While most girls of her privileged background are obsessed with bar-coded clothes and pub parties, Aanchal Malhotra, 20, finds joy in simpler pursuits, such as blowing soap bubbles. “There are so many beautiful things that we take for granted,” she says while walking down Daryaganj’s Sunday Book Bazaar, clicking candid shots of people.
Photography is her passion. “Through my camera I explore why people meet, how emotional connections are made and why relationships change.” Focusing the lens towards me, she points to the wet sky, “Can you smell the earth? People don’t think about it. They worry about ‘I’ve to go there, here and where’s the driver.”
Brought up in Safdarjang Enclave, a South Delhi neighbourhood, Malhotra did schooling from Springdales, Dhaula Kuan. Now a student of an art college in Toronto, Canada, she is doing a major in printmaking with a specialisation in etching. In Delhi for holidays, she rarely goes out to a mall or multiplex, not even to the upscale Khan Market where her family runs the landmark bookstore, Bahrisons Booksellers.
“Why should I go to Khan Market?” she asks half-mockingly while changing the setting of her camera. “There the people can’t stop talking “I did this, I did that, I went shopping in Paris”… who cares!”
Lajpat, not Khan
Aanchal prefers going to the less elitist markets such as Lajpat Nagar and Sarojini Nagar. “I like the crowd, the colour and the smell. So many conversations are happening there among so many people packed in such a little space. It’s a kind of accepted chaos; so fun.” Suddenly hopping across the Asaf Ali Marg to a park full of pigeons, she exclaims,
“My God, this is the first time that I’ve seen them fluttering in confusion otherwise they always fly in formation.” Unless carried away by her thought flow, Aanchal speaks in Hindi. “My mother was raised in Toronto and so English is my first language. But I want to retain my culture. Otherwise Indians of my age, both in Delhi and Toronto, don’t want to talk and dress like Indians.”
Pursuit of happiness
Being the daughter of a leading bookseller, no surprises that Aanchal is fond of reading. Being the granddaughter of a couple who migrated to Delhi from what is now Pakistan, no surprises that she is fond of reading Partition literature.
What is surprising is that she has never discussed that pivotal historical event within the family. “I never asked my grandfather; he never told me. And it never occurred to me to ask him.”
Removed by one generation from a tragedy that displaced 12 million people in the Indian subcontinent, Aanchal looks at the Partition with a detached perspective. “Once we were one but after the separation, we became different in our habits and thinking. Yet if you talk to any Pakistani, you will find her life similar to ours. I want to know why we Indians and Pakistanis are so different as masses and so alike as individuals.”
One more week and Aanchal will leave for Toronto. In Connaught Place, I asked her: “What do you want to achieve in life?” “I want to be happy.” I asked, “Are you?” She replied, “Are you?”