In October 2013, Aanchal Malhotra visited the home of her maternal grandfather in north Delhi’s Roop Nagar. She was accompanying photographer Mayank Austen Soofi, who was going to the house for a project he was working on. Malhotra, an artist who was living in Montreal and pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) from Concordia University at that time, had come to Delhi on a break.
The bungalow she and Soofi were going to visit, called Vij Bhawan, was where Malhotra’s mother had grown up. It had housed nearly three generations of a largely joint family and was built in 1955 by Chunni Lal Vij, the family patriarch who co-owned a jewelry business in Chandni Chowk. The house left Malhotra with the distinct impression that “everything had remained the same since its original construction.” She and Soofi spent several hours with her grandfather, Vishwa Nath Vij, and his brother, Yash Pal Vij, talking, about the architecture of the building and unravelling the history that surrounded it.
Suddenly, right in the middle of this conversation, Yash Pal got up and left the room. He returned shortly with a selection of old things, all covered in a fine layer of dust. Yash Pal then proceeded to segregate two objects from the assortment, perhaps assuming that no one would notice the separation. However, these two artifacts immediately caught Malhotra’s attention and she demanded an explanation. The gaz—measuring tape—and ghara—pitcher—were no treasure, her grandfather assured her. The only thing that made them distinct, he told her, was that they belonged to the pre-Partition era. Malhotra was intrigued. “I’d never heard somebody use that terminology in an everyday setting,” she later told me. Soon, Yash Pal began regaling Soofi and her with tales of the family’s journey from Lahore to Delhi. So immersed was he in the narrative, that Malhotra felt that, “he was in the room and he was not there at all.” Memories that had been locked away for far too long were now flooding his mind, and he seemed to be travelling in time.