In India, we love to talk about history but do very little to preserve it. History is typically associated with kings and queens or pilgrimage points and less with family or organizational memory, which dies out quickly over generations. Archives help to preserve history by storing information in a variety of formats for posterity and are “to society, what memory is to human beings.” A publicly accessible archive also allows people to research the past on a vast range of issues. The TATA archives and Godrej archives, two prominent corporate archives in India, not only preserve history but actively present it internally and externally to develop a shared understanding of the legacy of the past. This is of interest to not only business historians but to a wide range of people including even ecologists who want to see how specific landscapes looked like in the early 20th century and which happen to be preserved in their archival photograph collections.
As an institution founded in 1961, IIMA has a rich history with organizational memory passed on across generations through corridor chats – Ravi Matthai did this, V. L. Mote said that - and so on. It has also periodically brought out edited volumes on institution building based on faculty recollections. But the lack of a formal archive presented a barrier for understanding the institute’s evolution as T.T. Ram Mohan and Prafull Anubhai realised during the course of their research while writing books on IIMA. In fact, over 20,000 pages of documents on IIMA in the 1960s are neatly preserved at the Harvard Business School (HBS) Archives in Boston and Ford Foundation Archives in New York, because these two organizations which then partnered with IIMA, have had a strong archiving culture. In contrast, IIMA has virtually nothing on that period on its own history, though the archives initiative is now unearthing new material every day, one dusty cupboard at a time.
Buoyed by an innocent suggestion on a Faculty Notice Board email thread, a four-member IIMA Archives Committee was formed on November 17, 2017, with Dean Alumni & External Relations and Librarian as the ex-officio members, and an external member with archival expertise for initial support. Two project staff were hired: Kanchan Jansari who had recently retired from Administration after nearly four decades of service and Dipika Makwana, trained in library science. The ground floor of the restored Dorm-15 was allocated as the site for archival activities.
Over the past two years, the archives team has clocked up thousands of hours and miles of work across India and the US to search for rare documents, old photographs and unheard voices. Kanchan and Dipika have located, digitized and catalogued thousands of documents pertaining to the institute’s history spread over several departments and godowns on campus. Indira Gandhi’s signature on IIMA’s visitor book, Prakash Tandon’s handwritten letters, reference letter for Jagdish Bhagwati, all from the 1960s, are some examples of the kind of documents that would delight the archives team. Separately, stock-taking took place at the HBS and Ford Foundation Archives in the US, archival material was collected from alumni and former staff and faculty, and interviews were conducted in India and the US.
As part of the IIMA Archives oral history project, 21 hour-long video-based interviews have been conducted till date, covering former faculty, staff, students and others associated with IIMA’s formative years. Interviews include that of 95-year old Keshub Mahindra, the longest serving Chairperson of IIMA, award-winning architect B V Doshi who brought Louis Kahn to IIMA, Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys and former research staff and Chairperson at IIMA and Dilnavaz Variava, one of two graduating women students of the first PGP batch (1964-66). The transcripts of these interviews make for fascinating reading and will be invaluable for people who wish to understand the history of IIMA, Ahmedabad, education, business, gender, labour, and many other themes including stray dogs on the campus!
A lot of the material collected up to now is now accessible via the IIMA Archives website (archives.iima.ac.in), designed by Bhavesh Patel and others at the Vikram Sarabhai Library. Through the website, one can see convocation speeches and batch photographs and videos. The ‘faculty’ page gives information on the 300+ faculty who have served IIMA in the past. The ‘timeline’ page shows the evolution of the institute in its various dimensions. The ‘photographs’ page showcases campus life since the 1960s. The ‘oral history’ page showcases video snippets from the oral history project.
Through the website, one can access annual reports, alumni magazines, working papers and the archives catalogue and access policy. The website is a treasure trove for anyone interested in IIMA’s past and we are delighted by the response from the IIMA community and people outside. To get a sense of its reach, alumni across batches, children of former faculty who grew up on campus and long-lost connections including a forest officer who planted neem trees on the campus in the 1970s, have commended the value of the archival initiative as it has revived campus memories for them in distant parts of the world.
Archival requests have also started coming in. An ongoing Baroda-based research project on Vikram Sarabhai will now cite Sarabhai’s signed letters stored at the IIMA Archives. A doctoral student in Belgium has spent weeks at IIMA Archives researching nation-building in India in the 1960s. Douglas Haynes, a distinguished historian of western India has spent several weeks at Dorm-15 for his upcoming project on the birth of managerial capitalism in India. Requests by email have also started coming in from around the world. The spirit of the archives is to be as ‘researcher-friendly’ as possible.
In addition to IIMA’s history, the archives also seeks to become a repository of information related to the business history of India. The archival collection already includes several business directories from the early 20th century and student project-based oral histories of local businesses in Ahmedabad. Archival material from family businesses and business houses can be stored at IIMA Archives. This is similar to HBS Archives in Boston which hosts the archival collection of firms such as Polaroid and Lehman Brothers. Therefore, IIMA Archives, along with CEPT Archives on architectural history and NID Archives on design history could soon become must-visit places for historians and other researchers working with historical perspectives in their fields when they visit Ahmedabad.
Currently, an external design team is in the process of designing the ground floor of Dorm-15 that will include an exhibit space for visitors, researcher’s corner, staff office and storage room. Once this is completed, the visibility of IIMA Archives will increase and also open up a new space on campus for visitors and researchers. Other initiatives in the pipeline include revamping the Subway Exhibit space (connecting the old campus with the new) and placing history snippets around the campus with mobile-based talk points for visitors since IIMA gets more than 10,000 visitors every year just to see the campus. The archives project will then also require a full-time professional archivist to anchor the archives initiative.
On a personal note, it has been wonderful to work with Kanchan and Dipika, Deepak Bhat and the Communications Team for the oral history videos, the library team for the website, and my colleagues on the Archives Committee, Rakesh Basant, Anil Kumar and Vijaya Sherry Chand. A rewarding experience for me took place after the launch event of the IIMA Archives website on August 31, 2019. A staff member of the Audio-Visual team came over to convey that the archives work had touched a chord within him as he saw the photograph of his father, a former IIMA employee, on the Louis Kahn Plaza stage as part of the Dwijendra Tripathi photographs collection of the early 1990s. There is clearly some value in preserving history.