Postcards bear witness to memories of a fateful 1947 day

Delhi Art Gallery, has collected nearly 600 postacards so far from its ongoing exhibition, ‘March to Freedom’, being held at the Indian Museum. File.

Delhi Art Gallery, has collected nearly 600 postacards so far from its ongoing exhibition, ‘March to Freedom’, being held at the Indian Museum. File.

At the exhibition, one of the several taking place in Kolkata to mark 75 years of India’s Independence, the organisers placed a bundle of postcards and a handful of pens on a large table and asked visitors to write down their family memories of that defining moment in history. What has emerged is a still-growing collection of heart-warming as well as heart-wrenching stories that may not be found in history books but which are still a valuable part of history.

“My late grandfather’s account of 15th August is rather funny,” wrote Gangotri Chattopadhyay from Singur in her message. “A bunch of village kids with no money or resources stole a bunch of gamchha (thin cotton towel) and hoisted them on a bunch of sticks and ran through the rice fields, overjoyed about a free India. It is the spirit that counts.”

Ms. Chattopadhyay’s is among the nearly 600 postcards that the DAG, or Delhi Art Gallery, has collected so far from its ongoing exhibition, ‘March to Freedom’, being held at the Indian Museum. The exhibition, showcasing 200 years of art, began on July 23 and will end on September 18. In one of the galleries, a poster is asks visitors: “Do you know your parents were doing on August 15, 1947? What are your family memories or experiences from the time of India’s independence?” The outpouring has been unexpected, what with fresh blank postcards and pens at hand.

Diyaa’s family memories go back to a painful period before Independence — the Bengal famine of 1943 and the Second World War, “which drove up prices like crazy” — when her paternal grandmother, a little girl at the time, remembered the family eating rice with salt because everything else was unaffordable. The grandmother would narrate such stories of hardship and horror “in the flicker of candlelight back when power cuts plagued Bengal in the early 2000s”. One recurring scene that had stayed in the grandmother’s memory: people begging for the excess water that’s usually drained once rice is cooked.

Sudin Moitra of Kolkata wrote: “When Britishers were leaving Murshidabad, a British officer just randomly gifted my grandfather a half-empty box of chocolates. I guess Independence Day just got sweeter for a five-year-old kid!” Many more such anecdotes — some happy, some sad — recreate that era, each painting a big picture with just a few words.

“At first, I wondered whether people would respond thoughtfully to the prompt or leave behind random comments, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how much care people had taken to record their family stories. Like we had hoped, what emerges is the story of ordinary people who don’t find a place in our history books but who grappled with the idea of becoming citizens of a new nation in myriad ways — some with confusion, some with hope, some loss, and some even with a sense of detachment,” DAG’s Sumona Chakravarty told The Hindu.

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Printable version | Aug 19, 2022 2:30:46 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/at-kolkatas-indian-museum-visitors-share-memories-of-august-15-1947-on-postcards/article65783665.ece