14 June | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

‘A love story between children of Muslim, Hindu families’

Indian writer and historian Aanchal Malhotra says partition stories whose texture, emotions and nuanced shades helped her to write ‘The Book of Everlasting Things’

India’s writer and historian Aanchal Malhotra has said that her maternal grandparents were from Lahore’s Shahalmi area and her novel – The Book of Everlasting Things – was about the city that meant so much to her ancestors.

“This novel spans over a century, starting from the late 1800s to the present day,” she said as she introduced her debut book on the second day of the Faiz Festival at Alhamra in Lahore. She said that the characters of the book were two families based in the Walled City of Lahore.

“In this novel, there are two families – a Hindu family of perfumers and Muslim family of calligraphers who work near the Wazir Khan Mosque,” the writer told the audience. “Wazir Khan Mosque is a place of homage for me as I am lucky to visit this historic place during my trips to Lahore,” she also said.

She said that both these families were entwined through larger world events, including the World War One when the United Kingdom sent 1.5 million Indian soldiers to this European war as one of the characters went to war and returned to start a perfume business. “When the partition happened and the Hindu family had to go to India and the Muslim family stayed back.”

‘We share not only the history of being partitioned, but also the trauma’

Born in New Delhi, Aanchal Malhotra called her novel a love story between the children of two families – Muslim and Hindu. She said a larger part of her work was history and as a historian she had worked for 10 years on the partition of Indian subcontinent in 1947. “It was the partition stories whose texture, emotions and nuanced shades helped me to write the book,” she said.

“I have talked about the novel in many countries of the world and finally it has come home,” she said while referring to Lahore. About her journey from non-fiction to fiction, she said that when she first thought of the story, it could only be written in the form of a novel. “There is an ethical responsibility when you record true stories of people and you can’t change them, or use them to your advantage,” she said.

Aanchal Malhotra is also the author of “Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory,” and “In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition.” In her newspaper article, she wrote that the struggles and sacrifices made at partition were not one-sided and any form of remembrance must extend beyond frontiers.

The Book of Everlasting Things by Aanchal Malhotra
The Book of Everlasting Things by Aanchal Malhotra

“We share not only the history of being partitioned, but also the trauma that remains as its consequence, for strangely enough, it is this very moment of division that seems to bind us to each other,” she wrote. “Perhaps the most resounding emotion I’ve discerned in recent years is the deep regret that political animosity has survived for as long as our young nations have been alive, hindering any possible reconciliation with those who coexisted for centuries before a man-made border was hastily drawn.”

“The truth is that it is rare for common Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to encounter one another, except in a third, foreign land, and the great, inexplicable paradox of this is that when they do meet, far away from subcontinental politics and the burden of the border, they are naturally drawn to one another, reveling in the similarities of food, language, history, culture, habits, and even jokes,” she wrote in the article.