What is it about history that when we study it for marks and grades becomes unbearable and yet when we read it with no clear intention in mind, it comes across as mesmerizing and enchanting?
I remember when I was in school I would cancel out chapters because I didn’t want to remember the dates which came along with it. At the same time, when my grandmother spoke about her childhood and how her 10 brothers and sisters would go to school and share their lunches with each other, I would sit transfixed, absorbing in each word that she uttered. It was impossible for me to imagine her childhood, with me growing up with my elder sister in the city of Calcutta while she grew up in a middle-class atmosphere in the remote hills of Assam. We would go for swimming lessons each morning, our father dragging our sleepy selves to the pool with the false hope that if we swam everyday, we would be allowed to sleep till 10 am on the next Sunday. My grandmother and her siblings went to take showers in the spring behind their house, a little way up the hill on which they stayed. I was often left alone while my sister played with my cousins who were all of the same age, my grandmother’s big family was always together. With 11 kids in the family one cannot expect a child to be left out – there was always another child who had the same interest or had read the same story and wanted to play the same game that evening.
Now that she is above 80 – and living in Calcutta – away from the family she grew up with, nostalgia naturally sets in. She talks about the days long gone and always ends with fun stories. She has repeated stories, she has shown photographs, she has shared experiences with me for as long as I can remember. So much so, that I sometimes forget that I am not in the same family or in the same culture any more.
History, certainly then, is enchanting when there are other people involved. People who you care about, or know about, or have ever felt related to. This same thought struck me while going through The Indian Memory Project (www.indianmemoryproject.com). Anusha Yadav wanted to publish a book on the same theme but publishers rejected it. Then came the idea of making this into a blog, with her friends sending in photographs and anecdotes of their father, mothers, grandparents. History from the family. While going through the site recently I fell in love with it all over again.
From stories about India’s first known girls’ rock band ( ) to Anglo-Indian men who transported millions of refugees to safety , from the Miss India pageant winner of 1970 to a young girl’s confession of having lied to the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi the site is filled with memories and welcomes one to be a part of that memory.
Must say, History is infinitely sexy.