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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”