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Your Daily Read: The Memories Collectors

New-Age archivists in India are making histories and memories accessible to everyone

Using private memories to remember the past and understand the present

Not so long ago, before cable TV, the world wide web and mobile phones monopolized our lives, one of the more pleasurable ways of spending a family reunion was poring over old pictures – remembering the perfect holiday, laughing over Mom’s flared trousers and Dad’s checked shirts, astonished at Grandma’s stunning sarees and Grandpa’s oversized glasses (all of which are back in fashion by the way).

What happens when you bring together numerous private memories into the public sphere? That’s when you develop unusual- sometimes alternative – narratives of history, which is the subject of today’s Your Daily Read. As photographer Anusha Yadav, the woman behind the celebrated Indian Memory Project, elaborates:

I was surprised to see that we have so many kinds of DNAs; or how people process grief differently; while partition brought misery for many, for some it was also an opportunity; or how a generation in 1947 would have missed out on two years of education as schools and colleges were shut for that duration.

One of this writer’s earliest memories of childhood is reciting her favourite poem in front of what appeared to be a large radio, and then look around in confused amazement as the click of a button replayed her voice . The commercialization of the cassette deck in the mid 1970s led to the widespread enjoyment of music (and secret eavesdropping on family conversations), but the recorded voice has existed long before that. Inspired by his travels in Europe, author and archivist set up the Archive of Indian Music to gather – and salvage – the gramophone recordings of Indian musicians.

People inherited these records but didn’t know what to do with them. They sold them as scrap. Not knowing how to digitise them well, many records are still cleaned with shoe polish or coconut oil which spoil them further.

With rapid transformation in the world around us, archiving is no longer about remembering the past – increasingly, it is also about capturing the quicksilver changes in our lives and homes. Projects such as People’s Archives of Rural India (PARI) and the Public Access Digital Media Archive (pad.ma) are trying to do just that. According to journalist P. Sainath, who came up with PARI:

There is much that is brilliant and beautiful,but also things that are barbaric and regressive in rural India. The transformation in the countryside is strengthening the latter.

And finally there is the Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW), a project dating back to 1988 that documents the personal challenges and achievements of ordinary women who are changing their lives in big and small ways. In the words of CS Lakshmi, one of the co-founders of SPARROW:

There was a time when women’s issues were referred to as “problems”. We tried to document women as they existed in their space and negotiated the world around them.

Read the complete article here.

Cover image: Hellen Keller in India, courtesy US Embassy archives

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