Staring blankly into the camera,the men hold their heads up while the wives,with their heads covered in a veil,sit demurely by their side and a prominent bindi adorns their forehead. Going through the the Indian Memory Project website feels like flipping through an old,dusty family album and turning one delicate,worn out page after the next. In 2009,Mumbai-based photographer Anusha Yadav started working on a book on Indian weddings. The book never happened,but as I collected more photographs,a concept starting forming in my head, she recounts. The pictures became the starting point for Indian Memory Project,which she eventually launched in 2010 in order to trace the history of the Indian sub-continent through photographs,postcards and letters by contributors from around the world,creating a first-of-its-kind online archive. Soon,people were looking up their family albums to send Yadav images that told the stories of Partition,migration,love and war. You could trace a social change through these images the way women were photographed with their husbands,changing professions of Indian men and dressing of people. It was the best way to understand our history, she says.
Browsing her site,one spots familiar faces Mahatma Gandhi,Rabindranath Tagore,RD Burman and Raj Kapoor whose stories are told through their relatives. The archive today has close to 113 photographs most of which are listed under four broad classifications each accompanied by a story that explains the picture. The category Conversion of Faith tells stories of people who changed their faith while pictures of the first Indians to study abroad and the first girl rock band in the country are under the First of a Kind category. There are photos of three generations of a family under Matrimonial Portraits apart from images of foreigners who explain their connection with India in Friendships.
Anyone can send their stories,provided they meet certain requirements. Photos must be from the pre-digital era (before the 90s) and must be submitted by family members only. An accompanying backgrounder helps viewers establish a connect, says Yadav.
With the website generating more than eight lakh hits in over three years,the format is set to be adapted for six other countries Estonia,South Africa,Nepal,Singapore,Sri Lanka and Iran. Yadav says her project is not a mere gallery. It shows people discussing subjects that were taboo when these pictures were clicked,such as extra-marital affairs,inter-caste marriages and so on. These are extraordinary stories,coming from ordinary people. Writer and filmmaker Jayabrato Chatterjee agrees. The project allowed people to start talking about their past, he says. Chatterjee recently contributed a picture of his foster father,Rabindranath Tagores second child Rathindra Nath Tagore.
Sreenivasan Jain,a journalist from Delhi,shared his grandparents photograph from 1923,in which they are seated side by side,holding hands a rare sight in those days. Thats not my grandparents wedding photo,but a moment in anticipation of what was to come the freedom movement both of them fought for, says Jain. The project connects instantly with the viewers,and Jain explains why. Going through that album evokes strong memories of your own childhood,your grandparents and their parents. How they posed,how they lived it tells the tale of India, he adds.