Monday, April 18, 2011

Unraveling Truth from Fiction

      Natasha Goldie interviews Dr. Gurnam Brard on Feb 26, 2011

     Dr Gurnam Brard’s interview took place on a Saturday afternoon in his brother Kartar’s home in the Oakland Hills, California. The delicate linger of cardamom and turmeric in the air guided my way down the wooded path towards his home. The Brard family had kindly invited me and my mentor Guneeta, for a home cooked Punjabi lunch before we began. This was my first interview with the archive project and I had no prior experience with oral history interviews. Days before the interview I had feared Murphy’s law would best describe my experience. In opposition, the day went without a hitch; Dr Brard was extremely hospitable and Guneeta was knowledgeable and helpful. We discussed aspects of his experience over lunch with his elder brother and his sister in law, both of whom had experienced the Partition.

    Dr Brard had authored his own autobiography East of Indus, which colorfully captures his memories of youth in rural Punjab leading to the Partition and beyond Post Colonial India. He revealed he was 17 years old in 1947, when he learned of the partition. His family is Sikh and their village Meraj was on the Indian side of Punjab; fortunately for them they were not forced to migrate. He explained that he still remembers the faces of the dead and dying strewn across the fields and paths of his village. He lost his best friend Nawab Din, who was a young Muslim boy that lived in the same village. He remembered that Nawab and his family tried to flee the village to Pakistan, however, there was an attack on the village before the family could successfully migrate and Nawab’s mother was killed. At the age of 17, Dr Brard had witnessed the death of a family friend and neighbor; the sight of Nawab’s mother’s body is still vivid in his memories. For Nawab and the rest of his family, their fate is still a mystery.

     The tragic loss of Nawab’s mother and the unknown fate of the rest of his family are only a minute fraction of a fragmented, complex and deeper narrative of the Partition.  I came away from the interview with a tremendous intrigue and passion to pursue the cultural and oral narratives of South Asia’s history.  Dr Brard is now a retired physicist, who divides his time between his family in the Bay Area and in Lake Tahoe where he is an avid skier. I am thankful to Dr Brard and to those who reveal their past, for they are the key to understanding the past and unraveling the truth from the fiction.
Natasha Goldie, background:  I am a 24 year old, half Thai/half Scottish, agnostic student. I did not know Dr Brard, however I had read his autobiography prior to the interview.  I am studying an MA in history at the University of Edinburgh. I am currently in the US on an exchange with the University of California, Berkeley. I am currently conducting research for my MA dissertation, that will be on a social and cultural aspect of Indian history. Thus, I am gaining invaluable experience with oral history and background research for my dissertation.

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