History must be written of, by and for the survivors -- Anonymous

I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. - CG Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

The Vilayati Tarti/Foreign Land Project chronicles the stories of women, mostly Punjabi women, who, in the decades following the Partition of India, left for England in search of work and found themselves in Southall, a town in the outer suburbs of West London, to where thousands of people from the Punjab migrated in the decades following the partition of India. Now five decades later, Southall has come to be affectionately called “Little Punjab" or "Little India."

The project, inspired by my maternal grandmother who lived and died in Southall, is based on video and audio interviews with the women in the diasporic South Asian community in, Southall and environs. The documentary film is part of a larger oral history project that seeks to explore issues of migration, displacement and the attendant experiences of establishing new lives in foreign lands.

The project currently exists as an 11-minute documentary short, additional video segments, a photo essay and this website which is intended to serve as an electronic archive and resource.


BACKGROUND

I was raised on stories, mostly told by my mother about her mother and their journey to the United Kingdom. I first began recording stories as a researcher engaged in qualitative human rights research in the US and was moved by the transformative power that personal stories could have on myself and others.

In 2005, I met and began working with Hema Raull, an historian and Museum professional who was creating the first ever South Asian archive at The Gunnersbury Museum in West London. Shortly after, I created The Vilayati Tarti/Foreign Land project

The project is my personal effort to learn about my family's past and to reconnect to roots that extend across many seas to the land of my people's origin. It is a way to reconnect with the ancient tradition of story telling, a practice shared by many cultures and which continues to offer us a most beautiful and enduring way to learn about those who came before us and in turn about ourselves.

The project is inspired by the women in my family. I was raised single-handedly by my mother, a first generation immigrant to London from the Punjab, a brave and intelligent woman and one of the best storytellers that I know. Most of the stories she shared involved my maternal grandmother and were significantly different to the mythical stories of our people's migration. The stories I heard were so tender and humanizing and tended to focus less on the traditional yang, or masculine issues of employment, identity, and concerns about integrating into British society and more with yin or feminine issues like how to continue honoring themselves and their culture in a place and context so vastly different to their own. The stories she told me also reinforced what I already knew which is that the matriarchs were the backbones of their families and their communities, holding them together with invisible threads. In many cases, they were the silent and sometimes not-so-silent pioneers in the community and broke ground for future generations socially, culturally, artistically, politically as well as professionally.

Traditionally, the annals of history often overlook women’s stories and the value of honoring them. It is rare to see South Asian women on the silver screen outside of a Bollywood or an exoticized context. I want to raise our visibility in way that honors who we are and where we come from and that can provide a platform for healing and learning about ourselves.