“It is like wanting to visit Nana Nani and hug them, and listen to the rest of their story,” writes Kaveri Gopakumar.
In recent times, I’ve not read a book that has kept me so glued to my couch, feeling for every character. ‘Remnants of a separation’ by Aanchal Malhotra is a book one must read to explore the beautiful side of storytelling through material memory. It chronicles the story of partition through objects that people carried across the border. And weaved along these, is a whole world of memories – sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, but pure and honest.
The book is filled with personal accounts of refugees who had hope and faith about their return and unconditional love for their motherland. The Lahore that still stays on in their hearts, that they still consider a part of their country. The language Urdu they still hold so dear. The people, relationships, and memories of an undivided India. What is striking is that they still don’t despise people of other communities, since they believed it was the mahaul in which even friends became enemies, army men fought their own men, and their own mohalle wale looted them.
Aanchal’s storytelling brings along, mixed emotions in the characters. At times when Aanchal mentions the lump in her throat as she took those interviews, I felt the same lump as a reader, with the background sound of a nearby mosque in my locality, only to be startled by the shouts of street hawkers passing by. A plural India I believe in was once so vulnerable and different from what I thought it would be. What makes the read even more interesting is the language influence with different communities, new words creep into your vocabulary, and stays there, even after you’ve finished reading the book.
Even though the book is about the material objects that Hindus, Muslims, Sindhis and others carried during the partition, it is also dipped in rich, factual, real accounts and memories of a part of history that some find difficult to recollect. Memories that they cannot part with, the batwara they can’t seem to come to terms with even today. What’s interesting to note in this book is the fact that it tells you the alter side of harmony between different communities, and almost all the people interviewed including an army man believes that they were just doing their duty, it isn’t that they believed they would ever see such misery unfold right in front of their eyes.
The different incidents and memories of these warriors who survived the partition, like witnessing people hacked to death, being part of the freedom movement, and working for different groups helps draw upon the strength the generation that brought us freedom. Almost all agree that the cost of freedom was too difficult to bear, but that was the only choice they had.
After keeping the book down, I can still smell the stench of blood, can still feel the sense of hopelessness, but eventually see the endless faith in the eyes of those who believed they would return. It’s like wanting to visit Nana Nani and hug them, and listen to the rest of their story. There’s so much about the partition that cannot be put in one single book, but kudos to Aanchal for touching many aspects of it, with such precision. The art historian and scholar has done absolute justice with the right interviews, people from different backgrounds, Adding to it, her knowledge in the subject and craft with words only makes it a really beautiful read. What began as a personal project with few details here and there from her family, is now a keepsake for all Indians, to remember and never forget the partition that created India and Pakistan.
Kaveri Gopakumar lives in Bengaluru. She has written for magazines like Grihalakshmi (Malayalam) and has a book of fiction published, titled ‘Men of a kind’. She loves writing poems whenever she gets the time.