Anatomy of a project abandoned: How I failed to navigate personal relationships for oral history research: Piyusha Chatterjee

This is the story of a research project that was abandoned. It’s also the story of my love-hate relationship with my first research project and, for lack of a better word, the failure to execute it. After living with this project for the first two years of my doctoral program, when I realised that I …

The Jallianwala Bagh Journals Sarmistha Dutta Gupta

Professor Vishwa Nath Datta had been seated in his chair. Utsab got his camera ready while Nonica helped her father put on the hearing aid. I switched on the sound recorder, and was excited to talk to the 1926-born historian who grew up in his ancestral home, just ten minutes away from Jallianwala Bagh.

A story with no ending: Meeting Vincent Stone

On pleasant November day in 2017, Sandro and I set out to meet Vincent Stone. We are in Shillong – the beautiful capital of the scenic state of Meghalaya [literally, “the place where the clouds dwell”] in north east India . Alessandro Portelli (Sandro) and I had just finished teaching at the Winter School in …

Memories, Memorabilia and Memorable interviews: Talking to Mithoo Coorlawala

I hear Mithoo Coorlawala’s voice before I actually see her. It was 26 March 2009 and I had just finished giving a talk hosted by the Mohile Parikh Centre  at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai. My talk titled, “Collective Memory, Institutional Archives and the Writing of Contemporary History” was based on the …

Traversing Geographies of Memory: Interviewing family members

Interviewing family members is messy. The interview does not stay confined to the questions one asks. Indeed, it spills into stories that the person wants to share, inviting you to look through surfaces you thought were opaque, provoking you to stare hard until your surprised eye comes to rest on shapes whose unrecognisable contours change …

Oral History and the Mirror of Time: My encounter with PVK

“I was born on a birthday that nobody will forget – April 1.st” He chuckled. “And at a time which nobody will forget,” he continued, laughter bubbling. “Char sou bis – you know the Indian Penal Code!” He was referring to Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code that specifically deals with cheating. Originally drafted …

Of lost dreams and wandering artefacts: A life story interview with an artisan

I see the dreams of Gangaramji many days before I actually meet him. Though I don’t yet know that these are his dreams when I look at the intricate wood carvings on the doors and windows of my friend’s house on top of a hill in Satoli, Uttarakhand. I don’t yet know his name, but …

“We are not snake charmers”: Encounters with identity and reptiles

In 2008 I was helping an NGO put together an oral history archive. Armed with my minidisc recorder, I had travelled to some remote villages in India where this NGO had had an impact. I was visiting remote village in Madhya Pradesh because the children here had demanded that their elders hire for them a …