We are our stories, from the stories that are our family inheritance to the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our our lives. Engaging consciously and actively with our stories can help us evolve and grow, individually and collectively.
I first began recording stories as a researcher engaged in qualitative human rights research in the US and was moved by the transformative power that an individual’s personal story could have on myself and others. In 2005, I met and began working with Hema Raull, an historian and Museum professional who was creating the first ever South Asian oral history archive at The Gunnersbury Museum in West London, the place of my birth. Shortly after, I created The Vilayati Tarti/Foreign Land project which is based on video and audio interviews with the women in the diasporic South Asian community in West London.
The project is my personal effort to learn about my family’s past and to reconnect to roots that extend across many seas to the land of my people’s origin. The project is inspired by the women in my family and in particular by my mother, an engaging storyteller and keeper of the family’s secrets, as well as her own mother.
What are oral histories?
Oral histories are stories that living individuals tell about their past, or about the past of other people. Such stories can reveal how individual values and actions shaped the past, and how the past shapes present-day values and actions. Without the important activity of memory recall that oral history work involves, we would have no history to call our own. And it is our history that tells us where we have come from so that we can know where we are going and indeed uncover who we are.
The recording of these stories are, for me, a way to know myself. It is also a way for me to honor the oral tradition of my culture. The myriad ways to record and disseminate our shared histories and stories intrigues me. I am moved by the power of storytelling, of giving import to the lived experiences of those who came before us and of leaving behind a record for generations to come.
Spiritually and energetically, oral history work is connected to our first or root chakra (energy center), located at the base of the spine. it is this chakra that is associated with issues of the family and our tribal connections. It is where we hold our family issues, our feelings of belonging, of being at home. (Carolyn Myss). Our ability to evolve spiritually and emotionally is dependent on our willingness to do the work of coming to terms with our familial and historical baggage, of uncovering unconscious familial patterns that encumber our growth and evolution. Retracing our family steps can be a very spiritually healing practice.
For more information, visit www.foreignland.org
To view the short film and corresponding videos, visit https://vimeo.com/channels/foreignlandproject
Five Rivers: A Portrait of Partition illustrates the intimate complexities of “home.” Staged inside a traditional Indian wedding tent, this cycloramic screening marries culture-bridging conventions of storytelling to the sensory stimulation of a sculptural installation. Projected footage occupies select surfaces of the space, conducting a conflation of five synchronized films that craft the narrative of Amrik Singh, Kharbanda’s father, a Punjabi/Afghani Sikh who at age nine left his childhood home to make a migration alongside millions across the Indian Subcontinent in the months preceding the Partition of India in 1947. Singh’s introspective recollections carry an oracular invitation for participants to trace his turbulent journey to redefine home across the sudden and stark borders evinced by the establishment of Pakistan and India as independent states. Clearly visible on the white textile of the tent from both inside and outside the structure, these immersive sequences of interviews, landscapes, and historical documentation are fostered by a pervasive soundtrack of contemporary Punjabi and Urdu poetry, diaristic testimony, and speeches that imbibe the space with a potent sense of the memory.
The installation employs the tent as a symbol of diversity, a congregational space that transcends its otherwise overtly historical discourse. At its core, Five Rivers strives to extend the reach of Singh’s search for self within an ever-changing and fragile demography to stake out a common ground that obscures both imagined and literal divisions and inspires an overarching sense of unity.
Her Name is Kaur
In May 2014, my essay entitled, A Lesson in Love was published in the groundbreaking anthology, Her Name Is Kaur: Sikh American Women Write about Love, Courage, and Faith edited by Meeta Kaur.
Excerpt from A Lesson in Love:
I was maybe three when my mother sat me on the ledge that separated my grandfather’s rose-garden-bordered home from that of the neighbor and my caretaker, Aunty Carol. Simon, Carol’s only son, a man much beloved to me and with whom I loved to play Simon Says, was holding in his hands a pair of pliers. My mother had one hand wrapped around my right wrist and her index finger – the same one she would point at me in reprimand –wedged under the gold kara which had been placed on my wrist when I was a baby and had remained there until that day when Simon took his pliers to them. Three decades on and I and I can still recall the sound of the metal snapping into two. It would be many years before I’d receive a replacement, this time a simple steel kara purchased by my father at the Manikaran Gurudwara which is situated between the Beas and Parvati rivers beneath the majesty of the Himalyan peaks. Though now rusted in places, more grey than silver, it rarely leaves my wrist.
Navigating the Liminal: Life and Identity in the Migrant’s ‘Third Space’ for TARSHI's InPlainspeak
Womanhood≠Motherhood in TARSHI's InPlainspeak