Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra

Isn’t a book jacket a crucial element, when choosing a book? “Remnants of a Separation” by Aanchal Malhotra boasts of one such book cover- a beautiful integration of title and image. And beyond doubt, it persuaded me to get started on a reading experience. I wasn’t left disappointed. It is a book that speaks volumes on partition, its effects with the passage of time, family ties and loss.

Partition as we know it

Post- independence from the British Raj, the country was divided into two separate entities- India and Pakistan. A major population exchange happened with over 25 million people relocating to new homes and a new country. The magnitude of horror and suffering that followed was unimaginable. There were killings and religious riots all along the border, making it the darkest period in the history of both the countries. Lakes of blood and tears flowed everywhere and the brutality was immense. Families traveled across the border to restart life into a new territory, unknown and foreign. But more than just moving from camp to camp, the pain that remained for years was leaving behind friends and a home that was once theirs.

Back in time- With relics of bygone days

For four years Malhotra has dug deep, researching and recording conversations, as she revisits partition through tiny little objects that have been carried across the border, and have remained intact since then. These are relics that connect present with memories of what was once a beautiful past. A string of pearls that was gifted by a maharaja, a matriculation certification, a maang tika, a bed sheet, an old pair of rusted scissors, a paan serving dish, they all have a story to tell. Daily objects they are, yet capable of bringing about a deluge of emotions.

“We should have realized it sooner, at least my father should have, that there was no coming back. Not in September when the riots died down, not in October when the subcontinent still lay in shock, not even in November as he had hoped and promised us. Lahore was now lost forever” 
― Aanchal Malhotra, Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory

The book is a first-hand testament of the surviving generation

As Malhotra visits and discusses what life was once across the border, the surviving generation brings out vivid descriptions through dialogues. You can sense the pain as Narmuddin Khan narrates why he chose to stay back in the Indian side, despite the chaos and the killings all around him.  Sensitively put across, the dialogues lay down the finer nuances of partition and its horrors. Across the nineteen chapters in the book, the stories within it have been delicately strung together with material memories.

Well researched indeed, the book is a crossover between history and anthropology. The narration grips you with its simplistic portrayal of real people and real stories. Not your typical documentary style, the book is unique in its own way.

“Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory” is a beautiful chronicle of memories and a gamut of emotions, as people try to relive what they left behind, holding onto what they have with them- tiny little relics, remnant of a separation.

Definitively worth a read!!

Book details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (25 August 2017)
  • Language: English

9 comments

    1. Lata this one is a good read. For one it’s put through dialogues of real people. Unlike other books which are in documentary form. And there are stories from both sides. Agree she’s not a known author. But with a book of this sort, where it’s stories of people ho have lived the ordeal, it doesn’t matter.

  1. Sounds like a good read. I am sure there would be many emotional moments in the book. “These are relics that connect present with memories of what was once a beautiful past.” The stories these objects hold are taunting for the ones who had lived through the partition, aren’t they? Tempting review, Ramya.

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