Title: In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition
Author: Aanchal Malhotra
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Genre: Nonfiction, Partition Literature Pages: 756
I love Partition Literature – it tells me about my ancestors and their way of life, which I didn’t bother asking about when they were alive. Partition Literature is more than just novels or oral history. It goes beyond grief, loss, and belonging. I love Partition Literature because I was always so safe knowing who I was, not fearing about displacement, not knowing any better, till I did.
My grandparents – both maternal and paternal – migrated to India in July 1947, right towards the end, from Pakistan. I was all of eight years old when my paternal grandmother died and I wasn’t born when my paternal grandfather died. My parents don’t remember much about the Partition either. My mother never asked her parents about it. Neither did my aunts and uncles on both sides. That says a lot about trauma and grief, about what we remember and what we forget, and what we do not want to know about.
In the last couple of years, I have read Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation at least three times to make sense of where I come from – at least some of it. I believe art saves you, and it does, and it has, whenever I have turned to it. It is painful to read about the Partition but in a way it is also very cathartic. As a third-generation resident of independent India – who has only heard about the Partition in snatches of stray conversations – trying to make sense of pain and loss, reading about the events can be a means of providing closure, even if in the smallest of ways.
Aanchal Malhotra’s In the Language of Remembering is a book for me, for people who belong to my generation or after, for anyone who wants to understand the Partition from where we are now. It is a book about remembering – of conversations Malhotra had over the years with generations of Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. She speaks to them about identity, about the relevance of the Partition today, whether we wish to talk about the Partition, and the need to preserve the painful past.
While growing up I used to think of the Partition as an event in my grandparents’ lives. It was cut off from my existence. I didn’t realise till much later that I too am a product of the painful past in one sense or the other – of two people whose parents had memories, who could never forget what they endured, about how they crossed the border, and how long it took them to build a new life.
In the Language of Remembering has been published at a time when the country is in the grips of a destructive chaos – when relationships have taken a back seat and religion is at the fore, when Muslims are being othered, and people are being categorised as “minority” and “majority”. The book has been published at a time when we need it the most – to understand where we have come from and how far we have come, and what it will take to be truly secular.
I never understood what the Partition meant to me, and how it perhaps even impacted me till I read about it. It all began with Kamleshwar’s Partitions in the year 2000, and after twenty-two years and having read about some forty-and-odd books on the subject, I feel we still don’t have enough Partition Literature. We constantly need to look and relook at it, to understand ourselves better, and perhaps generate some more empathy within us – to be kinder to each other and ourselves. I admit, it isn’t as simple as that. Sadly, we have a long way to go since maps and borders continue to be an integral part of our existence, whether we like it or not.
In the Language of Remembering makes us aware of what we carry within ourselves. Malhotra’s book is about regrets, losses, hopes, about what we gained, and what we were separated from. It is about the choices one made, about family, about generations, and how some incidents are not passed over, not told as stories, not revisited because of how painful they are and the need to talk about them – both in order to look ahead and constantly keep looking back so as not to lose a part of ourselves.