Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"You breathe, drink, eat, sing, walk, talk CAP..."

From age 4 to 16, I was attached at the hip with my dada whose favourite topic of discussion was the 1947 partition. Everyday after school I used to sit by his side and hear him narrate his journey from Agra, his hometown to hitch-hiking to Delhi to the train to Lahore and eventually a ride to Karachi. This was usually followed by his days at Aligarh University and his contribution to the nationalist cause. Dada was one of the only people I knew who preferred Gandhi over Jinnah (something most here consider no less than blasphemy). My grandfather and his partition adventures passed away when he left us in 2006. 

However, when my history teacher asked our class to stay behind and attend a presentation by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy about her brain-child, The Citizen Archives of Pakistan, I had no idea what we were getting into. The thing that got me interested were the interviews with the partition-generation, which were meant to ensure that stories like my dada’s will be collected and not forgotten as they passed away.


Interning at CAP was amazing. It was one of the most productive summers I have ever spent. We got the opportunity to meet the Marker Brothers, Jamshed and Meenu (half of us fell in love with them), Jameeludin Aali (whose “Jeevay, Jeevay Pakistan” has now become the CAP song) and not to forget Lutfullah Khan - who has an amazing collection of radio recordings and photographs (he also has his original circumcision certificate).


We used to interview the senior citizens either early morning or afternoon, which ever they preferred, then come back to work, download the interview and work on transcribing.  We all had our specific laptops (CAP 5 is the best), while we all secretly wanted to work on the uber-cool macs. Once transcribed, we made follow up questions for the interviewees and went for follow up interviews to gather chunks of details. Everytime we found pre-partition or partition photos everyone jumped with joy as if we’d discovered gold. But, interviewing and transcribing weren’t the only things we did. We went to libraries such as the Hamdard Library and the Liaquat national library where we dug and dug through tons of old newspapers, magazines and journals for the earliest available issues of Dawn and other publications. Some were busy scanning new photos and publication we had just discovered, while others sorted the ones we already had. 

Working at CAP is like adopting a family. Once you volunteer for CAP you cannot stop. You breathe, drink, eat, sing, walk, talk CAP and believe me it is worth it. =)

Here is a link to Tooba Masood's grandmother, Razia Hamid's, Oral History Project clip

Friday, May 22, 2009

Once an intern...

Last summer when I was graduating from A levels, I decided to intern at The Citizens Archive of Pakistan. They were launching their Oral History Project and I thought it would occupy me until University began. Even at orientation I didn’t suspect that I would get emotionally attached to the project. However, it came to change a large part of my own view of the world, and of Pakistan.

I didn’t grow up sitting at the feet of my grandparents, listening to their stories. I didn’t have the chance to even talk to them, as they all passed away before I turned four. My first approach to CAP was neutral. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I figured I would go around, interview old people, come back to the office, type up the interviews and go home.

The internship entailed a lot more than that. At orientation, we were shown how to use professional recorders, so that we would record good-quality audio for the audio-video clips we were supposed to produce at a later date. We were also trained to interview people who were older than 75 years. For that we had to be patient, speak clearly and allow them to tell their stories. After the interview we had to create logs and transcribe the interview so that academics, students or historians could access it at a later date.

Admittedly, I was a bit overwhelmed by the work at first. I was terrified of messing up transcriptions and antagonizing the people we were interviewing, But that changed when I went out into the field to interview the people. I found it was easy to speak to them and record their interesting stories. These are people who lived through Partition, who walked across the Indian border, who saw other people being killed. The fact that their memories of all that went towards creating Pakistan had not been recorded before shocked me.

I remember meeting with Ardeshir Cowasjee and being blown away by his brazen views about Partition and the first government. Talking to people from two generations ago made me realize that their stories are the ones that count, the ones that made our world today. If I hadn’t come to work at CAP, I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet these people. They may just be other people’s grandparents but to me and the rest of the organization, they held knowledge of a world that was fast disappearing.

What I didn’t expect was that interviewing old people would change a little part of me, change my view of the world. I walked into interviews knowing full well that they had a whole lot of knowledge that we could use, but somewhere along the way of asking them to tell their stories, we incorporated those words into our own memories.

Maryam Musharaff Shah


Monday, May 18, 2009

Come watch!

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan would like to give you a preview of The Oral History Project and the work our team has been busy with. 

The Oral History Project has been conducting interviews of Pakistan's partition-generation since June 2008. These interviews are utilised to form short film-clips. Each clip is a record that encompasses the personal stories of Pakistanis involved in events that shaped our nation, the reminiscences of high achievers in their field or the everyday lives of those who witnessed the early years of our country and the memories of the nation at work and play.

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan’s Oral History Project is all-inclusive: Pakistanis from all walks of life are eligible to be interviewed. The audio-visual nature of the Project ensures that even if you are unable to read or write English or Urdu, you are still able to interact with the history of your nation.

Follow this link: in order to view all our current clips. 

If you would like to nominate someone you know for an interview, you can email us at

You can also check out our website:
Stay tuned to our blog:

We thank you for all your support and welcome your feedback on our work!

Photo by Insiya Syed