Sometimes, it’s the little things that say it all. In this case, commonplace items such as a wedding sari, a radio or even kitchen utensils are all it takes to convey the personal narratives of the millions who lived through, and died, during one of the most defining events on the subcontinent – the Partition of India in 1947.
The Partition Museum in Amritsar has an extensive collection of items donated by Partition survivors and their families, who were swept up in sudden confusion and chaos. Often left with no time to even pack their belongings, they gathered anything they could lay their hands on while fleeing, leaving their homes forever.
The objects received by the museum are thus items of practical use as well as those that hold great sentimental value.
These are items that the survivors brought from the homes they left on the other side of the border 70 years ago.
Each object in the museum has a story implicitly woven into it while also reflecting the material culture of a people divided. They are important milestones in this epoch-making event but also symbols of the loss, pain and grief that their owners endured.
Here are five objects from the Partition Museum’s collection that you would not expect to see in any other museum. They are, at once, prosaic, personal and powerful.
Sudershana Kumari was 8 years old when she migrated with her family from Lahore to Delhi during Partition. Their trunk contained these utensils, which her mother had packed along with her gold jewellery, clothes, rugs and blankets. Sudershana received these utensils as heirlooms from her mother and they hold tremendous sentimental value for her.
She says that just like Emperor Ashoka’s iron pillar, the pateela has never rusted. While she used the pateela regularly to cook food after Partition, she remembers that the glass was used especially for guests, and serving lassi or milk in it was a sign of high honour.
Generously donated by Sudershana Kumari
Radios played an important role during the Partition and were one of the few means of receiving information. During the mayhem, it was through the radio that people learnt about safe routes of migration, and places where riots had taken place. Families often depended on radio announcements to learn of the whereabouts of family members who had been separated from them. Refugee camps also had radios to announce the arrival of refugees so that they could be reunited with their families.
Amol Swani and her family migrated from Peshawar to Delhi at the time of Partition. When the riots started, the Muslim workers from her father's dry-fruit business hid her family behind large sacks of dry fruit in a truck, and escorted them to safety, saving their lives. One of the items that the family carried with them across the border was this radio. It was through this radio that they learnt about the riots that were taking place daily.
Generously donated by Amol Swani
This pocket watch belonged to Pt Devi Dass, a resident of Nowshera, now in Pakistan. He was separated from his family at the time of Partition and, for weeks, they had no news of him. One day, an acquaintance of Devi Dass, Kishori Lal, was helping with the mass cremation of unclaimed bodies when he recognized the body of Devi Dass. He removed the watch from his pocket and later advertised in a daily newspaper, asking surviving family members to collect it from him. It is through this advertisement that the family got to know that Devi Dass was no more. This was one of the few mementos by which his children could remember him. Pt Devi Dass was Sudershana Kumari’s father-in-law.
Generously donated by Sudershana Kumari
Suman Gorwaney donated an exquisite piece of velvet cloth that has been in her husband's family for three generations. This cloth belonged to Suman’s grandmother-in-law, who grew up in Sindh, now in Pakistan, and was brought to India in 1952. It was divided into three pieces by Suman's mother-in-law and kept for each of her children. When Suman Gorwaney married in 1977, her mother-in-law gave her this piece of cloth as part of her Shagun (a wedding custom of giving gifts to a bride). While donating the cloth to the Partition Museum, Ms Gorwaney said that she wanted the world to see the beauty of its craft and share her emotional attachment to it.
Generously donated by Suman Gorwaney
This Post Office Cash Certificate was purchased in Sargodha, now in Pakistan, in 1938 by Lt Col Rabindra Nath Malik’s grandfather. It was issued when the colonel himself was just 7 years old and given to him by his father, Captain Dwarka Nath Malik. Even though the certificate was transferred to India Post, Lt Col Rabindra Nath did not encash it, as he wanted to preserve it for its connection with his grandfather and the home he left behind.
Generously donated by Lt Col Rabindra Nath Malik
Most of these artefacts aren’t the obvious treasures one associates with a museum but it is the history and personal stories they hold which make them remarkable. These may be everyday objects but carry the emotional resonance of the largest migrations in history. They carry with them the trauma, pathos and angst of those turbulent times in which millions lost everything and rebuilt their lives in a newly independent nation.
About The Partition Museum
The Partition Museum is the world’s first museum dedicated to the Partition of India in 1947. It is a People’s Museum that aims to tell the stories of the millions impacted by this momentous event, through oral histories, refugee artefacts, archival photographs, original documents and art works. The museum is housed in the historic Town Hall building in Amritsar and is a five-minute walk from the Jallianwala Bagh and Golden Temple.
The Partition Museum has a growing archive and continues to collect memories and objects of Partition Survivors. They hope to record and remember the stories of the Partition Survivors and preserve their details in the museum’s archive for future generations to understand the most defining event in the Indian subcontinent. If you belong to a Partition family or have a Partition Survivor in your family, please share your details and story with them by filling out the form given below: http://www.partitionmuseum.org/are-you-from-a-partition-family/