Seventy Years have Passed since the Partition and a momentous event now recedes in memory. Generations have grown up outside the shadow of the communal killings and mass displacement that shaped the contemporary history of the subcontinent.
Despite being born into a family affected by the Divide, artist and oral historian Aanchal Malhotra too had thought little about the Partition – until she encountered objects that had once belonged to her ancestors in an Undivided India. A gaz, a ghara, a maang-tikka, a pocketknife, a peacock-shaped bracelet and a set of kitchen utensils: these were what accompanied her great-grandparents as they fled their homes and through them she learnt of their migration and life before the Divide. This led her to search for the belongings of other migrants to discover the stories hidden in them.
Remnants of a Separation is a unique attempt to revisit the Partition through such objects carried across the border. These objects absorbed the memory of a time and place, remaining latent and undisturbed for generations. They now speak of their owners’ pasts and emerge as testaments to the struggle, sacrifice, pain and belonging at an unparalleled moment in history.
A string of pearls gifted by a maharaja, carried from Dalhousie to Lahore, reveals the grandeur of a life that once was. A notebook of poems, brought from Lahore to Kalyan, shows one woman’s determination to pursue the written word despite the turmoil around her. A refugee certificate created in Calcutta evokes in a daughter the feelings of displacement her father had experienced on leaving Mymensingh, now in Bangladesh.
Written as a crossover between history and anthropology, Remnants of a Separation tells stories from both sides of the border and is the product of years of painstaking and passionate research. It pieces together an alternative history of the Partition – the first and only one told through material memory that makes the event tangible even seven decades later, lest we forget.