Poet, philosopher and Rochester-based activist Reilly Hirst pens a review of A Thin Wall:
A Thin Wall is a lush and important documentary. Deftly and tenderly handled, it is a compelling, beautiful, textured exploration of the legacy, consequences and residual grief from the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan that led to one million deaths and displacement of millions of inhabitants. As I am someone seemingly not directly impacted by this story, it was illuminating. As Arundhati Roy has so powerfully reminded us: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Mara Ahmed not only found the voices of those willing to speak of the continued pain of a separated region, but those who lived through the separation. The personal accounts from Pakistanis and Indians humanize the continuing cost of this “parting” colonial act.
Captured before this first hand witnessing could be lost, these people speak courageously of friends lost in childhood, the respect and interpenetration of the Islamic and Hindi religions in daily life prior to the divide, the change of home and lifestyle, the deaths or near death of those moved. Subsequent generations also live with this inheritance of what could have been and what is because of the separation and recount the impact. These words are more profoundly experienced by Ahmed’s adroit use of the illustrations, colors, textiles and sounds of the regions. Her artistic hand shows even in the choice of location for the interviews.
Ahmed also gives voice to those expatriates who too are impacted by this tearing asunder of the communities, even while no longer living in proximity. In nationalist fortified Pakistan and India it is harder to speak of the pain of dreaming for a once again united country. Some of the loudest voices for reunification are those no longer situated in the armed camps of the nation states.
While watching this film, my experience was that every question that arose for me was addressed during the course of the film. This is a challenging, engaging and important work. Truly, it is one of the best documentaries I have seen and should be required viewing when speaking of the effects of colonialism, investigating the power of the documentary, for those interested in the history of the partition specifically, or really for anyone.