Sunday, 28 August 2016

Pointers for Other Historians

An example of sharing archival information for other historians

Among the factors that contribute to character building is the influence of teachers and mentors. This was especially so in the previous century when the means and methods of communication were limited as was social and physical mobility that are very necessary for exchange of ideas and evolution of social & professional ethos. To trace these influences on Dr LM Sanghvi’s approach to medical practice, I looked for information on his alma mater, Grant Medical College, Bombay where he studied for his MBBS degree (1932-1937).

It had several teachers who left an indelible mark on Dr Sanghvi’s work ethic as well as worldview. ‘They taught by percept,’ is what he would often remark, when asked to recollect the impact of his teachers and mentors. Since these questions were posed to him when he was in his 80s, he could recollect the names of only some of those with whom he had worked with closely. These included: 
Dr SR Moolgavkar, Major General SL Bhatia and Dr A Karmally.

A search for the other faculty members at Grant Medical College led to the archives section of Bombay University Library located at the Rajabai Tower building. I found some volumes of the Bombay University Calendar that the University used to publish, in the days of yore. These calendars contain extremely valuable information on various aspects of the University’s administration, its affiliated colleges, the courses offered, the faculty at each college, examination results of various subjects, with a complete list of successful candidates along with the merit list. This enabled me compile a list of his batch-mates! But I could not get any information in the public domain either on the other faculty members or his class-mates.

SR Moolgaokar: Prof of Surgery &Clinical Surgery
Lt Col SS Vazifdar: Prof of Medicine
Lt Col WC Spackman: Prof of Midwifery & Diseases of Women & Children
VL Parmar: Prof of Operative Surgery
Lt Col Sir JN Duggan: Prof of Ophthalmology
PV Gharpure: Prof of Pathology
Jal R Patel: Prof of Pharmacology
Major SL Bhatia: Prof of Physiology & Histology
RC Motwani: Prof of Anatomy
Major SB Mehta: Prof of Medical Jurisprudence
PA Dalal: Prof of Bacteriology
DV Pandit: Prof of Dentistry
CA Amesur: Prof of ENT Diseases
EJ Ramdas: Prof of Anaesthetics
HA Maniar: Prof of Skin Diseases
PM Desai: Prof of Electro-Therapeutics
HD Khote: Prof of Hygiene
Rao Saheb RS Tembe: Prof of Mental Diseases

Fortunately, some of the calendars pertained to the years when Dr Sanghvi was a student and I could obtain a complete list of the faculty in 1936-37 – his final year at the Grant Medical College.
These documents are too precious to be taken out of the premises and can be accessed only with special permission. But the University was kind enough to give us permission to photograph some of the relevant pages within the premises. Fortunately, one could do so using a mobile phone (this was in 2013).

I used some of the photographs in the book to share with future researchers who may possibly be looking for information on aspects of the history of medical education in India in the previous century.

The cover page of Bombay University Calendar for 1936-38 which was published in 1941.

The page on the left lists the teaching faculty at the Grant Medical College for 1936-37, the years when LM Sanghvi completed  his Final MBBS.

Has LM Sanghvi's name in the list of candidates who passed with first class in the first MBBS Examination 1933; he stood fourth in order of merit.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Contextualising the Contribution

This is an example of how archives assist historians

That Dr LM Sanghvi was interested in sharing his knowledge through teaching and publication of his research was widely known and recognised. And there was enough evidence of this in the familys archives that had many of his published papers. But the historian in me wanted to contextualise his contribution to Indian medical research.

He began to publish research papers as early as in 1950. The first six of his research papers were published in Indian journals and because his specialisation at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine dealt with tropical diseases – typhoid, allergies and gastroenteritis.

After he returned from his training in the US for chest and heart diseases (cardiology was subsumed under that specialisation until then), Dr Sanghvi began to send his research papers for publication in medical journals published from the US. In 1956, the first of his papers was published in an international journal – the American Heart Journal (AHJ, 52: 908, 1956). In that year and the next, his papers were also published in Circulation and AMA Arch NeurPsych and AMA Arch Path – these latter journals were brought out by the American Medical Association.

Since the scenario for Indians to undertake research, as well publish it in international journals was very different from what prevails now, as a biographer, I wanted to find out how many Indians’ research had been published by AHJ before Dr Sanghvi’s in 1956. Unfortunately, I could not get any information from AHJ, despite repeated email requests.

In 1958, Dr Sanghvi published the first of many papers in the British Heart Journal (BHJ) My experience with BHJ about getting information on their earliest Indian contributors was different; and it brought out, once again, how much of a help archives are to historians. Though I did not receive any reply to my emails to them on the subject, the availability of online archives of BHJ enabled me to compile the information.

BHJ is the official journal of the British Cardiac Society and has been published since 1939. It has an online archive of all issues since inception. The page lists all the issues, by year. And when you click on the year, you can view the content pages of all the issues for that year. That online archive enabled me search the contents pages and find out how many Indians had published their papers in the journal before Dr Sanghvi.

The first Indian to have a paper published in the Journal was Dr JB Mehta but he was with the Lambeth Hospital in London. The two Indian doctors who preceded Dr Sanghvi in the publication of their research/case studies in the BHJ were: Dr Rustom Jal Vakil (of KEM Hospital, Bombay) in 1949 and Dr AN Sengupta (of Nilratan Sircar Medical College, Calcutta) in 1954. Both these institutions had a history of nearly half a century; SMS Medical College (Jaipur) was not even a decade old in 1958 when Dr Sanghvi’s paper was published in BHJ.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Archiving Family Memorabilia: Contributing to Business History

This is an edited version of the text of my introductory remarks for a panel discussion on: “Profit from the Past: The Power of Family and Business Archiving”, held on August 9, 2016 at Mumbai, organised by Asset Vantage.
As a student of development administration since 1965, I have documented the processes of change – in societies, organisations and individuals – and analysed the factors that influence these processes. In these endeavours, I have dealt with archives – good bad and indifferent – at academic institutions, business organisations, government, non-profit organisations, and families.

After half a century of research experience, I have come to the conclusion that we Indians have little sense of history, even though we have such a rich and long tradition as a society and culture. I find this trait especially inexplicable, since I come from Rajasthan – a land where families and dynasties employed charans and bhaats to compile and narrate their histories. This trait of ours has especially affected the subject of business history.

I am sure all of us have a wealth of memories which we consider far more valuable than all the other wealth that we may have made in our lifetime. And it is a wealth we are ever willing to share with our dear ones. What this wealth of memories is to individuals, archives are to institutions and organisations. They are the non-capitalised wealth of organisations. They provide evidence on which narratives are based. They comprise objects and materials that represent events, people and developments in the journey of an organisation.

But without getting into too much academic discourse about the discipline of archiving, let us briefly understand what the word archives refer to.

As a noun, an archive refers to a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, an institution, or a group of people. Constituents of the noun archive could be: documents, letters, personal diaries, ledgers, photographs, audio recordings, videos, artefacts, and digital materials on social media, etc.

As a verb, archiving refers to the task of placing or storing something in an organised collection. Constituents of the verb archiving include: creation of archives, which comprises a) Selection process; and b) Identification of the information content of the resource. It then covers organising, storage and preservation of those resources and developing a retrieval or search system. Those whose work is described by the verb are, today, a highly specialised profession.

Most people or organisations want to document their biographies/histories for specific events – when they reach important milestones. So the exercise is always event-led or event-based. When I was in the corporate world, I have dealt with a ‘brochure’ that was published at the end of a decade of operations, and a book while celebrating the silver jubilee of the organisation. Two of the biographies I have worked on were published to mark the birth centenary of individuals.

The first task is, of course, sifting through the materials. The task is generally so humongous and so time-consuming that most people want to postpone it. In organisations, it is so thankless a task that no one, other than perhaps the librarian, is assigned the function. And, unless the person has an interest in history, he or she does the task rather grudgingly. But one realises the importance of such a collection only when one wants to write a history or a biography. Without such resources, these publications turn out to be just brochures and the biographies are just hagiographies! I have had to turn down several such assignments because there was a lack or archival materials to build a narrative based on facts — not just hearsay.

I will not go into the details of ‘how’ to archive because that is not my specialisation. But, as a social historian, I would like to emphasise that, unless you create the archives for your family or organisation, you are obliterating a part of our history. I firmly believe that all of us are living through such fascinating times, that if we do not document our experiences and store them in a way that the future generations may have access to them, and learn from them, we are not doing justice to ourselves as well as to the next generation. And, while technology has made letters and other forms of written documentation almost obsolete, it offers so many easy methods to create, to store, to retrieve and to share, that we have just no excuse for not performing this task.

I have shared some of experiences — of using archives and creating narratives from archival objects by way of examples. These are: Institutional Archives; Interpreting Archival Resources; Enhancing Family ArchivesThe Brick that Launched HDFC; Family Archiving: Dr LM Sanghvi and the Duncan Medal. All the examples illustrate the availability of an archival resource and how a social historian puts the information content of that resource in its context by researching on that content.

Some of the books showcased demonstrate the way a historian draws information from, say, letters —about the life and living conditions of that period. These books also bring to life how archival materials can be used as design elements.

The topic of oral history has acquired special importance in the current times as we seem to have moved away from committing our thoughts to pen and paper and rely more and more on oral communication. The importance of recorded interviews was poignantly brought out by Voices from the Inner Courtyard – the biography of Leela Somani. For writing the book, I had recorded my interviews with her husband and her daughter-in-law both of whom passed away a few years after the book was released. Those oral history records have become an invaluable part of the family’s archives today.

If you are hesitant about sharing your experiences by putting your thoughts on paper, please create oral histories by keeping audio-recorded personal diaries. Technology enables you to protect your privacy and to preserve these records. Imagine how much you would be contributing to the discipline of business history of this country.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Researching Archival Objects

This is an example of creating a narrative through research on the basis of the content of an archival object.

Among the documents available in the Sanghvi family’s archival collection was a letter from the Assistant University Registrar dated 30th August 1932. The letter was an intimation to LM Sanghvi that he had been awarded the Dr Tribhovandas Motichand Shah Scholarship for pursuing his medical education. The value of the Scholarship was Rs285/- per year for a period of five years, payable half-yearly, commencing from the 1st of April in 1932.

The Scholarship was instituted at the University of Bombay to commemorate the contribution of Dr Tribhovandas Motichand Shah to Indian medical practice. It was clear that he must have been a path-breaking medical practitioner of his times to have a scholarship instituted in his name. 

The historian in me had to find out more about this doctor. And what I found was a fascinating story.

Dr Tribhovandas Motichand Shah was the Chief Medical Officer of Junagadh in 1889. He was a pioneer of plastic surgery in India. Apparently, he had documented over a hundred cases treated by him in four years. He gave minute details of the operations he performed and discussed the advantages of forehead rhinoplasty, a plastic surgery procedure for “correcting and reconstructing the form, restoring the functions and aesthetically enhancing the nose.” He was among the first surgeons in India to use anaesthesia. Until then, there was no mention of anaesthesia in reported Indian medical cases. Apparently, patients used to be given wine to drink before surgery! Dr Tribhovandas Shah was a legend; it was said that “Kalu cuts the nose and Tribhovan reconstructs it.” Kalu was a local dacoit of that time who had an unusual signature for his dacoities; he used to cut off people’s noses after he had looted them. And, obviously, those he looted were well-off enough to go in for plastic surgery by Dr Tribhovandas Shah! 

Some sources say that the name of the dacoit was Kadu Makrani. To take revenge against the Junagadh State for punishing the informers of the state he used the popular method of punishment prevalent then; he used to cut the noses of these people. The nose in Indian society has been a symbol of dignity and respect throughout centuries. Naak-kata or nakata is one who has no self-respect or dignity. And it was common to hear someone say 'if I cannot deliver on my promise, I will cut off my nose!' (Main apni naak katwa doonga) In ancient times, amputation of nose was frequently done as a punishment for criminals, war prisoners or people who indulged in adultery. The practice of rhinoplasty began as a result of the need to reconstruct the external nose and later developed into a full-fledged specialisation. Dr Tribhovandas Shah is credited with the development of rhinoplasty as a modern science in India in the 19th century.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Institutional Archives

Robust Information Retrieval

I have experienced some instances of being able to reconstruct a narrative easily if the institutional archives are well organised. The most recent example that comes to mind has to do with the archives of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

When I was searching for information about Dr LM Sanghvi, I wrote to the School on 26 December 2012 querying them about an Indian student who was the recipient of the Duncan Medal in 1939. Obviously, the School was closed for the Christmas-New Year break that week. On the 3rd of January, as soon as the School reopened after the break, I received an email from the School’s alumni association in-charge, telling me that the query had been forwarded to the archives department and that I would be hearing from them shortly. By the 11th of January, the then archivist Matthew Chipping sent me an email with all the details about the student, including his residential address in London when he was with the School, his faculty, his detailed courses and, best of all, a group photograph of his class!

That facilitated my task of developing the entire section of Dr Sanghvi’s student days in London. This was in such a sharp contrast to my experience of getting any information about him from the Indian schools and colleges where Dr Sanghvi had studied.

The email reply received from the archives of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is reproduced below to give an indication of how robust their archival search systems are that these details could be retrieved  with such speed and the prompt response of their archives department to a query from an unknown researcher.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Interpreting Archival Resources

Lord Mountbatten's Letter

The evidence for the selection and appointment of Cooverji Bhabha as the Chairman of the Delhi Emergency Committee (which supervised and coordinated all the tasks of maintaining law & order, crowd control and rehabilitation in the aftermath of the terrible riots that raged in Delhi after the country’s partition) was found as a letter written by Governor-General Mountbatten on September 9, 1947. This letter is a part of the Bhabha familys archival collection.

As the biographer, one could have used only the information contained in the letter. I chose to reproduce the scanned images of that document in the book, for several reasons. One, the letter showed how meticulously correct the Governor-General was in not only communicating the decision in writing – even in those emergency circumstances, he writes the ‘orders’ down in his own hand without waiting for his personal staff to type it. Two, he has the words Viceroy’s House on his letterhead cancelled and substituted by Government House – using the old stationery and not wasting paper. Three, he uses both sides of the paper to write on (which shows through in the digital image). And, four, he follows correct administrative protocol by consulting the Prime Minister and obtaining his concurrence on Cooverji’s appointment.

These comments, as observations of the biographer, would have marred the narrative – which, in this instance, was the story on Cooverji Bhabha’s life and his work. But, for a social historian, these observations were important. By reproducing the image of the letter, the observations were conveyed – perhaps more effectively – since an image is more effective than a thousand words!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Enhancing Family Archives

This is an example of a historian building a narrative based on archival resources.

While working on the biography of Cooverji Bhabha, independent India’s first Commerce Minister, I had access to the the Bhabha family’s collection of archival materials. It had the degree certificates that Cooverji Bhabha had obtained from the Bombay University. There were three of them, namely, BA in History (Hons) (1930), BCom with Advanced Banking (1932) and MA History by thesis (1933).

These certificates were the archival resources on the basis of which I, as the biographer, built the narrative of the ease with which students of Bombay University were allowed to move from one discipline to another in the pre-Independence era – in this case, from history to commerce and back to history – a facility that has been discontinued since.

I was also able to enhance the family’s archival collection by getting the image of the cover page of Cooverji Bhabha’s thesis and the topic of his dissertation which none of the next generation of family members knew about.

Cooverji Bhabha’s MA dissertation on “Old Fort William and the Black Hole” has been preserved at the Heras Institute at St Xavier’s College.

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Brick that Launched HDFC

This is an example of corporate archives. An archival object is used as an exhibit on the Management floor of HDFC Limited in Mumbai.

The year was 1977. An organisation to finance homes was being launched by HT Parekh. It was a bold experiment in institutional financing in India then because it was based on the premise of income-gearing rather than capital-gearing. The entire team working with HT Parekh was charged up with his passion for institution building.Most of his initial team was working with ICICI, the development bank that HT Parekh had led from 1956 to 1977. I had the opportunity to work on creating a corporate identity of this fledgling organisation along with Yeshwant Chaudhary, one of the foremost commercial artists of the country at that time.

While designing the brochure for the launch of the organisation, we wanted to use a brick on which we would embed the logo. We wanted a brick that would have some grooves; the ordinary bricks that were available in Bombay in those days were like plain moulded blocks and the photography as well as printing techniques in those days were such that, visually, a building brick was no different from a brick of ice-cream!

So, I remember, we went all over the Bombay markets for building materials on a Saturday afternoon and found nothing that satisfied the creative requirements of Yeshwant Chaudhary. Finally, I recalled that the new campus of Bombay University had used Managalore bricks and I had actually used some of those bricks for a makeshift bookshelf at the university professor’s quarters that I had shared as a post-doctoral fellow. I located one of those bricks and we were able to use it the way Yeshwant Chaudhary had visualised it.

I preserved that brick and, when HDFC completed a decade of operations, I gifted it to HDFC with a letter to HT Parekh, who was still the Chairman of the organisation, recounting the romance of creating HDFC’s corporate identity and the role of this brick.

HDFC has preserved the brick as a part of its archives and it is displayed as an exhibit on its management floor.I am sure that, as an archival resource, it will add a human interest dimension to the corporate history, when it is written.

Photograph courtesy HDFC Limited

Thursday, 4 August 2016

An Example of Family Archiving: Dr LM Sanghvi and the Duncan Medal

The narrative illustrates the role of archives, and the role of a social historian, in writing a biography. It illustrates how the availability of an archival article, or resource, leads a social historian to contextualise the object, or the resource, that enhances the biographical narrative.

Among the archival materials that I examined while researching the book Healing the Body: Touching the Heart was a medal that Dr LM Sanghvi had preserved carefully. It was the Duncan Medal on which Dr Sanghvi’s name was engraved. My exploration into the significance of the Medal revealed that it had become one of those objects that get hidden in the mist of times. And, unless I documented the story, the object – the Medal – would probably end up with some kabadiwallah, as few would know its worth.

My father, Dr LM Sanghvi,received the Andrew Duncan Medal in 1939. He was only the fourth Indian to receive the Duncan Medal. He was the last Indian to be awarded the annual Duncan Medal. Hence, perhaps, this is a rare medallion in the family’s collection.

The Medal was instituted at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 1913. According to information received from the archives of the School, The Duncan Medal was first awarded in 1913. It was bestowed in memory of Andrew Duncan MD, BS, FRCS, FRCP, Physician to the Seaman’s Hospital Society and Lecturer in Tropical Medicine, who died in 1912. It was awarded to the student obtaining the highest marks in the examination for the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

It was awarded annually (usually to two or three individuals). In 1946, it was decided to award it once in two years, perhaps because the endowment amount for the purpose became inadequate. In the alternate years the Duncan Medal was not awarded, the Lalcaca Medal & William Simpson Prize was awarded to student obtaining the highest rank in the Diploma exams. For 1961-62 and 1963-64, it was awarded jointly with the William Simpson Prize. It is still awarded today but not as a medal. It is called the Duncan Prize and it consists of a monetary prize of £60. The Medal does not seem to have been awarded from 1942-1945, probably due to the Second World War.

Among the Indians who received the Duncan Medal before Dr LM Sanghvi were:
BL Taneja (1928), R Sivasamtandan (1931) and MJ Shah (1935). Of these three recipients of the Duncan Medal, a Google search could obtain information only on Dr BL Taneja. He was the Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research from 1964 to 1969. The surgery block of Irwin Hospital (now renamed LokNayak Hospital), Delhi, is named after Dr BL Taneja.

The present generation may not fully appreciate what such an achievement by an Indian student meant, not just for the person getting the award, but for the entire community, nay, even for the national psyche! Remember, India was under British rule then; and for an Indian to secure the highest marks in the class which comprised, mostly, British students, was to achieve something unimaginable!

About Duncan Medal
The Medal was created by John Pinches. The online archives of the British Museum had the following information on John Pinches.
He came from a family of London die-sinkers and medallists. The company was founded circa 1841 by Thomas Ryan Pinches and his younger brother John Pinches who ran the business from 1856. John Harvey Pinches, eldest son of John Pinches (9 April 1916 – 2 July 2007), who would have created the medal that Dr LM Sanghvi received in 1939, was an English rower, Royal Engineers officer, medallist and author. After two years’ engineering training, JH Pinches joined the family firm and continued to run the family medallion business after the death of his father in 1905 and turned it into a limited company, John Pinches (Medallists) Limited, in 1940. The firm crafted badges and insignia in Britain. It also made commemorative medallions for much of the Commonwealth and decorations and orders for overseas governments. John Pinches (Medallists) Ltd was taken over by the Franklin Mint of Philadelphia, USA, in 1969. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

An Introduction to this Blog

This blog is about sharing some of my experiences in using archival resources for building narratives while writing biographies or histories of organisations.

Sometimes, just the presence of an object – an artefact or a letter – can trigger a search that can add an entirely new dimension to the narrative. The archivist organises the information about the object, or the resource; the historian contextualises the resources and, through research, provides the narrative.