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From horror to hope: A Mumbai event examines Partition’s legacy

Two days of events - music, film, fashion, gallery displays, discussions, art and oral-history exhibits - mark Partition and its lingering impact on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

mumbai Updated: Aug 04, 2017 19:18 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
This identity card is among the objects contributed by Mumbai folk to the Remembering Partition event. It belonged to the father of Pushpa Bhatia, who recalls using the club’s pool as a child. She was 10 during Partition, and remembers the mood of fear. (Image courtesy: Pushpa Bhatia)
Remembering Partition: Museum Of Memories
  • When: Saturday and Sunday, 11 am-9.30 pm
  • Where: Godrej India Culture Lab, Vikhroli
  • Click here for the full schedule
  • Entry is free

By next weekend, Independence fever will be in the air. Independent India will be 70, a milestone that brings pride and sobering thought. “There is going to be a lot of celebratory jingoism,” says Parmesh Sahani of the Godrej India Culture Lab. “And there should be, but we must remember where that freedom came from, what it cost.”

Remembering Partition: Museum of Memories marks the bloody separation of India, Pakistan, and what would eventually become Bangladesh. There are film screenings discussions, performances, art, music, fashion and a crowdsourced museum of objects from Mumbaiites that carry memories of the split.

“Over the decades, we’ve gone from honouring Partition with stories of trauma and loss to trying to move past them,” Sahani says. Those who experienced it up close have indisputably horrific tales to tell. But what becomes of history when we’ve recorded those tales? Shahani believes we become more reflective. “We start to look for legacies that continue in peace and love, in people across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,” he says.

Seven fashion designers, among them Rajesh Pratap Singh, Tarun Tahiliani, Narendra Kumar Ahmed and Sabyasachi, have created works especially for the event. Their prints, patterns, materials and designs all symbolise the pain, bloodshed, horror and hope that emerged when unified India was split. ( India Culture Lab )

Some of those legacies are in fabric. The installation Stitching History gets seven fashion designers to create garments that reflect on the implications of Partition. JJ Valaya’s sari carries a special print - multiple cylindrical forms that resemble women’s bangles and seem to disappear into a grey abyss. It’s meant to symbolise the wells that so many women jumped into to escape sexual assault and torture on both sides of the border.

A Narendra Kumar Ahmed gown carries red embroidery to mark the scars from the bloodshed – but there are also gold and white cranes, symbols of good luck and freedom. Rajesh Pratap Singh honours his ancestral home on the border of India and Pakistan with a red-bordered black sari made of silk woven with stainless steel. It looks like it’s been crushed or trampled, and stands for the strength of the women, who experienced the worst horrors.

If you were too young to catch them on TV, they’ll be screening bits of the iconic TV show Tamas and Shyam Benegal’s Mammo. You can also hear oral histories of refugees who settled in Chembur’s Sindhi Camp, via an audio-visual exhibit. It’s a way of examining how memories and ideas of migration persist across generations. Anysha Yadav’s The Indian Memory Project gets a special Partition Edition that showcases the stories of those whose lives are, for better or worse, forever entwined with the great divide of 1947.

Aporajita Chakravarty’s great-grandfather migrated to India from East Bengal, leaving his ageing mother behind. He didn’t carry much, just four sets of clothes, a tree twig for a toothbrush, the shoes he was wearing, one book and this shaving kit. He carried her picture in it. The kit is part of an exhibit at the Remembering Partition event. ( Image courtesy: Aporajita Chakravarty )

Artefacts from Amritsar’s new Partition Museum will be displayed, as will objects that Mumbai folk have contributed to the event. A Karachi Club ID Card, from Pushpa Bhatia, belonged to her father, who was a member. “He didn’t care much about using the club’s facilities, but I remember going to the club compound to swim, as a child,” she says. She left Karachi for Bombay as a 10-year-old. “Even as a child I could feel the tension in the air when the Partition took place. Something was not right.”

A scene from Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House. The Hindi version of the film, Partition: 1947, will be previewed at the event.

The event is focused on hope and possibility. Where there is bloodshed, there are also tales of strangers who helped refugees on both sides of the borders. If there are classic episodes and songs, there are also new ones. There’s a preview of Partition: 1947, the Hindi version of Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House.

“We hope the event makes us recognise that there are differences but also commonalities across the border,” Shahani says. “The fissures are still there, but it’s vital to work harder on new problems like water, terrorism and gender, and collaborate towards a better future.”

First Published: Aug 04, 2017 19:18 IST