Residents of West Delhi’s Shadi Khampur village discover their own history, recreated at a neighbourhood museum

Roots are important. Histories help in understanding ourselves. However, not all histories are recorded, especially the common man’s history, which goes largely undocumented and un-archived.

Who are we and why should our histories be recorded? With a view to address some of these concerns, the Jan Natya Manch collaborated with Ambedkar University, Delhi’s Centre for Community Knowledge to organise a neighbourhood museum on Shadi Khampur village in West Delhi recently.

Located next to Shadipur village, Shadi Khampur was a resettlement colony for mainly Punjabi migrants who fled Pakistan after Partition. Many residents also trace their roots to Rajasthan and Haryana.

A strong flavour of history pervaded the air as curious community members descended upon the museum and examined its colourful exhibits contributed by neighbourhood residents. These included items of everyday use such as utensils, vibrantly-hued bedspreads, and a baby cot. Other items bore the stamp of the past more evidently such as a milk churner, spinning wheel and a giant-sized mortar and pestle to grind spices. Detailed information about the geography, demographics and social customs of the region were also on display.

“Shadi Khampur has been my home since the past 30 years and I had little idea about the details of its history,” confessed 62-year-old Raj Kumar Gautam. A group of children excitedly identified familiar pictures of their neighbourhood. “Samosey-waali aunty!” exclaimed 12-year-old Sahil Saxena, gesturing to the picture of a woman minding a shop.

Multiple colourful hoardings documenting individual family histories were displayed at strategic spots. Personal histories as well as information about the region were collected through oral interviews with residents.

Joginder Singh Rohilla, in his sixties, was one of those who agreed to have his family history documented and displayed. He said: “My family has been staying in Shadi Khampur for over 600 years. The area where we are standing used to be agricultural land. In the 1930s, the government took over the land and, as compensation, paid us less than 50 paisa per square yard. The current value stands at more than Rs. one lakh per yard.” Crime has also increased and society is less cohesive, he rued.

While residents wondered at the degree of change in their neighbourhood, some things have stayed the same. For instance, residents of Shadi Khampur cannot marry each other. “Here we are all brothers, can you marry your children to your brothers’ children?” asked Hari Chand Chauhan, who is Mr. Rohilla’s cousin.

Emphasising on the importance of any history and all histories, Jan Natya Manch director and actor Sudhanva Deshpande urged visitors to pen down any significant memory which occurred to them. Shankar Kumar, a shop-owner, wrote of 1993 when curfew was imposed in the neighbourhood following the Babri Masjid demolition.

One of the museum curators, Surajit Sarkar, said that the museum is the first in a series of neighbourhood museums in different parts of Delhi. “The idea is to encourage people to contribute to their histories. Once there is interest, we can have a larger number of people’s museums and archives.”

The museum is on at the Studio Safdar till January 21.