“No matter what he or she does, or how long or short they live, everyone on this planet plays a central role in the history of the world”. The special one we have at your adda truly believes in this and has started a project which will make us connect with our history, culture and traditions. Life is all about memories after all.
She is a Photographer, Photo Archivist and a Book Designer. We experienced her awesomeness at the INK Conference where she was an INK Fellow and today we will experience it again over here. Welcoming Anusha Yadav, who one day we believe, will make children love history for this grand interview. We converse about her pet project, her family memories and a lot more. Ready?
Q: When and why did you start blogging?
A: I never thought about it as blogging, All I knew that I could publish things on a free site regularly. A little later I figured it was called Blogging. It began in 2006 during the Bombay floods because I was frustrated as all people in Bombay were. That is when I discovered blogs.
Q: What topics do you generally blog about?
A: Sometimes it was to ventilate about issues that mattered to me amongst all facets of life, friends, work problems, relationship problems & a lot of design chatter. Much later when photography and Indian Memory Project began is when I began using it specifically for it’s purpose.
Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?
A: Yes I do. Then I drop it, go for a walk, sometimes just to the kitchen, drink a cup of tea, meet a friend, play a computer game, and go back to it after a while, with a fresh eye and head.
Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
A: Always keep it relevant and fresh and please be excited about your own work. Also monitor comments. There are trashy comments which shouldn’t even be indulged let alone be posted.
Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?
A : Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus, Friends references, almost every possible arena that I knew was frequented by people on the internet. People spend incredible amounts of time on the internet. All you have to do is find out where.
Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?
A: No. I earn no revenue through the website (it is no longer a blog). I always wanted to keep it advertising free. However is there are announcements, shows, and exhibitions on history or historical images. I will consider advertising for only that.
Q: Tell us about your early life in London, your education, influence towards arts and photography, and how did you adjust to the surrounding change when you came to India? Share few things about your career in graphic design in advertising. Is anyone in your family also inclined towards it?
A: My early life in London was up until nursery, and after that a couple of years in America. I remember the lunch because we were served custard and jelly everyday. I blame my sweet tooth on that.
I also remember my first friend, a little black boy called Richard. We used to play in a box tower made of brown paper cartons in his room, the champagne bottle for my first birthday, getting lost in the mall, because I wanted to play with sparkly buttons in the elevator. My next door white neighbours, a couple, who jokingly called themselves Tomato and Potato. My mother tells me I always asked people questions, sometimes impolite and private ones that would embarrass her. I don’t think that has changed. I blame my curiosity about people.
My father was a physicist and a mathematician as well as a hobbyist photographer. He would photograph only on transparent film. He bought a projector too which is still with me, along with all the slides he photographed. Most of the times I was the subject.
When we moved to India. I was ostracized for speaking in a British accent, as children can be cruel. I hated the hot weather and the fussy relatives. Which in retrospect is the Indian Way. The arts happened much later.
My aunts were very artistically inclined; Dance, Music, Painting, beautician courses were all part of my life, through my life in Jaipur. All was thankfully, with good taste and in some I excelled to get the presidents Award. In music I had already begun performing on radio, TV and stage and won many trophies for music competitions. Hindi literature was mandatory because I came from a family of India’s best Hindi writers.
I was never very good at academics, but good in arts and so I ran with that strength. NID was an option suggested by a family friend. I gave the entrance exam and got through. A miracle if you ask me. Because, the decision to attend NID really did change my life.
In my family, no one was a graphic designer, but then there was a hardly a concept known to anyone called Graphic Design in Jaipur. I did have a cousin who started the exploration of arts with me, making scrap books and showing me incredible techniques to trace, cut and paste aesthetically, make fun crafts and make good drawings. Had she pursued her ambition and skill she would have made a fine Designer, perhaps one of the best around. But life turns out different for some.
I did find a more mature understanding of arts, also because of family. I had some cousins and their friends in Delhi who were passionate about photography, music, advertising, writing, interior design. 90s was a good time for India. The economy had begun to open up, a few lucky people were allowed to explore themselves and their own work. I learnt so much from them about, arts, music, life, love and adversity. Like a sponge, absorbing every new bit of information they themselves had learnt and offered generously. They were sticklers for perfection and had great respect and confidence in their own creations.
Graphic Design is just a beautiful profession and in India that skill is rare. I can count the skilled ones on my fingers. There are only that many.
A lot of clients would rather get a quick fix by an inexpensive amateur than go to someone who knows their job and charges for it. But that is commercial India for you, penny wise and pound foolish.
I however, was very lucky for 16 years. I have done very well in that arena and my big love is designing books, brochures and catalogues. I love the smell of freshly pressed Ink and typography is an arena I love to explore. I had incredible people to learn from. Gopika Chowfla being one of them, my very own close friends are also graphic designers and we all learn from each other all the time.
Photography became a major part of my life because of my brother in law, Dinesh Khanna. I adore him and his passion that is simply put, never stop exploring and learning. Never. He was also the one to tell me, that a crisis and confusion is fuel for creativity and to welcome and embrace it.
Q: Indian Memory Project is indeed an offbeat and exclusive activity that you have undertaken. Kudos to your effort! Has history been one of your interests? What was your vision in mind when you started IMP and in 2 years of its existence, do you feel it has reached there? What are your future plans/strategies for the IMP?
A: Thank you. You encourage me and I am happy about that.
I have to say, it all may have begun because of my up bringing in Jaipur.
There was history at every corner. In everyone’s homes. Traditions were alive. All the time. To add further, I had a great History teacher, Mrs. Laxmi Singh. She would never tell us stories of what was already in the book. Because she knew that was something we will read and memorise for our tests anyway. Her stories were always about incidents and anecdotes about the Empires and conquests and battles in India, all of what wasn’t in the book. Wide eyed with wonder, I would make ferocious notes on the margins of the book, of stories she would tell us. Almost like the story outside the frame of a photograph. She was my first greatest storyteller.
I never thought that it would garner the reach it has, I thought me and my fifty curious interesting friends would love such a thing, and it was something I wanted to do on the side to quench my curiosity about India which is always surprising, shocking, annoying and joyful. Now with all of my attention I have many ideas on how to take it forward and all are in the pressure cooker, waiting to be processed. The project’s sudden soaring flight and its response has surprised and overwhelmed me so much that I also convinced in its serendipity. Anything can happen. Books, exhibition, corporate projects are all a part of the plan and are now being strategized.
My vision was to present it beautifully and more importantly with respect for people. I wanted to keep the language simple so that many more people can understand it. My vision was and is to keep the archive free for reference. I wanted to learn from it. I know people learn from it. That was the intent, to learn from different pasts and understand this mysterious country and the Indian subcontinent. To possible know its future. So far my vision has worked and I will follow all that arises as long as it is respectful and it is of use to all of us as a collective.
Q: When you first started IMP, what were the hurdles that you faced? Did you easily find people approaching you with their pictures and history? You have also covered distinct ethnicities in your blog. From Bengali to Punjabi, IMP is rich with different castes, regions and religions. Apart from accounting stories, does this project also reflect cultural peculiarities, if one wishes to gather it from these pictures?
A: Technically none. The hurdle has always been to get more stories. It still continues. Yes many have seen the site, lakhs of them. But there is hardly impetus to send in images and stories. People are quick to recommend to another, which is great, but are not so motivated to send in their own; because they don’t think their own lives are important.
In time people have moved out of homes for better lives and the stories and images have been left behind in attics and rotting boxes. Or there are families fighting over whom the images belong to and yes a lot of the problems entail owning a scanner and email access. India is net savvy in bigger towns not so much in smaller places. The stories also come from people who are older, again with no Internet access. They need to be collected personally.
Yes the project does reflect cultural peculiarities that is perhaps one of the most interesting things about the Indian subcontinent anyway, without peculiarity we would be a very boring, unhygienic, corrupt country. We are still unhygienic and corrupt, but every 100 kms languages, people, attire, beliefs, and cultures joyfully change with no space for boredom. The stories are the dish served with incredible ingredients of ethnicities, beliefs, cultures, time, and circumstances as varied as you can imagine. And those ingredients are note worthy.
Q: How has your family played a role in IMP and what is their take on it? In what way has IMP benefited from your family and its history, and what things did your family gain through this project? Also share some learnings, that you feel IMP gives, or one can acquire from it – individual, organisation, or even the people who are striving to preserve our history?
A: My mom for a long time did not understand what I was doing. She still gets confused. Because my mind and careers work faster than she can comprehend. And yes I have three to four careers, as a graphic designer, as a photographer as an archivist and a few other things. It is not easy on a parent.
Also for a long time, as it is for many parents, she equated success to having a lot of money. She was incredibly worried that I was changing jobs frequently, moving countries and continents and did not own a car or a home. But with what she has seen happen with my life and career, heart and mind, she too has changed her mind and is incredibly happy that I am doing well, healthy, an optimist and whatever happens there will be good friends, positive frame of mind, no ill will and the refrigerator will always be stocked. Money is always bound to follow the above.
In our new home in Jaipur, she now has a cupboard specifically for storing photographs. I was very pleasantly surprised and so chuffed when she showed me that. Inspired by what I do and what stories I share with her, her own mind about her environment has opened up. She is also these days writing the story of her own life. Her own biography. I encouraged her to do so, with the promise that she would reveal all. And we will never read it until she was ready to show it.
If there is one thing Indian Memory Project does is that it challenges our notion of what we believe India to be, it challenges people to change what ‘should’ be to how it really was. Which is primarily why people love it. It surprises them. Each and every time. The stories give each family’s past a respectful space and acknowledgement and perhaps something to get inspired by. They existed and they must be documented because our families’ lives directly affect ours. And it will affect future generations. But imagine a generation who has no idea there is such a thing as great grandparents, or partition, or their own ethnicity, or origin. or the world war II, or how ideas and people evolve, or how even their own family has evolved. What identity of a past can they even walk on forward with.
One could argue that how does it matter if we evolved from Adam or the Ape. But that there is some form of documentation at all (fictional or not) certainly helps.
Keeping images tucked away for only the privileged to see does not help any cause of any kind. Or help ‘conserve a history’ that no one is aware of in any case, because it is for the privileged by the privileged. Commercially, it makes sense to some institutions, because It does however help sell those non-contextual images for a very high price. A Revenue model, that is not Indian Memory Project’s vision at all.
Q: There are many financial supporters that Indian Memory Project has received. In what way has it helped the project to advance?
A: Not that many, but the few who have contributed, Yes it has helped tremendously. I have free server space, new images, and I have time to collect more images, call, write, send couriers, some have helped for international expenses, explore avenues for its reach which cost, create and send proposals to show it to important entities, again to increase its profile and reach. But to keep the pace going I am always in need for more funds.
Q: What has been your favorite picture and story from IMP? How does IMP inspire you and in what way?
A: Each time I discover a new story, or an image or an email sitting in my mail box. My heart soars, and I don’t exaggerate. It is true. It is one more thing, few more people and their lives I never knew about. It is one more thing to show to people who never knew it. And I don’t particularly have favourites as each one is a clue, but North India’s girl rock band, The partition story from Pakistan, A man’s last photograph, Love stories, Rag to riches, stories about partition. Different cultures, how they dressed, sat, posed. Each one is so important!
Wait. It is not over yet. Once memories starts flowing, it takes time to stop. We have to continue this in the second part. Meanwhile talk to Anusha on Indian History, photography and lots more.