Trans*versality, a hijra politics of knowledge, and Partition postmemory in Khushwant Singh’s Delhi: A Novel

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In contrast with Train to Pakistan (1956), Khushwant Singh’s Delhi: A Novel (1990) has not received critical attention in light of India and Pakistan’s Partition. The diegetic narrator, a middle-aged Sikh writer, and his long-term intersex lover, the hijra Bhagmati, constitute the text’s main focalizers in contemporary Delhi. Bhagmati is constructed as a metonym for Delhi, a bold trans*versal choice on Singh’s part given her marginal social position as a religiously syncretic hijra. In Singh’s novel, the Sikh narrator and his hijra lover become the witnesses of India’s modern history, with the narrative building up to the watershed moment that is the Partition. This article proposes that Bhagmati offers an inclusive vision of post-Partition Delhi that is mordantly steeped in a “hijra politics of knowledge” (Lal, 1999). While the novel seemingly suppresses the trauma of the Partition throughout most of the narrative, this article argues that its compressed depiction in one single short chapter, and its later revisitation on the Sikh community after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, demonstrates the traumatic and cyclical nature of Partition violence and the novel’s belated position as a form of Partition postmemory. It is also proposed that the choice of the Sikh narrator and Bhagmati as the focalizers for contemporary Delhi acts as a dissident antidote to the predominant binary focus on Hindus and Muslims, offering a trans*versal version of recent Indian history challenging majoritarian and minor-majoritarian identity politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)532-543
Number of pages12
JournalThe Journal of Commonwealth Literature
Issue number3
Early online date5 Sept 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Sept 2022


  • Literature and Literary Theory

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