This week I'm flitting between three cities, attending conferences in two, making my way back in the third one -- moving in my old room again, while half of my boxes and things are stuck in another house eight hours away from where I grew up. Thinking about memories, what each place, room holds and means to me has become quite the routine for this time of the year. Memories of my family intertwine with national history -- partly because of my grandmum's participation in the freedom struggle and in part my great-grandfather's connections with Nehruvians -- so much so that writing anything about the nation would be futile without mentioning my family and the place I occupy and negotiate in both spaces. My sister and I usually clean grandmum's cupboard, pack up her photographs, clean her saris while her ghazals play on the tape -- it's something we do without discussion or planning, it's an annual chore of sorts. This year, mum invited two of our aunts along, all of us began with the cleaning and boxing. Somehow, they started talking about her little quirks, her way of cooking this sabzi or the other, quickly praising her poise ("Right to her last days, she has never been inconvenient to anyone") that dissolved to silence as my sister asked my aunts what was she like when they were growing up, if she was as radical as the stories assure us. These are not memories you want to remember her by, auntie huffed, think how great a grandmother she was to the two of you, the Swadeshi¹ thing is very old, what's the point of thinking of all that now? I find this extremely disorienting -- to specifically remember her as a defanged version of her older self, as a wife and grandmother but not as a woman in her own right who wanted to be more than just a housewife.
A friend asked this question a few days ago and I am still grappling with what it implies, what it can unfold. She asked me to write one day about South Asian feminisms² and its legacy of violence, to the extent that to speak of South Asian feminisms is to speak of violence -- and what does it mean for us today, what responsibility do we have to various women's movements across South Asia. The conference I went to yesterday, before starting on her paper on Urdu poetry, the speaker stood up and apologised to all the Bangladeshi feminists present -- she said the Pakistani government would never state this, but as a feminist she feels responsible for her compliance and silence in the Bangladeshi war of 1971 -- a conference that addresses South Asian feminism was a good platform, she said, to make new memories out of national histories. While those were terse and moving moments -- sadly, they will not exist out of spaces made by academia and institutional discussions of feminism. Grandmum and her friend -- who I only know as Fatimabibi -- tried to keep in touch after her family migrated to Bangladesh after the Partition as many Muslim households in Bengal and Orissa did, but both were young mothers with families that didn't want to accommodate their ideologies, eventually they stopped writing to each other, my grandmum wouldn't ever speak of her -- I only found their letters while doing a project on family this semester. And even then, I felt like I was intruding on words and memories that I wasn't meant to be a part of -- grandmum mentioned burning a few letters on Fatimabibi's request in her journals; all she said was, "Those were important but not happy words". I don't know what was that in reference to -- I could speculate, but I won't. These are not my memories to play with. It's one thing to claim responsibility as a political move, as an extension of your beliefs, quite another to destroy history, to remain *that* firm on your belief of what comes under responsibility³.
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