Oftentimes, making memories is not enough for us. We wish to convert them to things we can hold or look at, perhaps only in order to be able to ‘relive’ them later on. As time passes, we revisit these objects in hopes that they incite the same emotions as the first time.
Many such ‘things’ however, hold stories deeper than the ones that are simply memories. Objects passed down from generations ago exist in our homes, taking up their little bit of space, but vast meanings. It is nearly impossible to ignore the weight of heritage they hold –– almost as if these things remind us of a past we did not live through, but have the ability to narrate history to us.
The untold tales of these objects may not always be held as those of importance, but they sure do remain deeply personal. Artist, writer, and oral historian, Aanchal Malhotra, who treats material culture (mostly of the India-Pakistan partition of 1947) with utmost respect puts this idea in perspective for us. In her debut book Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory (2017), she says, “Memory dilutes, but the object remains unaltered.” This unchanged nature of the object stands for what feels like a story that is fresh, each time it is told.
Family heirloom objects — clothes, jewellery, furniture, and more are undoubtedly valuable, but we wished to get deeper. In order to grasp the depth of inanimate objects and their ability to shape family cultures and traditions, we reached out to you to tell us about some of them. Each story is as unique as the next and we saw just how much all of our lives are underlined by our connection to our heritage.
A word about our responses:
- The age group of our respondents ranged from 21-27 years old.
- We received responses from Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, and Delhi.
- 83.3 per cent of our respondents identify as female and the remaining 16.7 per cent as male.
- For qualitative purposes, the respondents were not forced to choose from just a selection of options and were allowed to give us insight in their own words.
- None of the respondents chose to remain anonymous.
The Object (Story) In Question
With no limit to what our respondents could write about, we received a wide range of family heirloom objects whose tales live on. Each account is as heartwarming as the next, here are some of our respondent’s hand-me-downs.
For 23-year-old Antara Gupta, it is her great-grandmother’s necklace.
22-year-old Samyukhtha Sunil speaks of a teak wood side table that her grandfather thrifted from a British-era store.
Leon Poorekhorsandi, 26, says, “A 22 karat gold ring that used to be my grandfather’s in Iran. He gave it to my mom as something to remember them by when she migrated to India along with her eldest sister who was recently married at that time. All this took place during the Iranian revolution (1979, mom was a kid in the 4th grade). She treasured the ring and kept it with herself until I turned 17. I plan on passing it down too someday.”
24-year-old Manasa S Murthy sheds light on a Titan watch passed on by her mother.
Maneesha, 27, says, “I have some of my mom’s jewellery before and after she married my dad and a lot of sarees which I’ll continue to steal from her wardrobe. With the generation of this family moving from a lower middle class to upper-middle class in terms of economic status, there wasn’t much to be passed on through the generations that could survive, so they banked on oral history and stories. My mother had a huge role in telling me stories, as a way of preserving history. When she passed on 4 years ago, my world came to a standstill. In some ways, it’s still there. What started as a rather innocent way to hang onto her, has slowly become a way of telling and re-telling my own history, even if it dated back to just one generation, and keeping her alive. I have a set of earrings, a watch, and my mom’s old engagement ring along with a bunch of photos and memories stashed all over the place. I wear the earrings whenever I miss her, often telling myself she’s here, with me and in my corner. I wear the watch every other day. Not sure if I’ll ever find a man that I like to marry me, but if that ever happens, he doesn’t have to worry too much about a ring, I guess.”
Finally, 23-year-old Rhea Lahiri says, “My grandfather’s West End Co. pocket watch was my great grandfather’s watch, which his father gave him for passing his 10th class exam with distinction. It must be at least over a hundred years old and it had been passed to my grandfather who passed it on to me recently.”
The Shaping Of A Family Culture
The relevance of these objects does not deplete over time. Even if kept stashed away safely, all it takes is one glance at it for its entire history to come rushing back to you. Each family’s culture, in some or the other way, happens to be influenced by these objects that at one point in time may have been considered menial. Now, with their weighted importance, here’s how our respondents see them.
Samyukhtha from Bengaluru and Leon from Mumbai would agree that they act as reminders of a precious time gone by. Samyukhtha speaks of the teak wood table, “We lived in a large Anglo-Indian settlement in suburban Chennai which was once home to several British officers and their families. It was just a piece that’s a remembrance of that time and space in my childhood.” Leon echoes the emotion regarding his ring, “It keeps reminding me of my true origin and the tough times my family had to go through during the Iranian revolution.”
The personal importance that a tangible object carries is often difficult to explain. However, Maneesha from Hyderabad does so wonderfully. “Given that this is the first generation of my family, who to my knowledge, can afford hand-me-downs that are more than just oral history, that in itself, is monumental for the generations to come. I hope I can pass on that story along with the earrings. Given I’m talking about mom, if it’s a lot richer in imagery and description of virtue, she was my hero on so many accounts, it’s very personal and is definitely important to us. The fact that no one in my family will know her as well from here on is one of the reasons I want to keep her alive — through stories and souvenirs,” she says.
Rhea Lahiri from Delhi, too, elaborates the history-ladled tale of the handed-down pocket watch. She says, “My ancestors were originally from Bangladesh and moved to India during the partition, while they could move to India safely. They had to leave behind most of their things and out of all of them, only a few things remained. This pocket watch was one of them. The shift to India mentally took a toll on many of them; we as the 3rd generation sometimes feel the effects of it. When this watch was given it was just a cool thing my great grandfather had received as a child for achievement. Still, to my grandfather, this remains one of the few memories of his birthplace and for me, the only few things that tell me about my family’s history that along with my grandfather will eventually go away.”
Of The Past & People
The legacy of each family lives on in various manners; some continue through these ‘things’ we speak of, but some may also move forward through subtle memories. Not each heirloom may be an indicator of legacies and that is okay. It is not simply the object that is burdened with the duty to carry the legacy forward. It is also the will of those who inherit it to do so.
Antara Gupta from Pune feels similarly regarding her grandmother’s necklace, “I think from a historical perspective it could definitely be very useful and beneficial, however, I do not believe it is an important part of continuing a legacy. A legacy need not emerge solely from objects.”
“Now with this ring, my future generations will know that there use to be a man named ‘Khodabaksh Anwari’ in Iran and all the stories about what a gem of a person he was,” enunciates Leon and so, by way of an object, a great man’s name lives on.
Hand-me-downs are perhaps not passed down with an intention to be remembered but out of the sheer love that drives you to give a part of you to the one you hold dear. Even then, some things are simply left behind, with equal importance. Family heirlooms, no matter the memory attached, remain precious and I hope these stories proved just that.
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