KPMP - The Story So Far
I have been writing my blog 'Kolkata Diaries' for almost 2 years now. (http://www.royrituparna.com/category/kolkata-diaries/). I could have also titled it 'Kolkata 2.0' - since I deal with my second innings here, after a gap of 10 years spent in the Netherlands. My renewed relationship with the city, as it bears upon my personal life and relationships, is what I've been chiefly preoccupied with in this blog. There have been a few posts on my teaching life, but mostly, I've studiously kept my "work" away from it. Till now. I'm changing that today by writing a photo-essay on a passion project that is organically related to this city - the Kolkata Partition Museum Project.
1)October, 2007 - Berlin.
story began here. In my first visit to Berlin. Pausing - during a walking tour - in the 'Holocaust Memorial' designed by Peter Eisenman. It is also known as 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe'.
The enormity of the crime that was the Holocaust struck me that day in a way it had never before. I also wondered why we didn't have any memorial of Partition in the subcontinent.
2) Fast forward 9 years - July 2016. Berlin.
In 2016, I started to think seriously about the possibility of a Partition museum in India. I undertook an independent project (initially without any affiliation) to study the museums of other partitioned countries. I wanted to understand the specific memorialization practices involved in the making of these museums - with a view to gaining a broader, global perspective on the issue & get new insights that could be useful for a museum in India.
My first stop was Berlin, as it was closest to Amsterdam (where I lived).
I undertook a 4-day, self-sponsored trip to study its Holocaust Memorials. I first spent a day at Sachsenhausen, and then two more to visit Jewish Museum Berlin, Topography of Terror & the Holocaust Memorial once again.
I wrote a feature in The Wire on the latter three. - https://thewire.in/.../holocaust-partition-berlin-memorials, I'd planned a separate piece for Sachsenhausen... that never got written
3) 17 Aug 2017 - Indian Museum, Kolkata
This photograph was taken at the inaugural session of a 2-day International Conference, commemorating the 70th anniversary of India's Partition (focused on Bengal). I was the co-convened along with Prof. & Dr. Our guests of honour were Prof. Sugata Bose & the Deputy High Commissioner of the New Zealand embassy. The keynote was given by Prof. Ranabir Samaddar.
It was at a round table at the end of the 2-day Conference that I first broached the idea of a museum - primarily to an academic audience.
This Conference was the first step of my ground work in Kolkata. I am grateful to both my co-convenors in different ways. The Conference could not have happened without them & the support of their institutions (The New Zealand India Research Institute, Indian Museum & Victoria Memorial Hall). But there was also something beyond the academic angle at work here. Though I've never been a direct student of his, Sekhar da has been a distant mentor for me for over a decade - ever since I got introduced to him in the Netherlands, when he was an IIAS Fellow there. His kindness and generosity is beyond compare. And Jayanta da's active encouragement of the museum idea during that Conference phase was of paramount importance to me & was instrumental in helping me forge ahead. He would eventually join the KPM Trust. The Conference was a huge success, in more ways than one. It was covered in two papers. A.I.R did an interview of Sekhar da and me (which I never heard) & I wrote a Report on it in the IIAS Newsletter that was published in 2018. But the most rewarding part of it was that it led to new friendships.
The idea of a Conference volume was broached & later abandoned. However, we are now working on a co-edited volume that will showcase the latest research on the Bengal Partition by both veterans and a new generation of scholars. It promises to be a good book!
I only have one regret: I don't have a separate photo with my co-convenors. We had met at Jayanta da's VHM office, ahead of the Conference & spent 2 whole days conferencing at IM, but never got a chance to take a photo together. Hope to do that when the book comes out...!!
4) Dec 2017 - Amritsar
This photo is the only 'proof' that I visited the Amritsar Partition Museum - as they don't allow to take any inside.
This visit was an absolute must for me - part of my homework for the project I had undertaken. This museum had been initiated in India by TAACHT even as I was thinking on similar lines while living in Europe.
This is the first public memorialization of the Partition in India & TAACHT deserves credit for that. I was impressed with several features of the museum... but was also convinced, more than ever before, that Bengal needs a Partition Museum of its own.
Once again, I wrote a feature on it for The Wire - https://thewire.in/.../the-amritsar-partition-museum... NB: Special thanks are due to Nilanjana Ray & for this trip -- the former, for making it possible in the first place, by looking after Srishti for 3 days; & the latter for making my short stay both comfortable and memorable.
I will never forget the visit to the Golden Temple on my first evening.
5) 20 Aug 2018 - Kolkata. Registration of the KPM Trust
Exactly a year after the Conference, the Trust was "officially" born. I leave you to imagine the intervening 12 months of legwork that went to make this happen!
I am deeply grateful to everyone in this photo for sharing my belief in the importance and relevance of this project, responding to my call & joining the Trust - despite leading very busy lives that involve travelling.
This photo finds its rightful place in our website -https://kolkata-partition-museum.org/about/
Do visit it for more information.
6) Feb 2019 - Our website went live
We wanted the website to be an integral part of the journey of this project - every step of the way. Our online presence, we believe, will help us not only in disseminating information about our aims and objectives, but also build a community of supporters & allow us to archive resources that can be made available to the public.
We were also happy that we could now publicly acknowledge all those who supported us - https://kolkata-partition-museum.org/acknowledgements/
NB - Working on the website with Arindam Dasgupta was a joy!
7) Feb 2019 - Facebook page
We started this page even as our website went live.
Do visit/ like/ share! We post regular updates.
8) 26 Feb 2019
Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre, Kolkata. (Henceforth, Jadunath Bhavan/ JB)
We are indebted to this institution for supporting both our events in 2019.
POSTER, Inaugural event. (By Arindam Dasgupta)
Like all firsts, this event was very special for us!
We had Moinak Biswas in conversation with Goutam Ghose.
Ghose was eloquent, thoughtful, measured - all that he shared and responded to tempered by a knowledgeable, sensitive mind which had delved deep into the fault lines of Bengali identity. His own family history (his father's family were refugees from Faridpur) & his latest film 'Shankhachil' (2016) figured prominently in the conversation. Moinak was the perfect host: he just provided relevant leads & allowed the guest to do all the talking..
9) 16-19 Aug 2019 - Jadunath Bhavan, Kolkata.
POSTER, Commemorating the Partition of Bengal through Films. (By Arindam Dasgupta)
Quoting here from my FB post of 21 Aug 2019:
"The KPM Trust is deeply indebted to all the participating directors & speakers - who, without exception, readily agreed to share their films and/or join us for the event. Special thanks goes to TATA STEEL for sponsoring us. And a big thank you to all those who supported us - in big ways & small - by sharing our posts, spreading the word, publishing notices in papers, attending the Fest, donating to our Trust, & volunteering during the event. There is one individual, however, who needs to be thanked more than any other, for her very special contribution towards making this event possible.That person is my sister - Nilanjana Ray.
It is generosity like hers that makes the dreams of others possible. Thank you, didi, for always being there for me - in word, & especially, in deed. I wish everyone a sibling like you!"
10) 17 Aug 2020.
POSTER - Webinar, in association with KCC.
Last year, we commemorated the Partition through films -- a 4-day event at Jadunath Bhavan, sponsored by Tata Steel, that was one of a kind. This year, we had planned a 7-day Art Exhibition at KCC in the 2nd half of August -- showcasing the work of four contemporary artists, working in different mediums, on the Partition of Bengal. Unfortunately, owing to the pandemic, it couldn't happen. We hope to have the Exhibition next year. We are however delighted that we could bring the artists together online in a most enlightening and insightful conversation about their work.
11) 10-12 July 2012.
POSTER - Online Workshop. This was a warm-up exercise for the eventual digitization of the seminal Prafulla K. Chakrabarti Papers (housed erstwhile at IISG, Amsterdam) - related to the re-settlement of Bengali refugees after Partition.
12) 26 July 2020 - 'Sunday Stories Live'
13) I've shared the posters first
Starting from this slide, I'm posting a few memorable photographs from our events.
26 Feb 2019.
This is Tapati di - Tapati Guha-Thakurta - delivering her 'Welcome Address' at our Inaugural event, on 19 Feb 2019, at Jadunath Bhavan. I first met Tapati di in Jan 2018 - after speaking in a Panel at JB. I was trying to build a team then & asked her if she would be interested to join. She instantly agreed! Of all the small 'blessed' moments that have added up to make the ongoing journey of KPMP possible in the last 4 years, this was a most significant one. Tapati di has been a pillar of support for us. Most of what the Trust did in 2019 would not have been possible without her presence. I have come to cherish my relationship with her over the last 2 years.
14) 26 Feb 2019
I gave a small presentation at our Inaugural event - "Why KPMP?" - before leaving the floor to Moinak & Goutam da.
15) 26 Feb 2019
The 2 persons in the front row are indispensable members of our Trust - Neelina Chatterjee (who sees to the legal aspect) & Abhijit Pathak (who manages the finances). I have come to value their reliability both as fellow Trustees & friends.
The one thing that is common to all the Trust members is that we all have an East Bengali connection (there are few in West Bengal who don't, or had never)! Abhijit da, especially, has boundless enthusiasm for both our project & Bangladesh (where he escapes on some excuse every few months)!
16) 26 Feb 2019.
This, for me, was the best moment - and photo - of our Inaugural event!
17) 16 Aug 2019.
With Sumit Pratihaar, of Tata Steel - our sponsor.
18) 16 Aug 2019
We had given the audience the option of buying the film passes for a nominal fee. This transaction - like all other such services - was done by the staff of JB & some student volunteers.
Featured here are a staff from Abhijit da's office & Sagnik Bhattacharya
(a student of History from the University of Groningen) - who gave us the maximum time among students.
Mention should also be made here of 3 students from the Dept. of English, Presidency University -
Rumi Das, Sriza Ray & Neelina Chatterjee
(though the latter was more of a facilitator)!
19) August 2019
Film Passes - a different colour for every day!
20) 16 Aug 2019.
Sanjoyda Ke Valobasi
This is from my FB post of that evening:
"Torrential rain marked the beginning of our Inaugural event today. We delayed the start by 30 mins... but couldn’t wait any more. Since many were stranded on roads, it’s only a small audience who got to hear Prof. Sanjoy Mukhopadjyay on Ritwik Ghatak. Which is a pity! But by the time the screening of ‘Komol Gandhar’ started around 4.30 pm, the auditorium was almost full!
I want to thank all those who came to the event braving the weather. Also, to those who meant to come but... ultimately couldn’t make it.
... I had 2 memorable moments: lighting up Prof. Mukhopadhyay’s face with my smart phone torch during a temporary power-cut (during which he continued to talk!); & finally getting a chance (in this my 4th meeting with him) to have a small one-on-one chat with Goutam Ghose while he waited for his car, even as it poured outside. I look forward to 3 more film-soaked days ahead...!
21) 18 Aug 2020
Bhaskar Sarkar in conversation with Supriyo Sen
One of the most heartening aspects of the 4-day event last year was the attendance & participation of college & university students. There was less footfall on the 17th, owing to water logging in the city. But it was full house on the 18th & 19th.
I'm sharing below a FB post by a student of Bethune college - Annesha Saha - that was shared on my wall.
"I had the opportunity to watch a film this afternoon, as part of a commemoration of the partition of Bengal through films.
Film in context : 'Way Back Home' by Supriyo Sen
The film traces a family's journey from Kolkata to Bangladesh, a land they were forced to flee during the partition of India. A quick Google search informs that in the aftermath of the partition, about 200,000 to 2 million people lost their lives and around 14 million were displaced. However, this journey back to the homeland, which the film undertakes, should not be mistaken for merely a geographical journey. This expedition also embodies a movement across time, space and psyche.
The director's elderly parents go back to Bangladesh with a desire to reconnect with their past. His mother yearns to be united with a cousin, only to go back to learn that the latter had passed away the previous year. Tears well up in her eyes as she recollects the harrowing conditions under which they had to leave their village.
56 years after the partition, the son follows his parents to Bangladesh in search of his ancestral homeland, a land that he has heard of only in stories. He has grown up with overwhelming inherited memories, whose effects have continued into the present, defying narrative reconstruction and exceeding comprehension. As the family return back to Kolkata, the city that they now call home, he says, "অতীত এখন কাটাতারে ঘেরা বিদেশ রাষ্ট্র" ("the past has now been reduced to a foreign land cordoned off by barbed wires")
Although the film mentions in passing, the bloodbaths and communal riots unleashed by the partition, the interrelationship between history and memory becomes the bone of contention. James Baldwin had once remarked, "People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them". History makes many futures possible but only one particular future gets realised and we stick to it. But we hold on to the promises of the unrealized possibilities and try to figure out other ways of living them.
This film is a poignant exploration of how history and memory remain entangled.
Since I did not care to take any photographs during the screening, I hereby attach one frame that I got off Google."
22) 19 Aug 2019.
Goutam Ghose, Tanvir Mokammel & Prof. Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay (L-R) together: this moment was, for me, the culmination of our 4-day event! A commemoration of the Bengal Partition through films could not get better than this -- when a long friendship between two ace directors & a renowned film scholar from both sides of Bengal was captured in a happy frame!
We need to continue with our conversations, our friendships, our solidarities...!
23) 19 Aug 2019.
Akram Khan, far right.
He belongs to the next generation of filmmakers than the ones who are standing on the left, but their legacy of deep engagement with the Partition continues in him. Getting the chance to hear & converse with Akram over three days was a privilege. Whatever he said, he did from the heart. And his film 'Khancha' (The Cage, 2017) - based on a story by Hasan Azizul Haque - is etched on my mind for the unusual glimpse it gives us into the life and mind of a Hindu minority family in Islamic East Pakistan.
24) 10 July 2020 - Online Workshop.
I spoke briefly to the interns, on behalf of our Trust.
25) 26 July 2020 - With Guneeta Singh Bhalla.
After finishing #9, 'Sunday Stories Live'.
The first event that we had planned for 2020 was in early May - a conversation with Guneeta at one of Kolkata's foremost cultural organizations. That fell through owing to the pandemic. But something else happened in its stead, in late July - I accepted an invitation to speak about our Project (as well as Partition Literature in Bangla) in one of the episodes of 'Sunday Stories Live', by the 1947 Partition Archive.
The episode was very well received & happens to be one of the most rewarding experiences of mine during the pandemic. But the best part of it was the opportunity I got to talk to Guneeta on two consecutive days - during the sound check on the 25th & after my episode on the 26th.
I have enormous respect for Guneeta for the singular determination & total commitment with which she has devoted herself to the archive (giving up her academic career). One needs both courage and passion to be able to do that!
There is a constant buzz about "women achievers" in the media (usually in March every year). Well, here is one name that many more people should take note of - for the next March list.
26) 17 Aug 2020 - Webinar with KCC
Reena was a wonderful moderator - allowing the artists their full presentations even when we were running a little late & choosing the most pertinent questions from the audience for them to answer.
Prior to the conversation, Mousumi Ballav of KCC introduced her organization & Director; while I spoke very briefly about the aims & objectives of the KPM Trust. It was fascinating to see how distinct the four artists were in their engagement with Partition.
There were several questions from the audience; & I have personally already received very positive feedback from many of my friends & students.
The video has been shared on the Facebook pages of both KCC & KPM.
27) 17 Aug 2020
The conceptualization & curation of this Exhibition has been done by Rajasri Mukhopadhyay.
She is a wonderful collaborator & team player- knowing when and how to lead as well as acknowledge others. We look forward to working more with her!
28) Digitization of the 'Prafulla K. Chakrabarti Papers'
The KPM website will soon host a digitized version of this archive - housed at IISG, Amsterdam.
The aim is to make a very important historical resource - connected with refugee resettlement in West Bengal - available & accessible to the public at large.
The interns associated with this digitization project are currently writing a blog - https://kolkata-partition-museum.org/chronicling.../
29) 2016-2020: a very personal acknowledgement.
This dear old man has been with me in all these 4 years -- the first year, with great involvement, though from a distance; & the next three, from very close quarters, supporting me in whichever way he can. Ma had heard of the beginning in 2016, but he saw me through the crucial nascent phase of this project. Whatever comes after this, in terms of his presence, is bonus for me!