I feel like a plant that grows in a bottle. I have no roots. I can be put anywhere,” says 76-year-old Aftab Ansari. He was nine when his family took a train to Pakistan from Delhi on August 11, 1947, three days before the Partition of India took effect, leaving behind everything in Allahabad.
There were others who made the journey in reverse. Joginder Singh, now in his 70s, fled Lahore with his family in 1947. He made it to India, his six sisters didn’t. They were abducted on the journey and Singh, a businessman now, hasn’t heard of them since. Praful Kumar was just eight when he saw his father shot dead and his mother killed with a sword as they were fleeing their home in what is now Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
These are just a few of over thousand stories that stitch together a narrative of pain and loss. Stories that are now part of The Partition Archive, a crowd-funded oral history project that records stories from Partition survivors from across South Asia. Stories that recall happy childhoods that changed overnight and speak of families that suddenly found a border drawn between them.
Conceived and initiated in 2010 by US-based Guneeta Singh Bhalla, a physicist by training, some of the collections can be viewed on the Project’s website, 1947partitionarchive.org, and on their Facebook page.
“However, most of the stories in the public domain have been edited because we do not want to endanger the survivors in any way. We have also kept identities anonymous, or revealed them only partially. Then there are sensitive stories about Hindu-Muslim relations,” says Prakhar Joshi, who works for the website and has recorded over a hundred stories. The stories will, however, be made available to scholars for research.
A computer engineer by training, 24-year-old Joshi is one of the four “story scholars” employed by the website. Story scholars are chosen under a 10-month fellowship programme, based on their qualification and on the merit of the stories they have previously recorded for the project. Then there are citizen historians, volunteers who can contribute stories of Partition to the website.
At present, there are 200 such citizen historians from across the world documenting for the website.
The idea for the project took root when Bhalla visited Hiroshima in the summer of 2008. “At the peace memorial in Hiroshima, I saw videos of victims telling their stories, and I thought the stories of Partition must also be preserved,” says Bhalla. She quit her post-doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, in December 2012 to pursue the project full-time.
Bhalla has early memories of growing up with her grandmother’s recollections of the Partition. continued…