Rustling Shadows: Plants as Markers of Historical Violence and Diasporic Identity in Badami’s Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?


  • Emma Lansdowne McMaster University


This paper explores the role of plants as indicators of violence and evocations of diasporic identity in Anita Rau Badami’s Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? The novel gives voice to three female protagonists who spend their lifetimes constructing and negotiating identities shaped by the legacies of multigenerational and cultural traumas. Set against the violent political and sociocultural upheavals of Partition and post-Partition Punjab and its translation to Indian diasporic communities in Canada, the protagonists’ paths of negotiation zigzag through past, present, and future landscapes dotted with plants whose sound, scent, and visual appearance carry the weight of closely held memories. It is within the women’s shifting conceptions of home that they seek expression of their inner and outer selves while they cope with the challenges of a liminal existence. Plants play a key role in metaphorically and materially contextualizing home in its various iterations, speaking to the power, complexity, and consequences of sensate memory and the struggle for belonging.