Before I begin- This is not a book review. This book doesn’t need a review. What you really need is a thankful note to Aanchal Malhotra. Tell her that you will be forever indebted to her for what she has done. Through every anecdote, she has brought you the stories which were buried deep down in memories of our parents/grandparents, carefully preserved. Alive, not dead.
Clearly, I am in awe of the author. I am sure whoever has read this book couldn’t have resisted it.
There are some books which take you places, some you read for leisure, while some of them shake every bit of your human soul. The Remnants of a Separation is exactly that kind.
It strained my mind thinking how many sleepless nights she must have spent in searching for these people, in searching for these conversations, in speaking the right words at the right time, carefully crafting her every question so that she doesn’t hurt anyone’s sentiments. She did not only did it for the sake of writing this book, she did it to uncover a world which we never wanted to unravel because it was painstakingly horrid.
Every chapter in the book takes you through a journey- some laden with beautiful memories, some with horrid experiences of the massacre. But one thing is common between all of them- the love for their motherland. For all of them, home is still the place where they were born.
At a personal level, I feel, every chapter hold a piece of me. I can’t possibly write about every chapter here, but my favorite ones are these-
I have always thought myself to be a traitor. Well, it’s a nasty word, I know. But hear me! Being more accustomed to writing in English and not in Hindi, I have always felt that I am cheating on my language, my country. But then in the chapter of Enduring memories of John Grigor Taylor when he says that “I can still speak Hindustani”, that calmed me.
That revelation brought me peace. We are still the remains of British Raj. And that’s okay. They hold a piece of our past and they shaped our future- for good or bad. I feel that English for me is the language of separation. It will forever remind me why I speak this language.
In the chapter of The bagh of Hansala Chowdhary, I learned the importance of bearing a family heirloom. I remember, when we were small, my sister and I would open my mother’s saree box and point at the ones we would take with us in marriage trousseau. We both are married now, our promises left in the crevices of those sarees. This chapter revived that old forgotten memory and made that feeling even stronger. Now, I just want to rush home and take my mother’s sarees and make them mine.
In the chapter of Nazmuddin Khan, I cried when I read about his reasons to stay. While others choose to flee the country to be safe with their family, his father taught him a lesson which he still bears- a lesson of patriotism to one’s land.
I read this book while I am not in my country. It was done purposely. Having read so many reviews about the book, I was sure this book will change my life. After I finished reading, this book gave me jitters. The thought of never seeing my home, my belongings, my parents paralyzed me.
Not that I have made up my mind to stay here, but I remember cursing the chaos, the pollution, the unmannered people of Delhi within first few weeks of landing in Japan. I felt ashamed of inhabiting a land and falling in love with the simplicity of life here. The book reminded me the forgotten pride for my city, for my country. Forgotten, not lost.
I remember when I kept insisting my mother to come here and visit me- She denied saying that she can’t. She kept on repeating “hume to apna desh hi pasand hai” (We love our country). I always thought she is playing the patriotic card. And maybe she is. But deep down inside, maybe it’s the comfort in the air, in the life that her nation has provided her. She is unable to untie her from that natural belongingness. Maybe, it’s the fear of not seeing her land, her home which terrifies her.
I wonder how our generation will treat their land. I wonder if we’ll remember the stories we heard from our parents or grandparents. I wonder those who are settled abroad will ever return to their soil. *sigh*
Isn’t it disturbing how easily we disconnect from the stories which created us? I have never heard of partition tales from grandfather and now when they are gone, I feel remorseful for not asking them about it. With them, the stories are buried.
And it’s not just the partition stories that I crave for, it’s the stories about their life. How they lived, how they traveled, what they wore, ate, read. I’ve lost a part of me with their death.
The Remnants of a Separation is written by Aanchal to share the stories of people who struggled and sacrificed their everything in hopes of a new (better) life, but I feel their pain and their stories cannot be contained in the book. It’s eternal. But I am glad I could become a part of these stories.
To me, the book has touched upon another tangent- an exigency to live memories of your past with your parents and grandparents. It has now become important to me to understand from where I belong, from where I feel the sea of emotions, from where I get the flair in my writing. And now I must talk. I must talk to my mother, my father, their parents, their struggles and learn about their life. Otherwise, I will never know how deep my roots go.
I just hope you get to shelf this book and devour it.
Just one last word- Thank you, Aanchal. I will forever be grateful to you for this treasure in a book.