This unique museum preserves precious memories of the Indo-Pak Partition
Be kind, rewind
Childhood friends Navdha Malhotra and Aanchal Malhotra’s online museum makes memorabilia of old, forgotten objects that carry family secrets and memories of the Indo-Pak Partition.
ELLE: What made you want to start the Museum Of Material Memory?
Aanchal Malhotra: While conducting interviews for my book [Remnants Of A Separation (HarperCollins India), which studies the Partition through the belongings that people carried across the border], I noticed that objects went far beyond their physical constructs—a book held a grandparent’s childhood secret, a piece of jewellery embodied the painful memory of migration. I realised all objects of age possess memories. This museum is designed so that the current generation can learn about its past through items that their families hold dear.
ELLE: How do you collect and curate these objects?
Navdha Malhotra: When we started, we relied on friends and family. But now, we’re increasingly using social media to get submissions. We have a form on our website that people can fill out and after this, we usually work with them to flesh out the story. But since these are essentially people’s memories, it is difficult to verify them. That’s where ethnographic research becomes important—we want the museum to be an archive that accurately charts the customs and history of the subcontinent.
ELLE: Do you have any favourite India-Pakistan stories?
AM: One of the first stories we did was about a 100-year-old lock that was used to secure the family home of Malik Tikaya Ram Khanna in Multan [Pakistan]. During the Partition, he sent his family across to Lucknow and followed them later, with all their possessions in trunks—one of which was secured with this lock. That lock was passed down to his wife after his death, and then to their son, after hers. In her account, Surangana Makin, Khanna’s granddaughter said, “My grandfather believed that if that lock was good enough to secure the contents of their lives as they fled in 1947, it is still good enough to secure the contents of our home in Delhi.”
ELLE: Which of your belongings are in the museum’s collection?
NM: My grandfather’s briefcase. I wasn’t able to interact with him much while he was alive. The contents of this briefcase, including his personal journal entries, have made me feel closer to him.
AM: My grandmother’s Singer sewing machine, which her mother gifted her in 1948 when she secured first place in a sewing class. Why? So that no matter what, she would always have a way to make ends meet. Seventy years later, she still uses it.
ELLE: What’s the goal for the year ahead?
NM: To add as many objects as possible. I’d also like for us to have a small team that is equally passionate about this, so that we can curate more stories.
AM: We’d also like to set up little pop-up versions of the museum. Nothing elaborate, just small physical exhibits that bring the online archive into real life.