Accepted paper:

Folk Performances and Forms of Public Memory


Indira Chowdhury (Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology)

Paper short abstract:

Taking as a starting point a folk song by a Patachitrakar (a folk singer and scroll-painter who performs the story by singing and pointing to the scroll), this paper will look at the ways in which historical memory is represented in such traditional and "timeless forms. I argue that we can only understand these forms of memory if we recognize the active and living intersection between ancient and modern worlds.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will explore the creative ways in which we might examine the self-understanding of performers from a performance tradition called "Pata-Chitra" from Bengal in India. The performers known as "Pata-Chitrakars" who traditionally paint stories on a scroll, compose the narrative to a traditional tune and sing as they unfold their scrolls. In the past, these singers played the role of entertainers in villages. With the coming of the cinema, later, Television, they no longer play that role. In more recent times, one sees them compose narratives out of recent events - chosen from newspapers or the Television - such as the Tsunami and 9/11. In what ways, the paper asks can we build a theory of oral history that would be complex enough to understand the relationship between, tradition, memory and history in the formation of identity. And how do we understand the engagement of such a community with historical events that seem at first sight remote from their lives? The paper suggests that oral history has to necessarily take into account the complex ways in which oral traditions relate to historical time especially when trying to record oral histories with communities that are not literate and yet have other forms of historical memory. Not only would this enable us to understand the relationship between implicit knowledge and oral history it would also enable us to trace the complex relationship the folk singers have to their past - to their own individual life-stories and the stories of their community.

panel P13
Arts of memory: skilful practices of living history