Saadia Gardezi, Project Dastaan

Project Dastaan since 2018 has been in a race against time to reconnect those who migrated across the newly created borders of India and Pakistan with the homes they left behind. To do this we first record the oral history of the migrant’s life and journey and then we mobilise our team of volunteers in India and Pakistan that tracks down the locations the migrant remembers. We take 360 shots of these locations and create a bespoke VR experience for the migrant that is shown to them. We also try to reconnect them with any families or friends that may still survive on the other side. 

This year, as the 75th anniversary of the Independence of India and Pakistan, comes around, we are increasingly thinking about how little time we have left to spend with the great generation of people who migrated in 1947. 2020 was our toughest year, and we lost two of our participants before we could show them their homes again. How can we continue to honour the memories of the people who migrated? 

Our work today has become that of connecting not just the migrants to their long-lost homes, but connecting the young to the old. We want to make sure the histories we have recorded can be used to teach younger generations about colonialism, migration and shared cultural heritage. We are thus developing materials that can be used in the classroom, and other spaces of learning, that can spark interest and debate that is long-lasting. Virtual Reality is a technology that has the potential of making a lasting emotional impact on young minds and created a different space to tell stories than traditional media. We are thus building an animated VR experience called Child of Empire, that can be viewed with a VR headset, that walks a viewer through an experience of migration and introduces them to 1947 and the end of colonialism. 

We have also begun the production of a three-part 2D animated series of lesser-known partition stories titled Lost Migrations. This is a rare collaboration between two animation studios in India (Spitting Image) and Pakistan (Puffball), supported by the British Council Digital Innovation Fund and National Geographic. These films focus on the experience of statelessness, women and the sea-faring Bay of Bengal communities, and showcase the diversity of narratives relating to partition. 

Lastly, we are creating interactive maps, visual experiences, and classroom materials with the support of the Colonial Hangover project at Warwick University for education engagements with schools in the West-Midlands area.

We are open to further collaborations and can be reached at projectdastaan@gmail.com

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