RV Smith, Romila Thapar, Uma Sharma, Raghu Rai being considered for oral history initiative
Delhi Veteran writer and journalist RV Smith, historian Romila Thapar, dancer Uma Sharma, and photographer Raghu Rai are a few of the names under consideration for the Delhi government’s oral history initiative. The programme, which was launched on Monday, will be carried out by the Delhi Archives in collaboration with Ambedkar University.
“All these names are renowned in their fields and have made a significant contribution to the history of Delhi,” Sanjay Garg, head of the office of the Delhi Archives, said. “These are some of the people whom we have identified, but the rest will be decided by the high-level committee, which we have already constituted,” he added.
The project, which aims to fill gaps in history by capturing the memories and experiences of Delhi’s citizens from different walks of life, will record 100 interviews in a span of two years. “The story of Delhi is not just about epic wars and the fall and rise of kingdoms, it is also about intimate details—the songs, festivals, weddings, the recipes, the businesses—that will come alive for the younger generation,” deputy chief minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia said.
Speaking about the parameters through which the interviewees are being decided upon, professor at Ambedkar University Denys Leighton said that “it is important to not have people who are eminent in just one field or another. We have to work out a plan to select people who represent all walks of life in Delhi.”
The Delhi Archives currently possess oral histories of 50 illustrious personalities, including politician and freedom fighter Sushila Nayyar, politician Gulzarilal Nanda, and feminist writer and social scientist Kamala Bhasin.
Speaking about the importance of oral history as a source of history writing, historian S Irfan Habib said that “this is unlike other sources of history, such as archives, epigraphy, or other archaeological sources. This history depends on the experiences of people. So when they die, we lose out on their memories. For instance, those who saw the 1942 Quit India movement are no longer around. As we move on, we will keep losing out on these memories. Therefore, we need to take this project very seriously.”
Archivist Usha Purie, on the other hand, emphasised upon the need to democratise the accessibility of the archives. “Utilisation of the archives has gone way beyond just scholars now. Once you develop an archive you must also think of making it available to anybody who is interested in Delhi,” she said.
Some of the other people who are also being considered for interviews in the first phase of the project are musician and head of Dilli Gharana Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, artist Kishen Khanna, senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, theatre personality Vinod Nagpal, journalist Arun Shourie and newsreader Salma Sultan.