A peek into the past

A peek into the past

History unravelled

A peek into the past

Robert PerksRobert Perks was pleasantly surprised on his recent trip to Bangalore. The lead curator of oral history at the British Library, London had come to deliver a talk on the different traditions of studying oral history to a group of students, and admits that he had expected a somewhat moderate crowd to be assembled there.

But the response was overwhelming; a whopping 170 students had lined up at the National Gallery of Modern Art to listen to Perks and his colleague Mary Stewart, Deputy Director at the British Library, London.

“The key thing is that it gives a sense of the work going on here in Bangalore,” says Perks. He is hopeful that this might lead to the formation of an Indian Oral History Association, which he feels has been a long time coming.  

Although technically in Bangalore for work purpose, Perks and Stewart consciously made time to see a bit of the City.  “We decided to go on a Bangalore walk to see some of the older and unspoilt parts of the City. The walk started at the Trinity Church and the parade ground, and it was wonderful seeing the military heritage of some of these areas.

We also got to see the different layers of history in Yelahanka,” says Perks.
He adds, however, that Bangalore needs to learn to celebrate its heritage instead of constantly pushing for new construction and infrastructure.  “In London, every little piece of history is preserved and glorified. Bangalore needs to learn to treat its history differently,” he claims.

There are certain commonalities between the two cities, though, and Perks feels that the most obvious is the similar landscapes.  “Everyone talks about Bangalore being the Silicon Valley of India, so I expected to see a lot of high rises and skyscrapers. But the centre of the City is surprisingly flat, and very green. There are a lot of parks and open spaces, which is exactly what London is like,” he says.

Perks hasn’t worked with a lot of Indian oral historians in the past, but he hopes that this might change soon.  “There are a lot of people here who are oral historians without thinking of themselves in that way. Creating an association of sorts will give them a forum for interaction and dialogue, which will help a lot,” he says.

He feels that this is especially important given the rich tradition of oral history and folklore that this country possesses. “I’ve done some work on Indian migrants, and was involved in a project that tried to track down interviews regarding India’s independence as well,” he explains.

Besides this, he tries to maintain a degree of diversity in all his projects, which means he has interacted with Indians on a regular basis for his work. “There’s so much culture here, it would be a shame not to record all of it,” he says.