Book Review: Remnants of a Separation
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History is delicate. Treat it with care and remember it, and you’ll give it the honor it deserves. Discard it and treat it callously, and you’ll not only dishonor it, but also yourself and every person who fought for you to have the life that you have today. We might think that of course we celebrate and honor our history! What do you think national holidays are for? But are we absolutely sure? For since these national holidays celebrate certain events in history, there’s little to no mention of the sacrifices, the bloodshed, and the violence that went into building countries as we know them today.
Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation shakes off the dust from the memories surrounding the Partition of India and shatters the rose-tinted glasses that so many have been seeing it with or have been ignoring it in the name of “maintaining peace”. Aanchal Malhotra shows how every tangible belonging and heirloom has memories associated with it and holding the item in your hand can bring them back in full force.
21 stories of Partition-related memory became so heartbreakingly personal that it took me over a month to finish this book. Every story, every violent memory narrated pained my heart to no end. But my pain, my devastation is nothing at all when compared to what history has bundled up within these items. The wispiness of human memory that transforms into solid recollections when it comes to things that chip away at your insides with their brutality is one of the cornerstones of this book, the second being Aanchal Malhotra’s writing. It captures the essence of common person’s Partition and does it with love, care, compassion, and unbiased feeling, bringing tears of helplessness to your eyes.
Going from peacefully co-existing to baying for each other’s bloods, the way the Partition pitted community against community in the name of borders and countries is, in hindsight, an atrocity in itself. Politicians sitting up in their seats and hurriedly deciding the Partition without any particular plan or without any input from the people they were inflicting this on, is probably a reflection of how the government has come to be. And to read of this from the future from where we cannot do anything about whatever came by, seems like a crueler form of helplessness.
Aanchal Malhotra not only writes about these events, but also of people who subverted stereotypes during those times; the stories of entities we know of now but that were started around the Partition, like Bahrison’s Booksellers, which was started by the author’s grandparents; of women who found their strength, their calling in more ways than just the patriarchal stereotypes that we know of the past; of love and loss, family and strength, upheavals and settlements! Aanchal Malhotra’s grounds you but also transports you into the past with a steadiness of hand and a comforting nod, a reminder to respect the people whose story you are reading.
In parting, I’ll just say that Remnants of a Separation must be made required reading everywhere. To educate people about their past, because it is where we came from, and because without it, there is no us. A lesson imparted, and a lesson to be learnt by us all!
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