Anusha Yadav’s website enables people to relive the past through pictures and anecdotes

You wouldn't want to miss the photograph or the story. There is R. D. Burman, sitting cross-legged on a slatted wooden bench. Next to him is a smiling woman with her arms around a knee. A man is sprawled on a steel easy chair. The caption “My grandaunt Shukla, R.D. Burman and my granduncle Nirmal Kumar Dasgupta, on Burman's home terrace, Bombay, Maharashtra, March, 1975” and the story below are by Anupam Mukerji of Bangalore. He tells you how the decision to record ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ from Sholay in Panchamda's voice came out of this roof-top meeting.

All right, I won't keep you waiting. Log on to Indian Memory Project, a public-sourced portal by Anusha Yadav, narrative photographer, photo archivist, book designer, graduate in Communication Design, NID, Ahmedabad. This story is on the home page and I bet you'll scroll down to read a lot more before you return.

“Amazing” is an understatement to describe the pictures and the accompanying anecdotes. These photographs tell of lives gone past, but not without leaving a mark. Consider stories of the couple, who, abandoned by India, travelled abroad looking for a better life, the first captain of the Indian cricket team playing England, the woman who left Scotland for an unknown future in India. The Burman story is 87th on the list. Each is a gem, a pinch of history, a fascinating turn about a member of a family — about a grandpa, an aunt, “carrying a clue to the mystery called India.”

The project, obviously, has its own story. “In January 2009, I was toying with the idea of a coffee table book,” Anusha said. “I had noticed at weddings and festivals people of my generation didn't know any traditions, they just followed elders or quick fix stuff. Interestingly, it seemed like the NRI guests were the ones who remembered everything!” She asked people to send images that would form visual references to ceremonies and traditions, in effect, asking them to find out about themselves. “Talk to the family,” her website tells contributors.

The topics, happily, went beyond colourful gatherings. One big mention was the Partition. “What we know about the Partition is not real, not descriptive,” she felt, and began to focus on this cataclysmic event. The pictures and the attached anecdotes she received brought alive the days of Partition like nothing before — from the point of view of people affected by it. As a photographer, she knew the value of the pictographs and the stories that lay outside the frames. With this treasure trove she would construct a “visual and oral history of the Indian subcontinent through family archives.”

The print medium could wait. She had more powerful allies on the Internet. She would put up her unique, of-the-moment pictures on Facebook for an exciting two hours every day. She would post the write-ups as they were, respecting what the families wanted to reveal. “On the Internet, it is hard to lie,” she points out. “I started a blog, and in response, I got 15 pictures in five days,” she said. Someone she knew re-tweeted her request for old photographs and it went international. “I wanted people to read the pictorial history, understand it, be surprised by it.” And contribute!

A journalist friend covered IMP and “it took a life of its own.” She moved it to Wordpress, counted 1.5 lakh visitors from all over the planet and got featured in publications abroad. She now has a “spanking new address www.indianmemoryproject.com and a new category called ‘Letters’!”

It's book material, I protest. There will be a series of books, she assures me, just as there will be presentations of the exquisite details she has gathered. “It's a journey.” The feedback must be terrific, I propose. “I was invited to address people at NID, an honour. At the end of the talk, well-known curator Sabina Gadihoke told me that the world over curators and researchers were trying to piece together history through individual experiences at various times. They have been researching how to document family events, looking for an academic format. She said this was the only way to do it.”

The website is free, but Anusha appreciates donations. She will also research, design and format pictures/letters for corporates. She sees that as a bonding exercise, where colleagues see one another not just as pros but as part of society. “A context and understanding of people can help work better with one another.”

What to do

* Send photographs and their stories/anecdotes. Caption them.

* Send notable, interesting, personal, not-so-personal handwritten/typewritten letters (including postcards).

* Photographs and letters should be from before 1991.

* They can be from anywhere in the world, as long as they are related to people/places in the Indian Subcontinent.

* Read instructions on resolution/format/word/text file before sending.

* Make a financial contribution.

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