Seemingly everyday objects from the era of Partition are set to come to life with stories and experiences this August.
In all of history’s complexities, more often than not, it’s the bigger story that is remembered. But what happens to the smaller narratives, the stories and the experiences that fuse together to form the larger event?
With the 71st Independence Day just around the corner, Godrej India Culture Lab is trying to address the intricacies and the aftermath of the Partition that accompanied it. “I’m very interested in micro histories,” explains lab head Parmesh Shahani. “They’re the stories of ordinary people. For all those who think the Partition mattered only 70 years ago, we still live with the legacy of it. Whether it’s how we remember the past, the tensions, and the peace efforts between neighbouring countries.”
To that effect, the lab is set to hold an exhibit called Museum of Memories: Remembering Partition, in the city. The highlight of the exhibit is set to be Partition objects from the Partition Museum in Amritsar that have been curated by Mallika Ahluwalia. And interestingly, the exhibit has thrown open its doors for participants to send in their family heirlooms associated with the Partition. Anything from pictures to utensils and letters to jewellery can be a part of the exhibit, as long as they have a story to tell.
Quiz Parmesh on how they aim to look for history in a seemingly normal object, and he quickly says, “But that’s the beauty, no? That’s how we all remember in our lives; that’s how we look at our own past. We find an old fountain pen that belongs to our grandfather and immediately we remember stories. We listen to a song on the radio and you feel the love that you lost. Things remind us of the past and we remember through objects. And we really wanted it to be a visceral experience where we can collectively remember through ‘ordinary’ things.”
Some of the objects the lab received have small but life-changing stories associated with them. “There are little urns that someone had sent,” smiles Parmesh. “They said that their grandparents brought it from Pakistan, and put gold in the bottom. They then covered it with ordinary things so people wouldn’t suspect anything.”
A phulkari shawl from the Partition Museum is another object of this sort. “It belonged to a woman who was being forced by her family to jump in a well to save her honour. And then a random stranger from a different village dissuaded her, and said he would save her life. Many years later, her grandchildren said that she had worn that shawl, and were grateful to the stranger who saved her,” Parmesh warmly recounts.
Besides the objects, the exhibit will also have multimedia experiences, which includes movies and oral history recounting. “As we started curating, we explored this topic wider and wider, and we realised how many people in the world were working on the Partition. We found archives like 1947 Partition Archives, based out of America, but is doing amazing oral history of Partition survivors,” says Parmesh, adding that Kavita Dahiya and Aanchal Mahotra, who’ve worked on Partition through the lens of women and objects are also to be a part of the three-day event. There’s also set to be seven fashion designers who will interpret the Partition through the garments.
Parmesh, on his part believes the stories told will have an enriching effect on all those who visit. “It’s going to be a moving experience. We just want people to understand the past in all its complications. There have been horrible things that happened, and of course we will address them, but there are also these random acts of kindness that show there is hope,” he signs off.
Museum of Memories: Remembering Partition will be held on August 4, 5, and 6 at Godrej One, Pirojshanagar, Vikhroli (E)