History Society

Exhibitions at Amritsar’s Partition Museum and in Delhi give us the people’s history of ‘azadi’

Standing inside Amritsar’s Town Hall, where the Partition Museum had just opened, I felt overwhelmed. On the wall in front of me were photographs taken by Margaret Bourke-White in 1947, brutal documentation of what the Partition had left in its wake. Nothing in school history lessons on the Partition had prepared me for the story of one of the biggest displacements in world history.

This was five years ago. Since then the museum has continued to tell gut-wrenching stories of 1947 lest we forget. During the pandemic, there were several online activities in the form of oral history interviews on Zoom, virtual tours and poetry readings.

This year, for the 75th anniversary of Independence, the museum has decided to deliver the Partition narrative through an exhibition of traditional textiles of undivided Punjab, from August 14 to August 17 .

Khes fabrics on display as part of ‘The Khes Project’.

Khes fabrics on display as part of ‘The Khes Project’. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Khes Project

Khes fabrics on display as part of ‘The Khes Project’

Khes fabrics on display as part of ‘The Khes Project’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The aim, according to Kishwar Desai, Chairperson of The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust (TAACHT) that set up the museum, is not just to document craft traditions, but delve a little deeper into history. The khes  and phulkari fabric arts have deep personal attachments for many Punjabis, on both sides of the border.

Khes, particularly, was woven predominantly in western Punjab, that became Pakistan. When the great migration happened, people fleeing their homes and hearths took those beautiful fabrics across. The khes  was often made by women at home. The thick, sturdy cloth had several uses — as dhurrie or something to wrap oneself up in during cold winters. It is long-lasting, as evident from the 80-year-old khes  on display at the exhibition.

A video show will talk about the journey of The Khes Project, other textile traditions of undivided Punjab and about women-led craft collectives active in the State.

Close ties

The new Partition museum coming up in Delhi.

The new Partition museum coming up in Delhi. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Partition Museum’s next mammoth project is the launch of another Partition museum in the capital. Set up by TAACHT, the Dara Shikoh Library at Kashmiri Gate, Old Delhi, is being readied for the museum. The library is believed to have been constructed between 1639 and 1643 at a cost of ₹400,000 by Emperor Shah Jahan’s son, Dara Shiko. Since then, it has weathered many storms, including Nadir Shah’s invasion in 1739, and the Rebellion of 1857, and yet stands, though barely, to tell the tale.

The heritage building and its gardens have been restored by the government and handed over to TAACHT. The museum should be up and running in the next few months. On August 14, there will be a simple lighting of candles at the site.

According to Desai, the Delhi museum will focus on the myriad ways the Indian capital has transformed since 1947. “A huge number of Delhiites are people whose parents/ grandparents migrated to Pakistan. So, while the history of Partition remains the same, the narratives here are different from those in Amritsar,” she says. 

A restored portion of the Dara Shikoh Library, which will soon house the new Partition Museum, at Kashmiri Gate in Old Delhi.

A restored portion of the Dara Shikoh Library, which will soon house the new Partition Museum, at Kashmiri Gate in Old Delhi. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Interestingly, Deepak Luthra, the person involved in landscaping the gardens around the heritage structure, has close ties to the Partition. “Deepak’s father crossed the border and arrived in Delhi with nothing and rebuilt his life from scratch,” says Desai. 

Many more such stories and other remnants from 1947 will lend themselves to a historic people’s exhibition at the museum. “We have been gathering a lot of materials from different parts of the country for the past five years. A lot of the exhibits and narratives have been donated by Partition survivors and their families,” Desai says.

NGMA exhibition

In partnership with the Ministry of Culture and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, there will also be an exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art from August 14-31, centred on the Partition and the cataclysmic fallout of the forced migration.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Coimbatore.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2022 6:00:32 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/society/exhibition-amritsar-partition-museum-peoples-history-independence-new-museum-new-delhi/article65751398.ece