The Grand Trunk Road - Recording Oral History Interviews
Getting an Introduction
The significance of building a rapport with the community cannot be over-emphasised. I was conducting interviews with Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in India and in Pakistan. It was important to use the appropriate religious greeting. I also tried to follow the local code of conduct, such as covering my head and removing shoes in places of worship. I tried to take an interest in what people were doing by asking them to show me around factories and schools. I accepted invitations for tea. I also accepted that I would have to answer personal questions about myself if I expected others to be candid with me.
Caretakers, known in India and Pakistan as chokidars, were among my greatest allies. During visits to the British-built Coronation Park and Nicholsonís Cemetery, and the Mughal-built Jama Mosque, I made a point of introducing myself to the caretakers. Their willingness was crucial in gaining entry to these sites, and they offered useful background information. In fact, it was a caretaker in the small Indian town of Panipat that played a vital role in quickly getting us into the heart of the community. We went to Panipat because we had heard about the areaís booming textile industry and its export links with Britain. We had also heard that many Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan had made Panipat their home. We went to meet the caretaker of Panipatís most famous shrine and immediately conducted a cursory ego-boosting interview. He relayed our wish list to members of the community that lived around the shrine. A young man invited us to go to his house to interview his mother who had a partition story to tell (image 1). We also met a manager from Panipatís main textile company who arranged a visit for us that same afternoon (image 2).
Whilst caretakers in certain settings can be very useful, they can also act as gatekeepers by screening their recommendations according to their own agenda rather than yours.