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An exhibition that tells lesser-known stories of Partition

A virtual, immersive exhibition on Partition hopes to give youngsters agency over this defining moment

One of the exhibits at Un. Divided Identities (Courtesy ReReeti Foundation)

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Before August 1947, the Tufail family lived an ordinary, comfortable life in Jalandhar, Punjab. The father, Alabaksh, would till and sow his ancestral land, growing potatoes, wheat and other seasonal crops; the mother, Noorunisa, taught at the local school, where her younger children, Muhammed and Sakina, studied; the older boys, Hasan and Bashir, were in university, in Mumbai and Lahore. Partition changed everything. As Punjab burnt and people were massacred en masse, the family had to make a decision: Where could they go, and how could they get there?

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This is one of four storylines that will form part of Un. Divided Identities: Lesser-known stories of the Partition, a virtual, immersive exhibition starting 15 October. The main storylines concern the following characters: the Tufail family; Sitaram, a medical officer posted in Jaitu village in Ferozepur; the Roychowdhurys, a large Hindu Bengali zamindar family; and Devidas, from Hyderabad, a city in Sindh province. While the stories of the Tufail family and Sitaram have been mapped using personal family histories, the other two are fictionalised characters with experiences rooted in research.

According to a press statement, the show, a collaboration between the Bengaluru-based ReReeti Foundation, the British Council and the Glasgow Life Museums under the Our Shared Cultural Heritage Initiative (OSCH), is in a graphic novel format that aims to capture the mass migration and personal stories of Partition. Essentially, the viewer needs to choose a character and make decisions for them, ultimately deciding their future and chance of survival.“The audience navigates through difficult choices on behalf of the characters, effectively increasing their involvement with the story,” says Shaunaq Madan, web developer and creative head, Un.Divided Identities, adding that the context for each story is set up with short animated videos scripted and illustrated to draw the audience into a specific environment while maintaining the suspense.”Creating an immersive experience is about understanding the essence of a story and presenting it with uncompromising honesty. The digital medium of the web offers virtually limitless possibilities of execution,” believes Madan.

Eight young South Asians from India and Glasgow helped the core team with research, story mapping and the creation of sound and animation. Additionally, school students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were encouraged to conduct oral history interviews with Partition survivors in their communities. “These have been used as a research resource for the exhibition and will be documented in an associated archive that ReReeti is currently building,” says Bhanu Ghalot, cultural practitioner and project head, Un.Divided Identities.

The project’s second phase will use the exhibition as an educational tool in the classroom. The team has created lesson plans and workshops to discuss and highlight themes of migration, belonging and identity and plans to take these to schools across India and Pakistan. They will also be conducting professional development workshops for teachers in Glasgow on facilitating learnings on Partition for their students, says Ghalot. “The main aim...has been to make the difficult history of Partition engaging for the young,” she adds. “We want the young to engage with this subject and through that have agency over a history that continues to define South Asian identity.”

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Visit https://rereeti.org/ to attend the 6 pm launch and access the exhibition.

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