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How Clothing Helped Preserve Identity During the Partition

By Anjali Mahbubani

If you’ve heard the term ‘Third-culture kid’, you know that not everyone calls their motherland home. Some are just citizens of the world, with reminiscences of their heritage and identity as family heirlooms. In the case of Hindu Sindhis, their belonging has been challenged since the Indian partition, which occurred less than a century ago.

I myself am a second-generation third culture kid of Sindhi descent. I come from a Hindu Indian family settled in Lagos, Nigeria, where me and my sister grew up. We often sift through our mother’s archive of pictures or tour our grandparents' memories to get a glimpse into our family history. 

Pictured below (1966): My paternal grandparents visiting in Delhi, India. The indo-western looks captured include a Salwar / Kurta top design and a golden frame bag. (She almost looks like she’s wearing the Appliqué Shirt and Garden Frame Bag!)

My grandmother has once shared the tales of how the partition uprooted the lives of civilians beyond the hand drawn border of India and Pakistan; how it began challenging their ideas of culture and identity. The partition created a by-product of culturally ambiguous generations to come. “It was just 76 years or 2 generations ago that we had to redefine who we were, but our tradition in style remained intact. We invested in our clothing, not only as a display of opulence, but a way to preserve our identity and hold on to the culture and traditions we grew up with.” For Sindhis, clothing became a piece of identity that could be carried on their backs, to take with them wherever their uprooting would lead next.

For Sindhis in Nigeria, these unique vibrant colors and intricate patterns of our traditional dress have been able to instill a level of confidence in our third-culture community. I can recall the linen kurta co-ords my father and grandfather would exchange for their shirt and trouser combo on ‘casual Friday’ at the office. Our generation has been able to maintain this tradition—at culture days in school or for graduation—where we choose to wear the clothes of our ancestors. 

When exploring style today, I must emphasize the influence my culture has had; I would describe it as a mix of authentic flair and modesty. My indo-western influenced style has evolved into an everyday attire fit for a bodega run or a classic day-to-night look.

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