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Monday, June 6, 2016

What I Felt After I Recorded My First 1947 Partition Story?

Sometimes things just appear before us. All of a sudden. Everything feels connected and CLEAR. 

This is what happened to me on one chilly February 2016 afternoon. You know how Delhi winters are- balmy and grey. As I read the instructions of how to become eligible to collect stories, I felt as if sunshine was spreading wings slowly over the blanket of my grey sky.  

So after I contributed my first partition story, I was officially the 'Citizen Historian' and then they asked me to share my experience of collecting of maiden partition story. Much to my amazement, I did and in between writing the responses, there was a sense that how this opportunity has enriched my experience as a (amateur) writer.

While the questions were short, they made me think to the point that first time I believed that yes writing do comes naturally to me, especially when I wrote the closing note- 

What we want to become? Well, if anyone is seeking answer to this, I suggest they look into where they have come from and what they are made of. The answer lies in our past, our history. 

This piece originally appeared here on Facebook.

So, here is what I think of this overall experience of collecting stories.

What is your profession?  Are you a student?
Presently, I‘m working as a content marketer in India.

Where do you live? Where are you from originally?
I am born and brought up in Delhi. My family traces its roots to Lahore and Dalbandin, Balochistan in Pakistan.

How many stories have you collected so far?
I have collected one story so far and I’ll be recording a few more accounts soon.

What do you love about collecting stories?
Being the student of literature, stories has always mesmerized me.I believe nothing holds more power than the greater propensity with which a (written/spoken) word can take a reader/listener to a world- unknown and untamed. It is immensely fulfilling and strange at the same time, to have become one with the life stories of one’s ancestors and unveil an experience that’s buried long inside the deeper gorges of history.

Is there any particular interview experience that stands out to you?
Loss and triumphs are the two opposites and I believe they define the life of most of the first-gen partition immigrants. Still the sublime equanimity with which the interviewee Mr Balraj narrated his life experiences has amazed me. To see a man talk about the communal harmony and the brutal killing of his uncle in the riots with equal ease minus any hint of hatred is one moment that has stayed with me post interview.

How has story collecting changed your perceptions of Partition?
It was the portrayal (in popular culture) of violence and the related incidents of hatred between the communities that once lived in utmost harmony,which defined my initial understanding of partition. At the same time, while I was growing up, I was surrounded by people who came from the other side of the border. In fact, most of the evenings in our family home were marked by story sessions by my late grandfather who used to share all his wonderful experiences of pre-partition life,about how they finally made it to the new country leaving behind everything in Lahore.
This understanding reached an exalted state of awe and wonder only recently. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the harsh realities of their struggles never felt for real until I recorded my first interview.
Surprisingly, the first thing I understood was that what I heard during childhood was although the first-hand account from my grand-father but I could easily see the difference now. As a child, they were just the stories. Stories little kids love to hear- its real essence and depth I understand now. As a third-gen immigrant, I finally came face-to-face with the gravity of all those tales of valour, trauma, struggle, heartache, love and resilience.
This experience has given a newer perspective to my understanding of life and our vulnerability as humans. So, the first thing I did after I recorded my first interview was to watch the play 'Jis Lahore NaiDekhya, O JamyaiNai' by Syed Asghar Wajahat, even though I have had already read the text years ago.
I wanted to ‘feel’ the struggles of my people by becoming (even if through the literary medium) witness of how a border impacted the lives of commoners, whose fates were entwined by the people who could have done a lot to avoid this catastrophic event.

What is important to you about this work?
While the 1947 Partition has altered our civilization histories forever, the fact that it has no institutional sanction cannot be less overwhelming. I believe it is efforts like The 1947 Partition Archive that goes a long way to establish a link between past and present of the sub-continent and to a larger extent impacting its future too.And then the greater urgency that is required to document these untold stories foretells the importance of this incredible work and I feels great to be part of this enriching journey.

What would you tell others to encourage them to help preserve stories as a Citizen Historian?
What we want to become? Well, if anyone is seeking answer to this, I suggest they look into where they have come from and what they are made of. The answer lies in our past, our history. 
“Each time we begin to forget our past; we lose the very anchor that keeps us from drifting.”
This is the reason why as a citizen historian, I want to stress upon the importance of remembering past and preserving it for our future generations before it gets too late. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

“People perish. Only memories remain.”

I come from a close-knit family and share/d wonderful bond of friendship and guidance with three of my five (fraternal side) grand-fathers as well as my maternal grand-father. An immensely enriching experience, a precious feeling, this is one of the things that will always hold much significance in my life.

My own grand-father passed away in 2011. All through my childhood, I grew-up listening to first-hand account of numerous tales about his life from pre-partition days that he spent in Lahore, Sindh, and Quetta Balochistan, which is now in present day Pakistan.

                                                  “People perish. Only memories remain.”

Unfortunately, the urgency of documenting/recording our legacy – the importance and need of preserving them never really occurred to me, until I chanced upon The 1947 Partition Archive website in Feb 2016.

At that very moment, I thought, “my own grand-father may have gone but I still have three of them with me”. So, I didn’t want to lose this opportunity once again and keep-safe our legacy and this was enough to sign up for such a wonderful initiative.

So the first interview I took was that of one of the four brothers of my grand-father. The hearing ability of Mr. Balraj in the last few years has deteriorated, still he refuse to wear any hearing aid. When we told him about this project, initially he contemplated a little if it would be right to share his story with such a wider audience. But then he got ready to share his side of story.

After I interviewed him, (I already know my own late grand-father’s story) I realised this is his unique story- a journey of a 15 year old boy who had to leave his home to make a new one in a different place, to start his life afresh in an unknown land. His excitement of sharing his life story at the time of interview was difficult to miss.

To a greater extent, I believe by being part of (even if by just listening to) their life story, I am the one who has gained most from these tales of strength, struggles and exemplary will-power and resilience. The fact they opened up and talked about their wounds, their most vulnerable feelings makes me feel like the luckiest person on this planet.