We are an impatient generation: a lot is said but little is heard. Echo chambers continue to foster isolated bubbles of ideological conflict, rendering language and communication utterly meaningless. How, then, can we use the history of language to 'unpartition' and find common ground?
Unpartitioning: Creating space for dialogue and cultural exchange
The Urdu Project is a socially-engaged storytelling collective, exploring the intersection of language, identity, and new media. We hope to use the shared history of Urdu and Hindi (which share a significant linguistic register) to locate points of intersection within our increasingly polarised society, creating a space for reflection and dialogue in an overarching effort to reduce the ideological gap in South Asian society. In simple terms: we want to look beyond our differences, transcend labels and discover the many histories, virtues, and memories we as a people hold in common.
Stories Over Squabbles: Finding middle ground through storytelling
The solution we propose is an accessible web-based storytelling installation titled Gully-Guldasta. Adapted from ‘Twilight in Delhi’, a novel by late Indian/Pakistani scholar Ahmed Ali as well as ‘Angaaray’, a collection of short stories by the Progressive Writers Movement, the project visualizes New Delhi’s conflicted identity, cartographically juxtaposing narratives of the city’s past and present through a tangible representation of time, gender, and change that audiences can interact with and build on.
The installation is visualized as a map, within which are nestled a cornucopia of stories - in the form of text, animation, videos, and comics - from Delhi’s history. Simultaneously, we aim to draw contemporary parallels of these stories, through qualitative research of present-day Delhi, in an attempt to juxtapose British-era Shahjahanabad with its modern-day counterpart. Gully-Guldasta has been awarded the Futura Trōpica grant, under the aegis of the Eyebeam Institute, New York. We, at the Urdu Project, are now in the process of raising additional funds to bring the installation to life.
Here’s where we need YOUR help!
We would be immensely grateful for any contribution you could make towards our effort. Join our collective!
Founded in 2017, the Urdu Project is a mixed-media storytelling collective, exploring the intersection of language and identity through art, urban historiography and archival research. The current team features Aastha Gupta (NID '12, RISD '21) and Prateek Shankar (SPA '12, Young India Fellow '18, RISD '21), as well as specialized cross-disciplinary collaborators in the fields of qualitative research, urban planning, animation, storytelling, and user experience design.
While the project began as an attempt to learn the Urdu language, it has since evolved into an exploration of Urdu's role in facilitating transgressive cultural exchange. For the first phase, executed under the aegis of the National Institute of Design in 2017, we created a documentary film titled ‘Guftagu’ that directly engages with Delhi's Urdu subculture in the Jama Masjid area of Chandni Chowk. As storytellers, our objective was to capture an unfiltered view into the lives of Urdu’s marginalized practitioners. The final product, now available to the public on our web platform, presents a socially-engaged representation of Urdu tehzeeb (or culture), consciously highlighting the voices and lived experiences of the film’s characters.
Building A Collective: Our People
The Urdu Project is an organic collective of South Asian artists, researchers, and thinkers working at the intersection of language, identity, and new media. It includes: