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Fragments of a wounded past

Ananya Bhardwaj has created a repository of shared memories, oral history, as well as material possessions of people across regions like Punjab, West Bengal, Lahore, Peshawar, and more.

Published: 12th January 2022 07:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th January 2022 07:44 AM   |  A+A-

Contributions to the digital museum by (above right and left)  Amrita Garg; (below) Akshara Suhasini. The photos and write-ups are by their grandparents.

Contributions to the digital museum by (above right and left) Amrita Garg; (below) Akshara Suhasini. The photos and write-ups are by their grandparents.

Express News Service

“During the first stage of the pandemic, my friend, who was studying in London at the time, had to take her bare essentials and leave in a single day. She had to leave London, a place she used to call home, in a day. She told me that it was the first time she understood what her grandmother must have felt. This one comment actually made me think a lot about collective and intergenerational memory,” shares Ananya Bhardwaj (24), who is currently an assistant curator at the Partition Museum, Green Park. Bhardwaj decided to dive deep into the study of the history of Partition, and to discern why films such as Veer-Zaara—she has grown up watching films these—that speak of the India-Pakistan divide, actually exist. 

In an attempt to provide a more relatable narrative of the Partition, which forms the socio-cultural memory of 21st Century South Asia, Bhardwaj started the Museum of Shadows of Partition (MSP) in June 2021. This digital museum documents inherited memories of the Partition on Instagram. “I was always more interested in how the Partition has survived in the memories of third-generation survivors who have inherited these stories from their grandparents. Our generation is probably going to be the last to hear these stories firsthand. I wanted to explore how we hold onto these memories and why we do so,” shares Bhardwaj, a Chittaranjan Park resident. 

She has created a repository of shared memories, oral history, as well as material possessions of people across regions like Punjab, West Bengal, Lahore, Peshawar, and more. These are posted as images with detailed captions on the MSP page. 

In search of one’s roots
Bhardwaj’s curation includes belongings that might barely hold worth to these survivors but are immensely valued by their families. These might include a pair of earrings, a piece of cloth, or even an old passport. “A simple diary entry by my grandfather would mean nothing to him but would mean the world to me since that is telling me something about my roots and helping me belong,” she adds. Through these memoirs, Bhardwaj is attempting to help create a medium that will help the 21st Century generation find their roots. By offering these personal narratives along with images of real people, MSP is also moving beyond the recurrent narratives found in history books.

“When you go to the Wagah Border, the last signboard on your way reads ‘Lahore: 23kms’. Although the distance is short, it is not possible for us to actually go to Lahore that easily. We only get to hear stories told by someone’s grandfather. And that is how we relate to the signboard,” she adds. While the invisible border serves as a memory of bifurcation, the stories that Bhardwaj curates also form a more relatable account of the Partition—one that does not look at India and Pakistan separately but serves as a reminder of fond memories of its people. 

By and for the people
Aiming to create a people’s museum, Bhardwaj hopes that in the days to come she will have others who would want to join her in her cause. “I do not want it to be a space just limited to me. I want to open it up to people who can come and talk about their stories because at the end of the day, it is a museum of our generation,” she shares. She also hopes that she will be able to find people who are fluent in languages beyond Hindi and English in an attempt to make it inclusive. Bhardwaj—who is currently working on a book about the Partition and intergenerational memory—is, in a way, giving the audience a window into the history of the Partition, one memoir at a time.



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