Aanchal Malhotra , a multidisciplinary artist and oral historian, working with memory and material culture , associated with initiatives like The Hiatus Project and Museums of Material Memory and now the author of Remnants of Separation, speaks to the students of the Jindal School of Journalism and Communication on why and how she wrote this book.
Ashima Sharma : Given that this book is written in English, has language ever restricted you to capture the emotions of the people you talk about?
Aanchal Malhotra : No , the language of my project is very specific and often unaltered from the interview, so if people speak in a mixture of Hindi, English , Punjabi , the book is also written exactly like that. Of course there is a majority of English but I try my best to retain phrases in the particular language they are speaking in. It has never been an issue per se, but I have always thought how I can incorporate most of it.
Ashima Sharma : Considering you have not lived through Partition, do you ever feel a disconnect between you and the people in terms of the emotion that they are trying to evoke and what you are trying to absorb?
Ananchal Malhotra : Yes and no. You obviously cannot exactly feel or understand what they saw or witnessed or what they did, but I think at some point, human emotion is quite (pause) everyone can feel it, right? And the good thing for me is that I am very good at listening, if you listen to what people are saying you might be able to feel empathy for them. You can’t feel the same emotion that they felt, but you can feel empathy, And your next question should be born out of that empathy for them. I think its very important because I am such a young person trying to write about such a colossal event for young people, by interviewing older people and so that transference of emotion must happen in that order. Maybe you will read the book, maybe not, but if you do, you will see that it is a very empathetic account, like I have tried my best to be able to relate.
Muskan Mascharak : What was the one story that actually triggered the idea of the blog which eventually turned into a book and made it an absolute necessity?
Aanchal Malhotra: It definitely was the gaz and ghara, which is part of my family and gave me the idea to begin with.
Shreya Pahwa : What would be that one object that you would want to take with you if you were under similar circumstances?
Aanchal Malhotra: Well it is not something very precious, but its an old watch that belonged to my grandfather’s sister, its one of those which need to be wound everyday. Its an old Tressa watch which was given to me by my father. My grandfather’s sister had also named me and even though she died when I was very young, I have very fond memories of her and so that for sure is one thing I would take. Over the years I have connected so much with her memory from other people; not so much the physicality of her but I think I know some part of her lives with me.
Rhea Banerjee :What was your early experience when you found out that objects have such power?
Aanchal Malhotra: It was about what I can do to exploit that idea and make it into something that many people can identify with. How to show people this concept and thing because thinking of objects carrying and having memories is not a new thought, many people have thought of it before me and many will do the same in future, but to use that idea to create some sort of a communal project is a big thing because we put parts of ourselves into everything. They could be as small as handkerchiefs, as big as beds and trunks and how we use those things to teach us about ourselves and people.
Muskan Mascharak : What is the one story that did not have an object associated with it but has a lot of significance in your life?
Aanchal Malhotra: Well there is a story in the book itself, which does not have an object but has ample personal significance; the story about the Muslim man who talks about how Hindus after death are reduced to ashes and then disposed into the river and scattered all around. Muslims, he said die and are buried in India, their land itself. He did not have an object but I thought his ideals were like an object.