Review: Remnants of a Separation

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Objects have a way of inspiring the mind to remember things it might have forgotten.

I got Aanchal Malhotra’s book from Karachi, back in July 2018. Since then, it had been sitting around on my shelf with all the other numerous books that I never read. One fine day, sick from my overdose of thrillers, I just picked it up to see what it was about.

To say that reading this book was difficult, is an understatement. Every story, every page reminded me of my grandparents and their stories of hardship and resilience at the time of the partition of India. The horrors that both the sides witnessed, the loss, the displacement, the helplessness, it all becomes real as you read the accounts of some very real people. This is not fiction, yet sometimes you want it all to be a story that you can read and put aside.

Not everything is about darkness and despair though. While the actual time of the partition was traumatic, most of the narrators reminisce about their youth in a way that is endearing and makes you want to return to your own childhood. Even with this lightness, the fact remains that most of these people were forced to let go of their dreams and grow up overnight.

Almost all these stories have one thing similar in them; the suppression of conscious memory of those dark times. They might never have talked about the past to their own families, but when they finally talk about it, all of them become fascinating story tellers, each with their own unique story. Yet all these stories are essentially the same.

Displacement, often sudden and mostly in the dark of the night, is a frightening concept. The thought of leaving all your worldly goods behind and starting anew in a place where you have no roots and nothing to fall back on, is a scary one. Add to that, the breakdown of common human decency and a return to barbarianism, and it’s no wonder everyone wants to suppress their memories of such times.

Reading this book gave birth to a lot of regrets too. I wish I had thought of documenting the lives of my grandparents while they were alive. The stories that I heard growing up have become blurred and clouded by the passage of time, maybe because while they were being told, no one was really interested in listening. My son did a unit on displacement last year, and I will be eternally grateful to his school because when he interviewed my paternal uncle for the unit, I learned the harrowing story of a 6-year-old boy who came to Pakistan without his parents. I never knew the details, and never bothered to ask either.

Aanchal Malhotra has done something that I wish I had been able to do. I wanted to keep reading and never stop. This is the type of book that we should make our children read. What we are taught in textbooks is only one side of history, often biased and mostly opinionated. We need to know our past and learn from it, not glorify and worship it.

As a Pakistani, I can only be thankful that Pakistan came into being that August in 1947, but the way it was done, and the politics of division that made men into animals, is something that no one, Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi, can ever condone. Anger, intolerance, greed, these words can never define the destruction that was caused by human hands. It was, and will always be, a dark blot on humanity. All of us need to revisit that time again and again so that we never forget the lessons that the Partition taught us.

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