Eminent, young, all doors are open
The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, popularly known as Teenmurti Library among scholars, has become a research hub on the crossroads of history
Shaikh Salim Mirza, the protagonist in MS Sathyu’s Garam Hawa, is a fictional character based on an unpublished story by Ismat Chugtai of a north Indian Muslim family who refuse to leave for Pakistan during Partition. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, prominent Congress leader in the freedom movement, persuaded many Muslim families to stay back.
This, among many other meticulous details, is available via a note of his personal secretary, HN Masud, now stored as a transcribed interview at the prestigious Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in Delhi. Thus, to place it simply as an institutional repository of 2.5 lakh books and over 1,000 collections of personal documents of the leaders of the freedom movement, is to understate the unique character of the precious archival section of the NMML. After the National Archives in Delhi, the NMML has the largest collection of personal correspondence, government documents, an extensive vernacular newspaper collection on microfilm, and transcription of interviews in the oral history section. This has meant that the NMML has emerged as a necessary rite of passage for scores of researchers and students of modern history from across universities in Delhi and the rest of India.
The NMML is dedicated to the objective of preserving, recollecting and reconstructing the history of the anti-imperialist struggle in India. It has an in-house publishing programme, a museum, an archival section and a library. Arguably, it is the archival section which is at the heart of the NMML and its legendary project.
Students and scholars, however, could benefit from better access to the archives. Plans to digitize the archives had begun as part of a modernization grant of Rs 20 crore received by the NMML in 2009 from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The process will resume once again when “protocols for quality of the highest level for archives are in place,” says Dr Mahesh Rangarajan, Director, NMML. At the moment, over 20-25 students access the archives per day. “We are considering a tie-up with Yale University in view of the successful digitization of their archives. In the long run, we hope to develop in-house capability for the digitization of the archives. We are hoping that the National Informatics Centre (NIC) will help us in this regard,” he adds.
Under the current director, the Tuesday seminar array, another milestone, has seen a relentless series of vibrant discussions, rigorous research work and workshops of high academic quality. Apart from well-known academics, many younger, brilliant scholars have been given a chance not only to speak, but to design these seminars as well.
In the realm of subaltern history, two conferences on Deccan and Northeastern history will be conducted, among others. The upcoming list of seminars and public lectures will have upwards of 48 speakers from the Northeast; attendance has seen an increase. Next year, in 2014, there will be close to 40 speakers on social sciences who will also give presentations in Hindi. Dr Mahesh Rangarajan spoke to Hardnews.
Our remit is the study of modern India in the widest sense. The effort is to retain history at the core but in a wider sense promote historically oriented ways of thinking
The NMML has an excellent archive on the Independence movement and modern Indian history that has been of use to research scholars and students. How will NMML improve access to the archives, for example, through a tie-up with various universities,and so on. How far has the digitization of archives, begun in 2011, progressed?
Our tie-up is with scholars and students, there are no formal MoUs with universities. This model has worked well since 1964, but we are trying to send out the message that we are open to all. We probably have the largest number of regular seminars on Indian/South Asian history/society, an archive with 1,500 private papers (with figures as diverse as Nehru and Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan and Guru Golwalkar, Savarkar and Madhu Limaye). This is a hub and a crossroads where people meet in a very friendly milieu. Digitization will resume once protocols for quality of the highest level for archives are in place.
Can you tell us briefly of the activities and events you have planned for the coming year?
The centrepiece is the 125th anniversary of Nehru’s birth. There are two one-day workshops and a two-day conference. The schedules will be ready. The museum redesign will be in full swing, and the Children’s Centre, now energized, will work on out-reach.
The NMML conducts a series of interesting seminars and public lectures. Topics range from Mughal India to ecology to tribals in contemporary India. How do you decide on, say, a major theme for discussion and related speakers, keeping in mind questions of contemporary relevance?