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