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FIS Demonstrates Its Oral History Project, Acted Out on Stage


Foundation for Indian Studies Board Chairman Krishna Vavilala presents a plaque to former Mayor Bill White as Dr. Nik Nikam, Andrea White and Vice-Chair Parul Fernandes look on. Photos: Jawahar Malhotra.


By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: On the mini studio, set on-stage in the main hall of the India House, Dr. Nik Nikam was interviewing the chief guests, former Mayor Bill White and his wife Andrea, about their involvement in the desi community. White explained how he had played a part in helping launch the Oral History Project at Krishna Vavilala’s insistence.

“This project is a marvelous way to preserve memories of our community,” White said. Andrea echoed his sentiments and added that the project, which is being developed through a partnership with the Houston Pubic Library, will help future generations to appreciate the diversity that is such a part of Houston.

The short program was held on Sunday, June 10 by the Foundation for India Studies, of which Vavilala is the Board Chair, to demonstrate the power of preserving oral history on video for the benefit of future generations of historians to understand the way immigrants influenced the development of their communities in the Bayou City.

Jawahar Malhotra interviews Dr. Zafar Taqvi

Vavilala has pressed on for this project to come to fruition through a partnership with Houston Public Library which offered the studio space for videotaping and then digitizing and uploading the files onto their servers. “We are glad that HPL can provide this service to the Indian community,” said Judith Hiott, Chair of the HPL Automated Network, who attended the program along with Ronnie Ghosh who actually describes the OHP files that are uploaded.

Vavilala was recently able to bring in the Houston Community College Filmmaking Department to help with some of the taping and editing work, an effort that the Department Chair, Ty Welborn was glad to be involved in. “As a trained historian, I see the value of this,” Welborn said, “and this project provides an excellent tool for our student filmmakers to gain experience on.”

To demonstrate the process, short interviews were conducted onstage of two individuals who have been selected to be part of the first 100 people who will be taped.  The first of these was of Dr. Zafar Taqvi, a retired electrical engineer from the space program, poet and former radio show host who was interviewed by this reporter (who conducted the first two interviews early last year with Dr. Raj Bhalla and the late Dr. Paul Mehta). The second interview was of Rathna Kumar, the renowned classical dancer who founded and directs the Anjali School for Performing Arts, who was interviewed by Jagat Kamdar, one of the hosts of the Open Forum radio program.

The program was emceed by Dr. Vikas Jhingran (who has conducted two other videotaped interviews of Dr. Satish Jhingran and Dr. Jagdish Sharma) and opening introductions to the Whites was by Manisha Mehta. FIS Board members Vatsa Kumar and Parul Fernandes were on hand to conduct the program, along with several other volunteers.

Jagat Kamdar interviews Rathna Kumar.

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