A PIECE OF HIS­TORY

Society - - CONTENTS - By Sapna Sar­fare

Mal­lika Ah­luwalia speaks about start­ing world’s only Par­ti­tion Mu­seum in Am­rit­sar and writ­ing the book Di­vided by Par­ti­tion, United by Re­silience – 21 sto­ries of those who saw the In­dia’s dark­est time yet fought hard to re­build not just them­selves but also the coun­try.

Mal­lika Ah­luwalia speaks about start­ing world’s only Par­ti­tion Mu­seum in Am­rit­sar and writ­ing the book Di­vided by Par­ti­tion, United by Re­silience –21 sto­ries of those who saw the In­dia’s dark­est time yet fought hard to re­build not just them­selves but also the coun­try.

Some mem­o­ries stay with you for gen­er­a­tions. The par­ti­tion is one such mem­ory that has stayed in ev­ery In­dian’s heart even af­ter 71 years of in­de­pen­dence. Ev­ery In­dian has been af­fected by it, di­rectly or in­di­rectly. Count­less movies, books and more have spo­ken about this dark mem­ory that took place on the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent. Join­ing the reper­toire is Mal­lika Ah­luwalia whose book Di­vided by Par­ti­tion, United by Re­silience has been pub­lished by Rupa Pub­li­ca­tions. The book speaks about those in­di­vid­u­als who faced losses of ev­ery kind dur­ing par­ti­tion but re­build not just them­selves but also the coun­try. The book is about their sheer re­silience af­ter be­ing caught in a whirlpool be­yond their con­trol. You will read 21 such sto­ries of those af­fected by the par­ti­tion, who went on to achieve suc­cess in in­de­pen­dent In­dia. You can also wit­ness their in­sight into what oth­ers went through cour­tesy the mi­gra­tion, camps and strug­gles to start afresh. You have tales of the likes of Man­mo­han Singh, LK Ad­vani, Madan Lal Khu­rana, MS Kohli, Dharam­pal Gu­lati, Faqir Chand Kohli, Manoran­jan Bya­pari, Gulzar, Hamida Habibul­lah, Kr­ishen Khanna, Kuldip Na­yar, Bri­j­mo­han Lall Mun­jal, Govind Ni­ha­lani, An­jolie Ela Menon, Milkha Singh, Ram Jeth­malani, Satish Gu­jral and Ved Mar­wah, etc. Mal­lika, the pow­er­house be­hind the book, is an in­ter­est­ing per­son her­self. She is the CEO, cu­ra­tor, and co-founder of the world’s first Par­ti­tion Mu­seum lo­cated in Am­rit­sar and this mu­seum has been listed in the ‘Best of In­dia: 18 Places to Visit in 2018’ list by Na­tional Geo­graphic Trav­eller In­dia. She re­cently re­ceived the Ex­cel­lence Award by Conde Nast Trav­eller and an ASEAN-In­dia Youth Achiever Award for her work. Be­fore this, she was in­volved in the field of health and ed­u­ca­tion with lead­ing in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions. A man­age­ment grad­u­ate from Har­vard Busi­ness School, an MPA/ID from Har­vard Kennedy School and an A.B. cum laude from Prince­ton Univer­sity in pub­lic pol­icy, she has 3 of her 4 grand­par­ents af­fected by the tragic par­ti­tion. Mal­lika feels her book is for those seek­ing in­spi­ra­tion. “It con­tains the first-hand life sto­ries of 21 ex­traor­di­nary in­di­vid­u­als who lived through the dev­as­ta­tion of Par­ti­tion, and were deeply af­fected by it, but then went on to achieve great­ness in in­de­pen­dent In­dia. It is based on first-hand in­ter­views with them so you hear their sto­ries in their own words. These sto­ries are a tribute to the re­silience of the hu­man spirit that bounces back even af­ter fac­ing great ad­ver­sity.” As spo­ken ear­lier, a lot has been writ­ten, spo­ken and shown (via shows and movies) re­gard­ing the par­ti­tion. There is al­ways the

fear that this book will be­come just an­other ad­di­tion. One would also feel that it can be writ­ten in some way which makes it still rel­e­vant for the younger gen­er­a­tion. Mal­lika dis­agrees on this seond point. “I would con­tend that, in fact, per­haps not enough has been writ­ten about the par­ti­tion — look at glob­ally how much lit­er­a­ture ad film there is on the Holo­caust. How­ever, def­i­nitely this book is an ad­di­tion to what al­ready ex­ists — I think it’s dif­fer­ent for two rea­sons. It fo­cuses on the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence of par­ti­tion, us­ing peo­ple’s first-hand in­ter­views — most of what ex­ists looks at par­ti­tion at the level of the lead­ers or na­tion-states. Im­por­tantly the book fo­cuses on the re­silience of that gen­er­a­tion — this fo­cus on hope is very dif­fer­ent from what has al­ready been writ­ten. It is a re­minder of all the for­got­ten and un­sung he­roes who lost their fam­i­lies, friends, and homes — but did not al­low that to em­bit­ter them. In­stead they looked for­ward and did so much in build­ing our na­tion.” Mal­lika opines that this book is quite cru­cial to­day as much is be­ing dis­cussed re­gard­ing refugees ev­ery­where. “Glob­ally, UNHCR es­ti­mates there over 68 mil­lion refugees. As these de­bates take place in Eu­rope, UK, US, In­dia, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber to ex­pe­ri­ence the refugees from par­ti­tion, which re­mains the largest mass mi­gra­tion in hu­man his­tory.” You can be guar­an­teed that each of these 21 sto­ries are dis­tinct from each other and unique. “They dif­fer in the fam­ily back­ground of the in­di­vid­ual pro­filed, their mi­gra­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ex­pe­ri­ence at Par­ti­tion, the op­por­tu­ni­ties they had ac­cess to and the ca­reer paths they chose,” re­lates Mal­lika. “But the com­mon thread that runs through them is re­silience. These sto­ries were ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to se­lect be­cause we have thou­sands of sto­ries in the Par­ti­tion Mu­seum archives and each one is dif­fer­ent from the other. This is why his­tory read in this fash­ion is far more fas­ci­nat­ing than the his­tory we learn in schools and col­leges. Each story here gives a glimpse into the life of some­one who has achieved great things.” Franz Kafka has rightly said — A book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us. Books or rather sto­ries have that power over us. And when a book is writ­ten on some­thing as heart-break­ing as the par­ti­tion, chances are you will be touched. While writ­ing, Mal­lika was touched or af­fected by some of the sto­ries shared, though she feels ‘each story you hear moves you’. “Amongst the sto­ries in the book, both Dr Man­mo­han Singh and Milkha Singh trag­i­cally lost fam­ily mem­bers to the vi­o­lence — a dev­as­tat­ing loss. But par­ti­tion af­fected ev­ery­one in so many dif­fer­ent ways. Gulzar saab and Satish Gu­jral re­call how vis­cer­ally they were im­pacted by the af­ter­maths of vi­o­lence that they saw. Kr­ishen Khanna mourns the friends he left be­hind. When one re­calls that most peo­ple we are in­ter­view­ing now were chil­dren when

par­ti­tion hap­pened. One can­not help feel moved by the sto­ries of the loss of homes, friends, and the only life they had known. Imag­ine if sud­denly as a 10-year old you had to leave ev­ery­thing be­hind? Each of these sto­ries is pow­er­ful.” In some ways, writ­ing these sto­ries was tough for Mal­lika. Any sen­si­tive soul would be af­fected. She re­veals, “Each of these peo­ple went through so much, and yet achieved so much, that it was dif­fi­cult to dis­till each of these ex­pe­ri­ences into a few pages. That was per­haps the tough­est part. It was also re­ally hard to hear some of the sto­ries — like Manoran­jan Bya­pari’s story of how he was ex­ploited as a child or the vi­o­lence that many of these peo­ple saw as chil­dren. The rest — the col­lec­tion of in­for­ma­tion and so on — took time but was pos­si­ble thanks to gen­eros­ity of those fea­tured in the book and their fam­i­lies.” It is but ob­vi­ous that the re­sponse to a sen­si­tive book like this would be good. Mal­lika con­firms that. “Peo­ple who have read it have found the sto­ries very emo­tive and in­spi­ra­tional. It was cho­sen as one of the books to ‘look out for’ by a lead­ing news­pa­per, and we al­ready are find­ing a great deal of in­ter­est in the book, even among those who go to the par­ti­tion mu­seum.” Mal­lika’s fam­ily has been one of those af­fected by the par­ti­tion. For them, the mu­seum must have been touch­ing. She con­fesses, “My fam­ily has al­ways been very sup­port­ive of the Par­ti­tion Mu­seum, as my grand­par­ents were af­fected by it. So many of their friends have been help­ing us through con­tribut­ing their mem­o­ries and me­mora­bilia to the Mu­seum. They have given me sug­ges­tions on peo­ple I could speak to — for ex­am­ple, my nana who is to­day the old­est sur­viv­ing mem­ber of the In­dian Po­lice Ser­vice (he was in the first batch of IPS af­ter In­de­pen­dence) was the one who told me about Ved Mar­wah’s par­ti­tion story and con­nected me to him as they served in the po­lice to­gether. My grand­par­ents would like me to do more col­lec­tions like this.” Found­ing the coun­try’s first Par­ti­tion Mu­seum is both tough and in­cred­i­ble jour­ney for Mal­lika. “When we started we didn’t have a build­ing, fund­ing, an or­ga­ni­za­tion, or any mu­seum col­lec­tion— all we had was a dream,” Mal­lika con­fides. “We also set our­selves a dead­line to open it on the 70th an­niver­sary of the par­ti­tion — 17th Au­gust 2017. This meant that we had a very short time span in which to build the mu­seum. Be­cause we had planned it as a Peo­ple’s Mu­seum, this meant that the only way we could build the mu­seum was by thou­sands of Par­ti­tion fam­i­lies join­ing us in this jour­ney and shar­ing their oral his­to­ries and ob­jects. We are very grate­ful that right from the be­gin­ning so many peo­ple stepped for­ward to help — peo­ple gave their time, funds, ob­jects, and mem­o­ries. And the rest, as they say, is his­tory.” A place like this is a teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and the re­sponse to it will be good. Mal­lika calls the re­sponse over­whelm­ing. “Over 2 lakh peo­ple have vis­ited in the short time it has been open. And they have left us warm, heart­felt notes about how the mu­seum has moved them. It has also re­ceived crit­i­cal ac­claim from many

sources. It has be­come a ‘must visit’ place for those who come to Am­rit­sar. And since it is right next to the Golden Tem­ple, it is now an es­tab­lished part of the itin­er­ary for ev­ery­one, from tourists to lo­cals, to vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries. Dr Man­mo­han Singh, Justin Trudeau and Hamid Karzai are just some of the lead­ing fig­ures who have vis­ited this year.” The con­ver­sa­tion flows to­wards the chal­lenges of han­dling some­thing dif­fer­ent like this mu­seum. Mal­lika calls its set­ting as a com­plex task. “I tend to think about my work as be­ing in three dif­fer­ent ar­eas, first, the con­tent of the mu­seum, the cu­ra­tion, re­search, de­sign etc., se­cond, the op­er­a­tional as­pects, as the mu­seum has to be open and func­tion­ing smoothly ev­ery day for our vis­i­tors, and third, the in­sti­tu­tional and fi­nan­cial as­pects of it as an or­ga­ni­za­tion. Each of these has its chal­lenges. On the con­tent side, the chal­lenge is that we are in a race against time — the par­ti­tion gen­er­a­tion is leav­ing us, and we have to doc­u­ment and ar­chive their sto­ries and ob­jects as soon as pos­si­ble be­fore that mem­ory is lost for­ever. On the fi­nan­cial side, we have to raise funds to con­tin­u­ally grow and up­grade the mu­seum. I do hope that the peo­ple read­ing this ar­ti­cle will come for­ward and help us build this Peo­ple’s Mu­seum by shar­ing their fam­ily mem­o­ries, ob­jects, or do­nat­ing funds — as this mu­seum has truly been a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort of hun­dreds of peo­ple.” On the ed­u­ca­tional and work front, Mal­lika’s jour­ney has been quite in­trigu­ing too. It is worth a hear. She states, “You might have heard Steve Job’s fa­mous speech in which he says it is not clear in the mo­ment, but look­ing back the dots do con­nect. There is no clear line from my MBA at Har­vard Busi­ness School to work­ing with marginal­ized women in cen­tral In­dia with the Min­istry of Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment, or from work­ing on ma­ter­nal health at the Gates Foun­da­tion or food aid with the UN in Namibia to the Par­ti­tion Mu­seum. But, yes, I do think each of these pre­pared me in one way or the other to bring me here to­day. They taught me how to get things done in chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances, to ask the right ques­tions, to build teams and man­age peo­ple, to man­age com­plex fi­nances, to al­ways be keen to learn — all of these things some­how came to­gether for the mu­seum. I think the main thread con­nect­ing all that I have done be­fore with what I am do­ing now is that I truly be­lieve, in a very deep way, in these projects.” Her be­lief in their power for pos­i­tive im­pact in the world is im­por­tant for her. Her life mantra to keep on go­ing ahead to do bet­ter is quite clichéd, ac­cord­ing to her. “I am very driven to make a more egal­i­tar­ian, just world, es­pe­cially for women and chil­dren. This is what I have wanted to work on since col­lege; it is what drives me to work harder and be bet­ter ev­ery day.” Next of her agenda is the big ex­hi­bi­tion on Jal­lian­wala Bagh which has been set up as part of the cen­te­nary com­mem­o­ra­tion. Mal­lika re­veals, “We will be tak­ing this to dif­fer­ent cities in In­dia and the UK, as peo­ple do not re­al­ize the ex­tent of the atroc­i­ties in 1919. Like the Par­ti­tion Mu­seum, this ex­hi­bi­tion is also from a peo­ple’s per­spec­tive and uses for­got­ten tes­ti­monies of wit­nesses to give a true pic­ture of what hap­pened be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the Jal­lian­wala Bagh mas­sacre. We are, there­fore, busy col­lect­ing more ma­te­rial on this and cu­rat­ing these ex­hi­bi­tions for next year. I am also work­ing on an­other book.” Time is a teacher, they say. With a book like Di­vided by Par­ti­tion, United by Re­silience and the Am­rit­sar-based Par­ti­tion Mu­seum, Mal­lika Ah­luwalia is mak­ing sure that peo­ple learn from time and never leave it be­hind.

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