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Book Review: Remnants of a Separation

As a growing teenager in a Punjabi family, partition was the elephant in the room. I could see traces of it in the photographs, lines of my grandmother’s hand that defined the treacherous journey she took that killed her two young brothers, her lost look during conversations. When I grew up, she started sharing stories with me from Rawalpindi, where she spent her childhood. She showed me the Peetal utensils she carried with her, the glasses engraved with her name and photographs, those yellow textured photographs that she looked at almost every Sunday.

She always says that nobody will value her sacrifice on the day. These utensils will be sold off and photographs will be thrown away, and that’s when I realize that how important it is to share the stories and engrave the experience in younger ones. How important it is to understand what our forefathers sacrificed so that we can live a peaceful life today.

Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation is one such book that captures the stories of families who were a part of biggest human migration the world has ever seen, the partition of Indian subcontinent, now known as India and Pakistan. In 19 different stories from India and Pakistan, Malhotra captured the human side of the partition, what everyone experienced, how they felt and now how they feel when they have made a new home, the things they carried with themselves, utensils, pearls, jewelry that have now become family heirloom…

Out of all, my favorite story is The Dialect of Stitches and Secrets. Just like Hansla Chowdhary’s Bagh, my grandmother gifted my mother a saree that she carried with herself across the border, when she was barely 12 years old. I also really liked the Gift of a Maharaja: The Pearls of Hazra Haq and Stateless Heirlooms: The Hamam-Dasta of Savitri Mirchandani.

The most beautiful things about Remnants of a Separation is that there is not one side of the story about partition. It is everybody’s story. Even though we may feel that one side is at fault, the people who were directly affected feel that it was nobody’s fault. The country was divide and they never wanted it to happen in the first place. They just wanted to survive the massacre and live to see the next day. There was no wrong or right.

For me, Remnants of a Separation is not just a gem of a book, it is an important item in the partition archive, a book that must be read and cherished so that we understand a part of our lives that hopefully, we never get to live.

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