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The Relevance of Oral History

by Kona Aditya Kalyan

The Partition is remembered as a horrific event which cannot be compared to any other violent event in the world. It cuts across regions, religions, castes and gender, inflicting pain on those who were caught in it. This article aims to look at the historical evidence through which the partition is remembered and talks about the rise of oral history in recent years.

Oral history is the study and collection of historical information passed down through the generations by word of mouth. It is an invaluable tool for historians to gain insights into the lives and experiences of people who lived in the past. Oral histories can provide detailed information about a person’s life and can help to fill in gaps in the written record. They can also provide a more personal insight into a particular moment in history, often taking the form of interviews, conversations, or other recorded conversations. Interviews are often used to capture the thoughts and feelings of people who lived through a particular event or period of time. They can be a powerful way to capture the voices of those who lived through a particular moment in history and provide a more personal and intimate perspective than written documents, as well as valuable insights into the culture and beliefs of a particular time and place. Oral history is often considered to be more reliable than written history because it is based on first-hand experiences and personal accounts of events. They are also considered to be more detailed and accurate because they are based on personal memories and conversations rather than written records which can be incomplete or biased.  Oral historians try to provide a human perspective on history, as they allow people to connect with a story in a more intimate way than written records. 

Books related to oral history are being increasingly published in recent times. One of the most prominent writers of this branch of history is Aanchal Malhotra who has published various works related to the partition of India. She has written extensively about the experiences of the people who were displaced during the Partition of India and Pakistan and has worked to document the stories of those who lived through the partition. Malhotra seeks to bring to light the often overlooked or forgotten stories of the Partition and to give a voice to those who were affected by this tragic event. She has conducted countless interviews with survivors of the Partition and has used their stories as the basis for her writing. In her work, Malhotra is deeply committed to the idea of remembering and honouring the past. She believes that by preserving the memories of those who lived through the Partition, we can better understand the events of that time and ensure that the experiences of these individuals are not lost to history. Through her writing, Malhotra has shed light on the human cost of the Partition and has helped to keep alive the memory of those who were affected by this seminal event in South Asian history. She is a powerful and important voice in the ongoing dialogue about the importance of remembering the past, and her work continues to inspire and educate readers around the world. In the book, Malhotra looks at how cultural artefacts, such as furniture, artwork, and clothing, have evolved over time and how they are used to express different aspects of the Indian culture. Malhotra examines the ways in which material culture has been used to shape and inform a national identity. She looks at how material culture has been used to create a shared sense of belonging among different communities in India, and how it has been employed to instill a sense of pride and nostalgia in people. She also discusses how the use of material culture has changed over time, and how it has been used to reflect the changing values of society. In the book, Malhotra discusses the relationship between material culture and memory and looks at how material culture has been used to preserve memories of the past, and how it has been used to shape the identity of people in the present. 

Other prominent work in the field of oral history is the book “Humanity amidst Insanity” written by Tridivesh Singh Maini, Tahir Javed Malik and Ali Farooq Malik. While oral history in the Indian Subcontinent focuses more on the trauma of the partition, the book is filled with tales of hope and compassion exhibited by the people during the traumatic times. This book fills in the gap that has been noticed in contemporary literature by bringing together the stories from both the lands. The text is divided between stories that originated from India and the experiences of those who travelled from Pakistan. Most of the stories come from the region of Punjab, which was brutally divided during the partition. The partition of India led to a mass migration of Punjabis, with many Hindus and Sikhs moving to India while Muslims moved to Pakistan. This resulted in the displacement of millions of Punjabis and the loss of their homes, properties, and businesses. The violence that accompanied the partition also led to the loss of many lives and the forced migration of many Punjabis.

The partition of India also resulted in the division of Punjabi culture and traditions. The Punjabi language, for example, was divided into two standard forms: Shahmukhi in Pakistan and Gurmukhi in India. The partition also led to the division of Punjabi literature, music, and other cultural practices.

The text does not aspire to be factual or quantitative in nature. Rather, it aims to ask questions based on the experiences of people who lived through the partition. The book also covers the trauma of people who were born after the partition, paying attention to the phenomenon of generational trauma. 

With more people being interested in the past, books that discuss the lives of people who lived through the partition can provide insights to those whose families had been displaced during the partition. While written history serves a very important purpose by providing quantitative knowledge and physical evidence, it lacks the touch of the human voice, therefore excluding the people who were subjected to violence during the partition. 

 Aditya Kalyan is a third-year student at O.P Jindal Global University majoring in Literature and International Business. 

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