We don’t have many years left with witnesses of pre-independence India, the generation that lived through the horror and elation of the birth of a nation. To act as a bridge between these keepers of history and future generations, Rohan Parikh, founder of the Citizens Archive of India (CAI), started the Generation 1947 project last year. The aim is to build a digital archive of video interviews, photographs, letters, documents and other memorabilia from the time, adding a layer of intimacy that is rarely found in museums or history textbooks.

One of the questions Malvika Bhatia, project head at CAI, poses to every interviewee is, “what were you doing on 15 August 1947?" Over the last year, this question has elicited vivid, varied recollections: a young boy in Nana Chawk (Mumbai) caught a glimpse of Prithviraj Kapoor among the jubilant figures on loaded trucks. Another climbed a tree outside Parliament House and listened to Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst With Destiny speech that was played on loudspeakers.

But the Generation 1947 archive is not limited to stories of Partition. The detailed interviews cover a range of experiences, like the time 100-year-old Mithoo Coorlawala, a student at the University of Cambridge’s Newnham College from 1938-39, saw the gates of her college burnt down by those protesting the opening of women’s colleges. “We talk through their entire lives. One person we interviewed was part of the naval mutiny of 1946—though he calls it a fight for independence. He is possessive about (the event) because it’s mostly ignored in history books," says Bhatia.

The archive, which includes 110 video interviews so far, is not available online yet (shorter videos can be found on their website and Facebook page), but can be accessed with an email request. “We’re not making this archive to store it away in a few hard drives. We want teachers to use this as a vast educational resource," says Bhatia. (Citizensarchiveofindia.org))

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