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Of Rememberance and Identity – The Memory Gazette

To be human is to grasp at any opportunity to preserve– moments, pickles, aesthetically pleasing objects, people, texts, memories. From pressing flowers into thick books to clicking pictures, we have devoted ourselves to turning the mere passing into the permanent and the intangible into the tangible. 

The only thing that saves me from the debilitating agony of not having cherished moments has been the ability to go back and live those moments in retrospect. Half used up chalk and the smell of Savlon remind me of the evenings spent in euphoric gambol with my friends, annual preparations of vellam and ulundu kozhukattai on Ganesh Chaturthi take me back to growing up with my cousins. I cherished these moments too late, with none of the people I dearly loved as a child in my vicinity anymore. But at least my memory gives me an inkling of comfort- of feeling like there was a life well-lived. My memory, resting in the sudden scents of Mumbai streets, in my mother’s frequented recipes, in the soft toy I’ve had since I was 7, and in the beautiful payals, my great grandmother once danced in, connects the dots to remind me of the space I occupy in the world and the unique truths that belong to me. 

Abstractions sometimes beg to be materialised -thoughts scribbled into poetry journals, worries translated into lists, and affections poured into whittled sculptures and music compositions. This incredibly human itch for preservation finds a cathartic home in tangible experiences. Stories that make us who we are, that form the building blocks of our identity and allow us to belong. From visceral, concrete experiences, however, our preservational habits have gone digital- perhaps the debate on whether this is admirable or alarming is endless, but there is no denying the accessibility and permanence of an online record. 

The Memory Gazette, an initiative by Meghamala and Sarasi, was founded in June with this very idea in mind- the accessible, digital preservation of micro-heritages. The two history enthusiasts met at an internship with Heritage Walks Calcutta, now called Immersive Trails, headed by Tathagata Neogi and Chelsea McGill. The Memory Gazette was the result of a project they worked on together during the internship, exploring heritage outreach through the lens of micro-heritages, a concept they coined to encapsulate the kind of heritage that accumulates in our families, daily lives and memories. As opposed to documented, monumental cultural heritages, micro-heritages centre around personal experiences. The founders of the internship suggested that they take the project forward, and after days and nights of hunching over the laptop figuring out the logistics, it was ready- The Memory Gazette, a digital archives website for safekeeping of micro-heritages and preserved memories. In conversation with the two founders, Sarasi says, “We started it because we feel like it helps people get in touch with their identity like they’re a part of a community that has shared experiences and stories to tell.”  

In between conversations with family members, friends and colleagues, they found themselves fascinated by the way people stored their identity in the various heirlooms that surrounded them- like vessels for pieces of their souls. With a passion for storytelling and heritage preservation, they were intrigued and enchanted by the idea of material storytelling- with objects that had decades of stories attached. Meghamala says, “Both of us grew up in families that loved to tell stories, like my grandmother- she used to talk about her old house in Calcutta, a huge house with a lot of family heritage associated with it. Even Sarasi, her family loved telling her stories about all the little knick-knacks she found around the house, and it made us realise how attached people are to their memories, to the physical experiences around them, and how they love talking about them because it’s such a huge part of their identity. We wanted to create a space that valued these memories and stories, and make them as accessible and permanent as possible.” 

Screenshot of The Memory Gazette Instagram

The Memory Gazette has a soft spot for archiving things that are losing their value and on the verge of being forgotten. The idea was to go beyond just the hegemonic, inaccessible cultural documentation of the bigger stories, and reach for the smaller stories that aren’t given their due. Sarasi says, “Roots matter. They held us to remember who we are, what we’re here for. We tend to dismiss our roots, we don’t care much about our genealogy here, but it can give us so much identity, so much comfort, because of the sense of belonging that it creates. We don’t want to just document, we want to give voice to the little stories that don’t seem to matter but do- because anything that has a story is automatically heritage.” 

Heritage and memory in India have their complexities, owing to the constant shifts in culture that have taken place over the years. In the context of this heterogeneity, every Indian has their own, personal way of belonging, of associating with the country. Memories, specifically memories that centre around physical spaces, intensely shape this association. Meghamala references a book by William Dalrymple, called the City of Djinns, a travelogue centred around the city of Delhi. He talks about a man who had to migrate from Delhi to Pakistan during the partition- an excellent writer in Delhi; he had ceased to pen down words in Pakistan. When William questioned him, he reasoned that he couldn’t write, because he wasn’t in Delhi anymore. Delhi was his home, and there rested his identity, his roots- and here he was sitting in Pakistan like decaying branches and leaves. 

 Sarasi and Meghamala delve into the traditions of value that are being forgotten and discarded along with obsolete ones. Traditions such as Mushairas, poetic symposiums of free expression, and Kobi Lorais, a rural art form from Bengal that gives spaces to poets to engage in improvised, verbal duels through verse, are fading. Oleographs and old magazines- they may be outdated, but there are so many ideas and perspectives that we might not want to adopt, but perhaps not wholly lose, either. Colonial lenses, as well as upper caste Savarna hegemonies, dictate what deserves to remembrance and what can be discarded. It almost leaves us with an incomplete sense of identity- which the founders of The Memory Gazette believe can be found by paying a little more attention to our roots, and giving due to our memories and micro- heritages. 

When questioned about which little stories have had an impact on them, Sarasi says, “Honestly, one thing I’ve discovered is that the tinier the thing, the more powerful the story.”, before describing the “Art on a Matchbox” piece, manufactured in 1971 in Bangladesh during the Liberation War. The box, painted by pro-Mukti artists, was one of many that were sold secretly amongst the public, serving the purpose of creating funds and spreading propaganda by acting as a symbol of resistance of the Bengalis. 

Meghamala reflects on the photographs of her grandparents, one of her grandfather clad in a suit, and one of her grandmother who had just graduated. “My grandfather, Manik Lala Maiti, was standing inside the Hooghly Imambara in, where he went just after appearing for a job interview. He told me how much peace the intricately carved marble monument gave him after an entire afternoon being a character from Ray’s Pratidwandi. These photographs are very important to me because they depict the progress of a place, and it’s nostalgic as well, because my grandparents have been there and I want to go there because of that. A mixed bag of photographs huddled under piles of my grandmother’s sarees suggest to me how culturally beautiful and intertwined our city and country is and how heritage outreach can really show the beauty in diversity. There’s just something- some sort of familiarity about old family photographs that I love. From the Memory Gazette, my favourite piece of heritage has to be between the pocket watch and the typewriter. The pocket watch is so beautiful and real in the 21st century, and the typewriter because I love writing and I love the sound of keys bringing back the past to us!

Meghamala’s Grandfather, Credits The Memory Gazette

Sarasi and Meghamala bring up the idea of community archaeology, and the lack of substantial investments in India with regards to the current state of heritage outreach, “We keep talking about how important culture is, but we don’t really do anything about it. Heritage in India is also very inaccessible- to dig up a place you need permission, which takes more than four years- to look at archives, you have to wait months and months to get them and at that point, it isn’t really helpful.” The inefficiency of the system, coupled with the government’s habit of pushing things under the carpet and selectively portraying heritage, has created a complete lack of accessibility for the public in India to explore their heritage. The Memory Gazette is an attempt to combat this inaccessibility and delusion of identity through a digital archive.

Micro-heritages are undoubtedly integral to our understanding of ourselves- the houses we grew up in with rocking chairs or elephant printed bedsheets, the food our grandmothers cooked, and the faded, dusty photographs in our homes, have silently but markedly played a part in our experience of the world. There are so many secret intangible truths of our lives whispered into the many tangible spaces and objects- so many new conceptual maps and connections, the creations of whole universes and the littlest of stories that deserve to be recognised, expressed and preserved. Head over to The Memory Gazette to document and share your favourite household knick-knacks and stories. 

Experience Further: The one soundtrack that remained consistent through the ebbs and flows of my childhood was of the movie Masoom. With Gulzar’s lyrics and RD Burmans compositions, these songs yield the power to transport me to a time and space that I occupied in the early 2000’s, with milk and bread for snacks every evening and the music channel playing in the background as I do my homework. Lakdi ki kathi, a popular song for children across India, even prompted my evolving fascination with horses. As one of my many cherished micro- heritage heirlooms, I hold this album extremely close to my heart and felt that it perfectly complemented the nostalgia of this piece.

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About Us

Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

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We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi-medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture by investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society.

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