The threads of Partition: Tribute and Dust

In the last in her series, Artist and Poet Suman Gujral shares with us work drawn from her family’s experiences during the Partition of India in 1947.

My mum has survived so much displacement – at 12 from her home, never to return, then coming here only 17 years later with two young daughters, leaving my brother behind with my grandparents.

Life was difficult – they faced a lot of racism and she had to work in a factory to support the family. The trauma of having to leave everything behind to start again never left her and she is a hoarder – like many of the post-war generation.

The work Absent is about my Dad. He never spoke about Partition to me. It was during my MA when I started to research into Indian art history, which is not taught here, that I began to understand the impact of Partition on the whole Indian sub-continent, and consequently, on my family.

When Mum gave me Dad’s hankies, I started to work with them and connected to him through the work. Absent expresses my sense of loss and feeling that part of him was lost to us.


Mumma sits, shadowy in disappearing

daylight sifts, sorts, filing her life

into keep, throw, I -don’t -know


She squints at me, Perhaps, you can use these?

pointing hopefully at turbans, karas, kangas,

glasses, soft piles of snowy folded hankies


Some emigrated with them in ’65, others say ‘D’ for

Daddy, bought in 1980, last used in ’97, handy to wipe brows,

tear, wipe off blasted English pollen


I look at her doubting but, what she’s offering is not material, I see

my dapper daddy turban elegantly wound, matching his

three-piece suit, the crisp, daily hankie peeping out of his top pocket


and I see all they did

to scrimp and raise us

-I can’t refuse her.


Months later, we stand in a gallery, her memories unwound before

us she regards a random stranger reading pompous words,

Mumma-fashion, she taps him on the shoulder


This is Sami’s work and this is Sami, he smiles

his understanding that this work is about love

a tribute to all she has endured


Listen to Suman reading Tribute:

Dust was written after watching yet another news report about refugees dying whilst seeking sanctuary.

The news reports are often through the eyes of the countries that refugees are trying to reach. I wanted to give them a voice and hoped that there might be more sympathy for their plight.

The work Counted, which accompanies Dust, is about the fact that we don’t know how many refugees have died in flight, and we also don’t know how many people have died from Covid.

The holes were made with a book tool as I am telling a story. Each gold knot is for 100 people and each red for 1,000. The holes speak of absence. The knots are to remember.

Counted acknowledges the unacknowledged.

Suman Gujral's work, Counted

Counted, Suman Gujral


worn out with grieving

for the lives we hoped for-

lives taken, lost, delayed,

heart-sore, we make our way


hope does not live here

in the dust and embers

of our forsaken cities

of our unvalued lives


shadows disappearing into shadow

we don’t know if flight will save us


you think we dream of riches

as we leave behind our homes?

as we sink or swim in moonlit seas

our children in our arms?


we only dream of safer shores

we dream that if you cared

to see us you might care


this is not the welcome that we hoped for

when we washed up on your shores

Follow Suman @print_makerlady and find out more about her work.