‘Isey kehte hain Loee. Yes, write it down, likho,’ she dictated the musical word to me, spelling it out and then enunciating it in the way she had learnt it as a child, ‘L-o-h-i. But we say it as lo-ee.’ She placed the woven fabric on the table and I swam my fingers across it. At the ends of the cream colored woolen shawl were extra, unwoven threads. Hanging out, yet uniformly maintained, these were a characteristic feature of Lohi. It’s entire surface was embellished with white flowers in thick embroidery. In places, a tear was repaired, a stain showed through, the folds of the years had hardened into the cloth. She took the shawl and placed it across her dainty shoulders, ‘My mother carried this from Multan during the Partition; it is nearly a hundred years old.’ #remnantsofseparation #partition #1947 #heirloom #textile #lohi #punjab
‘Let me tell you something about India,’ he said, beckoning me closer with his old hands, entrenched with deep tributaries of time and age. In a raspy voice, he started, ‘This land, this very land that you stand on right now, was once the greatest land in the world. Sone ki chidiya, “Bird of Gold” – a country of riches and wealth; of countless jewels, gems and gold; of vast trade routes; of ancient civilizations; and of discovery. It was once a country of powerful ideals, where people lived in peace and life flourished. It was once, very very long ago, the greatest country in the world. Now all that is lost...’ #remnantsofaseparation #delhi #memory #history #remnantsofpartition
The landscapes of book two are vast. Where V, paralyzed by snow and frost, fights in the battlefields of Flanders. Where SS, sitting in a tent in Marseilles, sings of the lover he has left behind in Moga. Where A stands by a window in Paris, autumn air billowing in, leaves yellow, sky grey, dreaming of the ancestor she never met. Where floating atop the ocean, from an old archive, S reads out the stories of laam, The Long War.
I never met my maternal grandmother, Amrit. But she was a Lahori and it is from her and her family that I have inherited an intense love for the walled city across the border. From pictures, I know she was elegant and fashionable and so organized. From whatever remains, I deduce her to be the keeper of beautiful things. And sometimes, I am lucky enough to inherit those things. Today, my mother and aunts presented this mirrored tray to me - it was what my grandmother used to use to place her lipsticks and perfumes on the vanity. Little by little, piece by piece, memory by memory, each day she becomes clearer and clearer.
tuberose for all seasons
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to record the stories of a set of intricately handmade naale that had migrated with a family from Multan to Delhi during the Partition. That interview taught me about language, social customs and the songs that women sang when they got together. It also became fountainhead for how material culture evokes intimate, long forgotten moments. Little did I know then the hands which taught me about how those naalas were braided and embroidered, would come to adorn the cover of the UK edition of my book. Jasminder Gulati, thank you for setting up this wonderful interview with your parents and allowing me to use this photo of your mother for the cover. Here is the muse with the book! #remnantsofpartition #india #pakistan #multan #delhi #partition #1947
Over one year ago, Nupur Marwah, a student I had once met in Delhi, wrote me a letter about a pair of earrings that had been divided during the Partition. Her paternal grandmother, Kiran Bala Marwah, five years old in 1947, and her friend, Noori Rahman, six years old, both hailed from the same neighbourhood in Poonch district, Jammu and Kashmir state. During Partition, Noori’s family decided to migrate to Pakistan, and Kiran and Noori divided a pair of gold earrings between them as a symbol of their everlasting friendship. Seven decades later, when Nupur asked her grandmother about the Partition for a school project, Kiran Marwah took out the sole earring from her cupboard and ceremoniously bequeathed it to her. She had held on to it all these years with the hope that the pair might some day be united. With tears in her eyes, she confessed that her long lost friend had also inspired her granddaughter’s name, Nupur. ‘I then knew why she used to call me Noori from time to time,’ she wrote in the note. . . This is not the pair Kiran and Noori's earrings, I am yet to see them. I dream of the pair from time to time, and yet the story remains everclear. Those reading this across the border, if you have heard this story in your family and your grandmother Noori also has one part of a pair of earrings, then please do get in touch. If only in the final years of their lives, Kiran and Noori should be reunited once again. #crossborderfriendships #india #pakistan #pooch #jammuandkashmir
What we have always loved about curating the @museumofmaterialmemory is how effortlessly the stories of migratory objects become stories of families and their predicaments. An object can teach us about travel and love and sacrifice and loss. A pair of silver anklets belonging to a woman in the 1920s is split at her death, and given - one each - to her daughters at their wedding, incidentally to two brothers. The anklets travel across the world in suitcases and jewellery pouches, ultimately ending up in the possession of the great-granddaughter of the original bearer, who writes about them for our small museum. . . These jhanjhar have traveled from Undivided India to the vast continent of Africa and finally to America, carrying with them, the stories of the women who wore them. Geographies of land and water have settled into their delicate craftsmanship. When I wear them now and hear their soft and pleasant tinkling, I think of my grandmother, Kamla ba and her lovely demeanor. I think of what it might have meant to own a physical piece of home when having migrated so far away, home remained an intangible memory. Most importantly though, I think about how these jhanjhar symbolize the lives of two sisters, two brothers and two families uniting as one. . . Wearing the silver anklets, Raina K Patel writes 'The jhanjhar to unite two families'. Read more on the @museumofmaterialmemory #jhanjhar #jewellery #silver #heirlooms #gujarat #kenya #newyork #museumofmaterialmemory
From last weekend’s session at the Kerala Architecture Festival in Trivandrum, talking about the architectural space of historic traumatic memory with Professor Latha Nair. We talked about the stories of Prabhjot Kaur, of “bua” as narrated to me in Karachi by Zehra Nasim Haque, of the sincerity and complexity of memory, the dire need to balance narratives of grotesque violence with those of kindness and friendship, and working as a researcher in Pakistan. The full video of the session is in my story highlights, for those interested.
Pran Nevile sahab once told me about Bhaion ki dukaan, most famous in all of Anarkali bazar apparently since the Mughal era for making oils, perfumes and scents. When I met him just weeks before his death, sitting in the ground floor lounge of the IIC, with an air of great romance, he claimed that any one of the Bhaion ki dukaan fragrances could win the hearts of a "beau" or a "belle". For this it was famous not only in Lahore shehr but also the whole of Punjab. When speaking of Lahore, he always had that faraway look in his eyes. The city of his birth, the city of my dreams, humara Lahore. He constantly asked me why I was so drawn to it, and quoting that it was also the city of my ancestors, I'd smile the question to an end each time. This last time, while talking about the famed perfumers who had moved from Lahore to Delhi, he said, "Apne purane shehr ki purani dukaan, Lahore ya Dilli, ek hi toh baat hai, kyunki khushboo ka koi watan nahi hota." Now, nearly a year after his death, I am grateful to have recorded all these little excerpts from his memory of the twin cities across the border. Truth be told, I almost forgot about Bhaion ki dukaan, until a few weeks ago while recording the story of a pre-partition matrimonial salwar kameez, I saw this silver box with the sign inside. Jaise Dilli mein Lahore mil gaya. #lahore #delhi #anarkali #partition #india #pakistan #prannevile
‘4-Fane Road’, she said, ’that was our address. Close to the courts where my father, Amolak Ram Kapoor, practiced law. He had a grand library in the house, hundreds and books collected over the years with great love and care. And unfortunately, that was the exact thing we had to leave behind when we migrated, hoping that it was just temporary, from Lahore to Shimla in the summer of 1947.’ Her arms had widened to the expanse of the garden we sat in to show me the vastness of her father’s book collection. The name Amolak Ram Kapoor certainly came up again, but this time in a book by a Pakistani politician which bore a passage about the very same no. 4 Fane Road house. It was written from the perspective of his family, friends of the Kapoors, and to whom the house had been entrusted in their absence. A letter came to his father, the story goes as recalled by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, from an address in Shimla. Since they had left in haste without any warm clothing, the Kapoor family now shivered in the picturesque hill station and hoped that some of their belongings be sent to them. The temporary migration, it seemed, would now be quite permanent. In a voice brighter than before, the the woman concluded her story, 'Sure enough 'trucks were sent to us in Shimla bearing not only supplies and warm clothes but in a gesture of absolute kindness and consideration, my father’s vast legal library. So touched he was by this act that he wrote a letter of gratitude to his friend, Mian Mahmud Ali Kasuri, saying, “Aap kay liyee dil se dua nikaltee hai, I pray for you from the bottom of my heart.” It was truly a friendship that survived the border, the divide and has sustained for generations.’ #remnantsofaseparation #crossborderfriendship #lahore #pakistan #delhi #india #faneroad
‘When Partition happened, you were still across the border?’ I asked him as he stood by the window, shutting the curtains, drawing his own border from the outside world. He nodded, now silhouetted by the afternoon light. ‘Oh yes. And what border? There was no fortified border in those days like there is today. The land remained the same as it had always been. One day I was an instructor at the Transport School in Chaklala and the next day Chaklala happened to be in a new country called Pakistan. That was it.' #remnantsofseparation #partition #india #pakistan #bordeland
second book research is vast
Only for @onemeerkat will I be photographed in “what I wear to work”, which is basically cotton pyjamas and a stern face! Head over to @soupgram to read more.
Growing up, I remember my grandmother’s mother always seated or lying on a manja - a cot woven with ropes on a wooden frame - when we went to visit her home in Haqiqat Nagar in North Delhi. The manja was the sole piece of typical Punjabi furniture that I knew of. It was not ornate or beautiful by any means; it was utilitarian yet occupied a dominating presence in Punjabi household culture. Later, when I began doing work on the Partition, the word manja peppered many a story - from sleeping on the cot on the roof in the hot summer months or using it as a frame to make phulkari and other embroidery. The manja was essential to every Punjabi house. Similar to this is the alna. Used to hang clothes and store objects and as a friend tells me, also used as a hiding place in ones childhood! Toonika Guha writes for the Museum of Material Memory about this gorgeous piece of antique Bengali furniture, an heirloom passed down through the generations of women in her family. I realize how easily I call a manja a cot in the English language, only when Toonika writes that for the alna, there is no such English word. The vocabulary of its elegant architecture defies translation. It is one of the few pieces of Bengali furniture that has a purely Bengali etymology. Head over to @museumofmaterialmemory to read more about it in The alna of many homes and hearths. #museumofmaterialmemory #bengal #howrah #calcutta #heirloom #furniture #alna
It is not always the ornateness of the migratory object that we should be focused on. At times, the most mundane of things, seemingly carrying no grandeur of craft or custom, can speak the loudest. There can be stories hidden within other stories, much like this box. I had visited with the intention of looking at property papers from across the border, but the story I left with was something else altogether. Having migrated from Sillanwali, district Sargodha Mr. Bhutani's family settled in the refugee BK Dutt Colony of Delhi. Remembering the words in his mother tongue, Jhangi, he tells me that this kunde-wala box was called a chabka in his home. 'Apni zubaan toh apni zubaan hi hai, the mothertongue will always remain imprinted upon us', he retorted when I asked whether he still spoke Jhangi. Holding the box in his hands, he opened the rusted metal clasp, careful of the wood that is now chipping away. 'Father sahib had made a tradition of going to the temple everyday, both before and after Partition. But on the days that he wasn’t able to go, he used to put his change in this box. Chaandi ke sikke-shikke.’ Mr Bhutani chuckled and held out the medium sized box for me. It was nothing special per se, no elaborate heirloom to boast of, but it carried the simple continuation of a habit, a tradition, from side to another. Nestled in the box, was the most unassuming way to connect this side and that. #remnantsofseparation #sillanwali #coins #object
'We spoke through letters,' Prabhjot Kaur tells me of her husband and her, 'We fell in love through letters and poetry,' she smiled knowingly. Curious, I asked her what she meant and she began a tale of long distance romance. 'By 1946, I had already published three books with a nationalist theme. But it was my first book, Lath Lath Joth Jage, The Lamp Burns Bright and Brilliant, that caught people's attention. It was devoted to the sentiments and aspirations of an independent India. It was was purchased in large numbers by the military and was shipped and distributed to all those places in the world where Sikh regiments were fighting for the British in World War II, hoping it would inspire them. A young officer posted in Syria received a copy, read it and wrote to me at my college address in Lahore printed behind the book. He wanted to marry me, all based on my writing! He also sent a formal letter home, to my father!' She giggled and admitted that after that initial note, the pair began writing to one another frequently. And so, in April 1946, one Major Narenderpal Singh travelled from Syria to Lahore to see the poet whose words had enchanted him, to whom he had written letters full of both admiration and emerging love. Armed with his offer for marriage, he visited the poet’s home. #remnantsofseparation #love #ww2