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Beyond imagined lines: memories of Partition

Godrej's India Culture Lab is mounting a pop-up museum to mark 70 years of Indian independence on the theme of Partition

The band members of Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café.
The band members of Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café.

The Godrej India Culture Lab provides a unique platform for disparate fields to speak to each other—be it academia with the corporate world, or the non-profit sectors with the artistic fields. The ideas generated through cross-breeding enrich each field in turn. Next week, the lab is mounting a pop-up museum, Museum Of Memories: Remembering Partition, to mark 70 years of independence. The theme, as the name indicates, is Partition.

There will be something to suit everyone’s palate during the three-day pop-up starting 4 August: discussions, film screenings, performances, exhibitions. The programme is being divided into two parts: One will feature exhibitions across the Godrej One campus, and the second, lectures and talks in the auditorium. The Culture Lab has collaborated with institutions such as the Partition Museum in Amritsar, the 1947 Partition Archive and Indian Memory Project for the pop-up, and has roped in known names like Shyam Benegal, Nandita Das and Ramesh Sippy.

Parmesh Shahani, who steers the Culture Lab ship, exudes infectious energy, even over the phone. “There is such an extensive body of work on Partition from literature, film and art to food, and there are so many contemporary conversations happening. While curating, there was so much we couldn’t include."

It was a visit to the Partition Museum in Amritsar that inspired the idea of marking 70 years of independence by making a people’s museum of memories that also acts as a meeting point for diverse fields. “The scars and fault lines of Partition run so deep. We thought, how can we look back on these 70 years, so we assembled different people across academia, film, art and fashion," says Shahani. The fashion designers Sabyasachi, Abraham and Thakore, and Tarun Tahiliani are creating garments specifically for this project that will be displayed in an exhibition titled Stitching History. Shahani tells me these will later be donated to the Partition Museum, as a modern response to Partition.

This will be the second Museum Of Memories pop-up. The first, held in 2012, was spread over 60,000 sq. ft of an empty Godrej factory that was scheduled to be demolished the next day, with the space being transformed for a day-long programme of talks, screenings, music and food events.

This time, there will be six objects, lent by the Partition Museum, on display. These will be surrounded by what Shahani hopes will be an “outpouring of memories by the people of Mumbai sharing objects with us". They’ve asked for any objects related to memories of Partition to be shared. It will be “people creating a museum of memories on the spot".

A still from Gurinder Chadha’s ‘Partition: 1947’ .

The programme will also bring in voices from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Pakistani film-maker and activist with two Academy Awards, and artist Salima Hashmi, who is also the daughter of noted poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, will be skyping from Pakistan for a session. “From Bangladesh, we’re welcoming Tanvir Mokammel, a film-maker and nine times National Film Award winner, who is screening the first worldwide preview of his film Simantorekha (The Borderline), which looks at the effects of Partition on both sides of Bengal." They will also screen a preview of Gurinder Chadha’s Partition: 1947, which releases on 18 August, on the last day, after a performance by Kabir Café.

What to look out for? Shahani says: “My favourite exhibit is the project by the School of Environment and Architecture, Mumbai, with refugees in Sindhi camps in Chembur; it traces their lives and memories and is beautifully done. Another very evocative and touching project is from Kiranbir Sethi of the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, who has sent us letters of young students addressed to their grandparents asking about Partition."

What do you hope to achieve with this? I ask. “I want people to reflect on our times, contextualize our time with history. Not history with a capital ‘H’, as taught in school, but as microhistories—complicated and beautiful stories of change. Through this extensive programming, people can make sense of today in light of the past."

Remembering Partition: Museum Of Memories will be held at Godrej One, Vikhroli, Mumbai, from 4-6 August. Free and open to all. For details, visit here

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