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Revisiting history: CAI’s new exhibition to take you on a journey through India's past

CAI’s new exhibition features interviews of people from different walks of life, recollecting their past experiences.

, ET Bureau|
Nov 13, 2019, 09.52 AM IST
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CAI’s new exhibition will show you how life was back in post-Independence India.
CAI’s new exhibition will show you how life was back in post-Independence India .
To know our present, we need to understand our past. Not from a macro level, but at a micro level too. And, that’s what the Citizens’ Archive of India (CAI) are doing with their first exhibition titled ‘Life as They Knew It: Stories from India’s first citizens’.

CAI, founded by Rohan Parikh in 2016, aims to showcase stories that go beyond the political climate of the time. With over 350 hours of interviews, the stories that are shared by the first citizens include everything from childhood memories to culture and community and how times have changed.

“I bought this Mercedes second-hand from a foreigner who was moving away, so I got it really cheap. I used to drive it to work. The policeman at the corner would salute me and stop traffic to let me through. After I sold the car, he never even recognized me!” – Suman Desai, Bombay, 1960s
“I bought this Mercedes second-hand from a foreigner who was moving away, so I got it really cheap. I used to drive it to work. The policeman at the corner would salute me and stop traffic to let me through. After I sold the car, he never even recognized me!” – Suman Desai, Bombay, 1960s

Malvika Bhatia, a representative from CAI, tells ET Panache, “The idea came to us in August and we wanted to build a sort of history of India from people’s point of view.”

The exhibition takes you through the experiences of ordinary people’s lives as India transitioned from the British Raj to a young, independent nation. Starting with stories from their early years, it goes on to portray memories associated with their life during school, college, marriage, and their career. Each section is populated with stories and anecdotes from across multiple interviews conducted by CAI over its two years. It is interesting how different each life was despite a similar political backdrop.

“This picture of my mother and I was taken at my thread ceremony. I was growing up. This ritual signifies the last time a son eats from his mother’s plate.” – Col. Deodutta Rajwade, Nagpur, 1930s
“This picture of my mother and I was taken at my thread ceremony. I was growing up. This ritual signifies the last time a son eats from his mother’s plate.” – Col. Deodutta Rajwade, Nagpur, 1930s

The stories are not only diverse in terms of geography, but also socio-economic backgrounds and emotional tonality. In sync with the nature of the archive, the exhibition is peppered with video clips from interviews conducted by CAI, while its main thread has been curated through individual stories supported by photographs capturing special moments in the lives of these citizens. In one section, you will also see a montage of video clips explaining the archive and its work.

A photograph of Doongursee Shyamji Joshi with the Governor of Sind, as they inspect the Karachi Panjrapole. Karachi, undated.
A photograph of Doongursee Shyamji Joshi with the Governor of Sind, as they inspect the Karachi Panjrapole. Karachi, undated.

The Citizens’ Archive of India is holding its first exhibition, ‘Life As They Knew It: Stories from India’s first citizens’, on 14th and 15th November, 2019, at Chemould Prescott Road.

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