My slight obsession with cultural studies began with my first South Asian Studies course in college. It was a class on Indian cinema, aptly titled ‘Bollywood Dreams.’ Having been born into an Indian family, I, like most people of Indian origin, was fed a steady diet of commercial Hindi cinema that over the years had led me to having somewhat of an irreverent appreciation for the Indian film industry. So yes, my primary objective behind enrolling in that course was to give Bollywood a chance to garner some respect from me. What happened after that was something most South Asians refer to as kismet or simply, pure destiny.
While taking that course not only was I introduced to quality Hindi cinema starting from the 1930s, I was also, for the first time, brought into an engagement with critical cultural theory and ethnography. Soon thereafter, I decided to major in socio-cultural anthropology with of course, a focus on South Asia. This decision, along with a lot of hard work, has brought me to AIF’s Clinton Fellowship this year.
In partnership with Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) in Punjab, I hope to form a more nuanced understanding of the different aspects of life in India, before and after the Partition in 1947. I am eager to study the impact of 20th century political movements in India on a range of culturally diverse communities in Punjab. One of the primary objectives of the oral history collection that I will be working on is to put together an archive of human life stories shaped by the 1947 Partition of the Indian subcontinent. This archive hopes to provide future scholars with a window into a past that bore witness to a great human tragedy; it is a tragedy whose careful study carries the potential of teaching us a lot about the possibility of a future without senseless violence fueled by hatred. The events of 1947 continue to have an impact on modern South Asian nations’ domestic and foreign policies, which in turn affect the allocation of resources within each nation, be it the nation’s citizens, its crop yield or its industry. By listening to the human story of Partition we can develop a more comprehensive knowledge of what is important to the people of South Asia, which ultimately will help allocate resources towards infrastructural development, poverty alleviation and environmental preservation more effectively. During the course of this fellowship, in addition to assisting with oral history recollection, I am also looking forward to experiencing intellectual camaraderie with members of the GNDU community. Given my placement in a city like Amritsar, I am quite certain that my knowledge of Sikh history and Punjabi culture will be significantly augmented as well.
Even though I am going to India to learn, I also plan on using my training in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of Virginia to lend another theoretical perspective to cultural and Sikh Studies at GNDU. I hope that my work in Punjab will benefit every organization and individual involved in AIF’s process of facilitating sustainable social and economic change in India.
Be it ‘Bollywood Dreams’ or The 1947 Partition Archive, story telling is at the heart of the human experience. In the next 10 months, as I gather stories that attest to the resilience of the human spirit, I will be forming a story of my own that I will someday leave behind for a future generation of story gatherers.