas for separate political status and the way the villagers survive in such a conflict prone area. The agony of suffering resulting from the crisis of politics and identity within the region has been engraved in her mind for years. Memory acts as a catalyst in recreating the realities of Nagas at the time of insurgency into her canvas of creativity. This book is a collection of ten short stories, among which three stories are illustrations of trauma. Within the story the ‘Last Song’, the girl Apenyo, who appears to possess an unprecedented ability for singing, watches her mother weaving colourful shawls which can be sold within the market to bring extra income. The line of the story is viewed as preparative of trauma: “It seemed the tiny girl was born to sing….” what the mother considered unreasonable behaviour during a toddler barely a year old, was actually the first indication of the singing genius that “she had born to” (Ao 23).The insurgency grabbing the villagers is well-pictured:

The govt chose to catch the people for anti-national activities on the festival day of church and capture all of the leaders. The mother and therefore the daughter experienced sudden conduct. soldiers were making trouble. There was chaos everywhere. Villagers trying to escape the scene were either shot at or kicked and clubbed by the soldiers who appeared to be everywhere (Ao 28).

Finally, the tragedy ofApenyo and her mother assaulted and slaughtered by the Indian Military forces along with the fact that both the mother and daughter lost their honour and lifeis revealed.

Satemba’s tale titled The Curfew Mansketches him as “a government informant and spy on his fellow Nagas during the hours of curfew” (Longkumer 121). Aofeatures the life of innocent villagers who are captive in their own village. “Satemba was a constable of Assam police” (Devi 919).But after he left the work because of broken knee, he became “an informer of the military but couldn’t find peace” (Longkumer118). The chance of encounter with a stranger further strengthened his mental agony. The protagonist was caught between two forces: “the underground forces and soldiers and was searching his identity within the midst of violence” (Ao 34-43). The strain of survival for the young male Nagas in their own villages leads to impending trauma.

An Old Man Remembers tells the story ofsoldiers Shashi and Imli. Their life was painful, pathetic and heart-touching. The bitterness of memory of the lifetime in jungle haunted their mind most the time (Devi 919).  The terrific life of the jungle is vividly drawn in the story as: “By the time when we reached the forest, away from the mayhem in the village, it was already dark. We were hungry, we were cold, but most of all were terrified, not knowing where we were heading. The eerie jungle sounds were starting to grow in volume, which only added to our fear.” (Ao 99) It is evident in their conversation as: “soldiers we were made into and that’s what we resolved to stay.” (Ao 101) As an underground army, they also committed brutal crimes and felt desperate trying to escape from the jungle life, they were shocked as their village was totally shattered. Therefore, the story narrates the conflicting situation and  the desecration of the region during the times of struggle between the Naga underground and military.

Finally, the focus is on the impact of the prevailing conditions in the life of the writers themselves. Muller’s writings are evidently autobiographical in nature. Muller’s way of writing life into literature – the oppressions of totalitarian regime she suffered in different stages of her life, marks the uniqueness of her works. A cursory scrutiny of Ao’s writings produced in the North-East region displays the fascination for violence, mostly emanating from the problems of insurgency and extremism. Temsula Ao has curved a niche in the annals of North-East writing keeping in pace with the central issues in the region. In an interview titled “The North-eastern identity is a Misnomer”, when asked whether “writers live twice, once through the actual experience and then again processing it for writing”Ao responded:

…the writers’ perceptions differ about important issues affecting the general population but writing does not mean any processing of actual experiences as such. At best, indelible real-life experiences may provide the writer the incentive or a trigger to weave a narrative for a poem or a novel. As for living twice, the definition will be as varied as there are writers.(Joseph 3)

Concludingly, the two literary works under analysis substantiate the trauma of displacement triggered by memory mainly through the events relating to the political situations narrated as part of the life of the characters. The wounded souls of displacement, that these writers are, equip them with the strength of unique creativity sparkling in their life, characters and writings. The women characters portrayed in the works suffer the trauma of displacement doubly as they are victims of such situations directly or indirectly. Both Herta Muller and Temsula Ao have suffered the oppressions imposed by the power of the state. A common thread that binds all the stories are the common people who are often the worst victims of wars and civil strife. Thus, both works discuss the traumatic experience of displacement uniquely transferred from former generations to the latter who lacked a first-hand experience of the regimes feeling displaced in their own homelands.

References :

Ao, Temsula. These Hills Called Home: Stories from a war zone. Penguin Books, 2006.

Bhabha, Homi. “The World and the Home.” Social Text, no.31/32, 1992, pp. 141–153. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/466222.

Caruth, Cathy. Editor. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.

Devi, Khumanthem Gunibala; Laishram, Sangeeta. “Narrative of Political Violence and

Social Realities: A Study of Temsula Ao’s These Hills Called Home: Stories from a War

Zone”. International Journal of Advanced Research, Vol.4, No.9, 2016, pp.917-920.

Joseph, Joshy. “The North-eastern identity is a Misnomer”. Dawn,28 Oct. 2015, A3. www.dawn.com/news/12157.Accessed 15 Aug. 2020.

Herta Muller. The Passport. Translated by Martin Chalmers. Serpent’s Tail, 1989.

Longkumer, WatitulaI. “Reading Terror in Literature: Exploring Insurgency in Nagaland through Temsula Ao’s These Hills Called Home: Stories from a War Zone”.

Sanglap Journal, Vol.1, No.1,2014, pp.115-128.

“Trauma Symptoms, Causes and Effects”. PsychGuides.com.2020.www.PsychGuides.com.   /trauma/Accessed 27July 2020.

Van der Kolk, B. A. “The compulsion to Repeat the Trauma: Re-enactment; Revictimization;

and Masochism. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Vol. 12, 1989, pp.389-411.

About Drishti: the Sight

Drishti:the Sight is a National refereed Bi-annual Research Journal in the disciplines of Arts and Humanities founded in the year 2012 publishing articles in the subjects of English Literature, Assamese Literature, Folklore, Culture.The journal has been enlisted in the UGC-CARE list (Sr.No. 42) in Arts and Humanities section.The journal is dedicated to the cause of young upcoming scholars of the nation.The journal publishes only authentic research articles. It tries to follow the research ethics to the core.