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Panoramic View of Southasian Archives
Panoramic View of Southasian Archives
A simple sale deed, old gramophone, family photograph and personal letter can prove to be a resource of immense value to understand history and society. How conveniently they carry memory, time and space? This was a question deliberated for two days. All the people were supposed to agree in response but they disbursed with more then agreement. Words like solidarity and collectivity filled the air but questions like 'how' remained unanswered. Why can't these unanswered questions be considered points of solidarity? Solidarity, to build and preserve archives in Southasia.

Hri Southasia organized a two-day conference on archives in Southasia on 28 and 29 July in United Theological College, Banglore. Participants from five Southasian countries shared their experience about archives, which made it obvious that these countries are facing similar kind of issues vis--vis archives. The discussion revolved around state archives, personal collections, private managed public archives, and online individual efforts which contains textual, visual and audio material. Ramachandran Guha, a historian, delivered the inaugural lecture in his hometown and revisited his association with Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), New Delhi. Guha narrated the history of NMML and stressed that right kind of people at right kind of time and space made this institution what it is today. He mentioned the role of its founder directors who could travel extra miles on untraveled paths. They reached out to people for material and mobilized the required resource despite cumbersome official procedures. He also said that now situation has changed as 'out of favor' bureaucrats get their postings in archives. While appreciating the rich collections of NMML Guha mentioned that its experience could not be replicated in state and local archives.

Stories from different cities of Southasia endorsed that archives are almost in similar state of affairs. Poor management, limited inflow of new material, vulnerable personal archives as users or collectors are outliving their lives, unscientific storage, humidity and meager funding place archives among disowned properties. In this scenario state apathy and lack of awareness are compounding the problem. Salima Hashmi, Dean, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore shared her experience of Faiz Ghar. She could not get the jail records related to her father, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and even his letters have been preserved with family efforts. Same story was narrated by Mofidul Hoque, Founder Trustee and Member-Secretary of Liberation War Museum, Dhaka with different specifics. Liberation War Museum is trying to preserve the memory of Bangladesh's war of liberation. They are encouraging students to record the memories of their elder generations to build localized narrative of history. This way, the museum is trying to reconstruct 'magical moments' through the memories of participants. Geoffrey Myint, Yangon-based Anthropologist underlined the role of individual in preserving public memory and history. He cited the role of Burmaese public intellectuals Ludu U Hla, and Ludu Daw Amar who have a rich collection of material on Labour issues and left movement, they were part of, in Burma.

Abhijit Bhattacharya, Documentation officer, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata shared his experience of building an archive. He elaborated his argument that archival material has not been properly stored in personal libraries. He said that collecting the archival material and storing it scientifically are big issues. G. Sundar, Director, Roja Muthiah Memorial Reference Library, Chennai endorsed Abhijit's argument through his experiences. He talked about vernacular archives and explained the difficulties of cataloguing and transliteration. Sunder said that cataloguing is big issue as standardization of catalogue can save the efforts different organizations are putting to digitize the same material. Panjab Digital Library (PDL) shared this concern in context of Panjab and its literary heritage. Davinder Pal Singh, Executive Director, PDL shared the experience of organization from its inception to present scenario. He shared that initially they started with 10,000 INR monthly budget and could digitize digitize 5000 pages per month. Now PDL has the capacity to digitize 6000 pages per day. It has digitized about seven million pages and one million are online. He shared PDL's struggle with digital technology and software required to facilitate upkeep of digital data. Improvisations of technology used to digitize and development of stand-alone computer applications are PDL's forte.

Indira Chowdhury, Founder, Centre for Public History, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore while stating the importance of oral history also talked about technological part of it. She said that through oral narratives local histories and background factors of important policy decisions can be recorded in nuances form.

Sadanand Menon, Vikram Sampath, Yousaf Saeed, Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati, Anusha Yadav, Shabbir Ahmed, Haroon Khalid and Chintan Mody shared their experiences of looking at archival material in hitherto unexplored areas. Sadanand is a founder of SPACES in Chenai where he is building an archive of legendary dancer Chanderlekha. Vikram Sampath, founder of Archive of Indian Music shared that lack of state initiatives in archiving music have deprived scholars and music lovers from valuable material. He said sourcing the music; its digitization, storage and further dissemination are important issues. Yousaf Saeed, Co-founder of Tasveer Ghar works with calendar art. He said that serious scholars have ignored Calendar Art but it reflects on contemporary socio-religious and market trends. Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati, co-founder of Nepal Picture Library has collected family photographs posed in studios, candidly taken and clicked on special occasions like marriage. She explained through examples that these photographs contain rich diversity of stories. Anusha Yadav's Indian Memory Project seems complimentary to Nepal Picture Library where she is asking people to share family photographs and letters and write about them. This way interesting stories are coming which are getting enthusiastic response. Shabbir Ahmed has defined his scope of collection with administrative boundary. He is collecting details of writers from Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. He has a big collection of books, which is being used by scholars for research purposes. This is a concern of Amar Gurung, Director of the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, Kathmandu who is trying to figure out the material on Nepal in National Archive in Delhi so that Nepali Scholars can make use of it.

Father Ignatius Payyappilly, Director of the Catholic Art Museum of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala is doubling up as Archivist along with parish priest. He has build an archive related to Christianity in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This museum has large collection of Palm Leaves and continuously work to source and preserve them, scientifically.

All the speakers have their experiences to share but they have a common cord, best described by Kanak Mani Dixit's vision of Southasia. The Editor of Himal said, "If we go from Baluchistan to Arakan we may find that there are few similarities but if we travel between these places and notice the changes taking place then we can understand that there are lots of similarities. We need to take a panoramic view of Southasia to make sense of its rich diversity as well as unity of history and culture." Laxmi Murthy, Director, Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange continued Kanak's argument while stressing that Southasian archives need to be linked so that greater understanding of history, culture and society could be build. She said, "Here lies the role of Hri Institute. These archives can at-least be virtually linked and Hri would be happy to facilitate to make it a reality." All agreed that what could be a better conclusion of first of its kind conference on Southasian archive. Hopefully, this conclusion will be translated into commitment. Commitment, that Laxmi Murthy, Sarita Manu and Kabita Parajuli showed in organizing such an engaging conference. PDL would be happy to be part of any initiative as it is grateful to be made part of this conference.

-- Daljit Ami

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Panoramic View of Southasian Archives

      Photograph by: Nayan Tara

Panoramic View of Southasian Archives
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