This past summer, I spent five weeks in Delhi recording oral histories with survivors (among others) of the anti-Sikh violence of 1984. The first week of November 1984, almost exactly thirty years ago, was a week of horrific state-sponsored violence – rapes, burnings, lootings, against the Sikh population of Delhi. Recording oral histories, especially with those who had witnessed the violence first-hand, was a strange intellectual and emotional process. Recording oral histories made me more keenly aware of the privileges I have been afforded, and it made me constantly reevaluate and rethink my position as an American university-funded ‘researcher’ engaging in ‘fieldwork.’
One such moment was when I entered the home of one of the ‘1984 widows’ in Tilak Vihar (which is often referred to as the ‘Widow Colony,’ as it is where most of the survivors of the 1984 violence were relocated by the state). The homes ‘provided’ by the state to the widows are tiny two room apartments, and entering one such flat was at once eye-opening, disheartening, and heartwarming. As I registered (I don’t think I ever did – in fact, I think I still am) that this was one of the flats I had read, ‘researched,’ and written about and that numerous interviewees had been referring to these very flats, I was offered a glass of water and greeted by the white noise of the same TV commercials I had been hearing all summer. I realized that this flat, while it can be quantified and written about in reports and investigations, had become, in the thirty years since the violence, someone’s home. In the small living- and bedroom, there were bright red curtains, a TV, a coffee table, and – here is where the connection to Tasty Tufts comes in – I was smelling the same aromatic base of onions, ginger, and garlic that one smells in almost any South Asian home. I heard talk of making dal and chawal (rice) from the adjoining kitchen; the voices could very much have been my mother’s or father’s, though they were thousands of miles away.