Karwaan: Where the past takes students into the future

- September 7, 2022
| By : Ali Fraz Rezvi |

With more than 300 historians on board, Karwaan – a student-led initiative now entering its fourth year of existence – bridges the gap between history and the masses

TEAM SPIRIT: Karwan's team working hard to make history more inclusive, engaging, and accessible for everyone. (Photo: Ali Fraz Rezvi

As a movement to unshackle history from its inaccessibility, Karwaan: The Heritage Exploration Initiative, began its journey from a college at Delhi University and reached the horizons of the world. With volunteers, speakers and audience members from all over the world, Karwaan, in a very short span of time, has achieved most of its aims.

Speaking about its journey, Eshan Sharma, Karwaan’s founder and editor, told Patriot that it all happened as if it was destined to be. “There were hurdles, ups and downs, smooth moments and difficult hours, but the Karwaan continued,” he stated.

Karwaan works to document multiple histories from multiple aspects: the histories of food, languages, cultures, dialects, songs and musical instruments – everything that remains out of the public eye.

RESOLUTE INITIATOR: Eshan Sharma, Founder of Karwaan, thinks that the initiative’s journey was destined to be.

“We have completed the first three years of our journey, and many more are yet to come, but we have accomplished a lot more than what we would have thought. With Srishti, Chandni, Najia, Tanvi and Anurodh as our core team members and several volunteers across political borders, Karwaan has staged more than 300 historians, academics, writers and authors”, he says with an air of accomplishment.

Rebel with a cause

Remembering the initial days, Sharma recalls with a spark in his eyes that Karwaan was born out of dissatisfaction with the syllabus, and frustration with “the educational structure and the classroom system where History as a subject continued to be locked between four walls. The idea was to bring history and heritage closer to people, to eradicate the idea of it being specifically for a particular group of people. It was to make the subject accessible to all,” he adds.

“At the end of my first year at Dayal Singh College in the department of History, I became frustrated with the systematic teaching techniques, as if it was a formula-based subject,” he states.

“For me, History was never a subject to mug up, which is the larger perspective. While the students of history are always seen as nerds, the term ‘ratta maarna’ (to mug up) is attributed to it. I just wanted to change this common idea of history among the people,” he continues.

The Karwaan team believes that both history and heritage need to be explored. “At a time when two histories exist, one with facts and reality while the other on WhatsApp, it becomes a duty to help people differentiate between the two, and Karwaan stands for this cause,” Sharma explains.

Times of distress

In 2019, Karwaan started with offline events, with walks in the areas of Tughlaqabad and other important heritage sites. One of the major boons in its initial days was Dayal Singh College being in such a historically rich locality.

“Humayun’s Tomb, the tomb of Nawab Safdarjung, Sunder Nursery, Lodhi Gardens and Nizamuddin, all these monuments were in close proximity to our college, and thus became a regular spot for our events. We never thought of going online, until Covid arrived,” states Sharma.

ERUDITE GUIDANCE: Members of Karwaan with Prof. Purushottam Agrawal, an author and former member of the UPSC board

He remembers the pandemic years as a time when everyone seemed to be depressed. News channels and the internet were flooded with the news of death and destruction. Karwaan, in those days served as an escape from painful realities.

“At a time when people were locked up in their houses with no one to talk to or share their thoughts, Karwaan came up with talks and discussions, and created a feeling of belongingness”, says Sharma.

“We even worked as a Covid help desk, communicated the issues, arranged beds and provided oxygen. We did whatever we were capable of. That is what I learnt from History: to be there, to see and to be a part of,” Sharma says as he stares at the leaves falling off a tree.

“Those were the days when I lost my father, a constant support. Time has passed and we miss the people we lost. This is where Karwaan arrives, to document the fading memories,” he said.

Karwaan’s initial days in Dayal Singh College at Delhi University’s south campus were full of struggles, but a passion kept him going. “Initially, it was just me, then I discussed it with my friends and they joined in,” states.

Apt nomenclature

“You know, the term Karwaan, as in:
‘Main akela hi chala thha jaanib e manzil magar,
Log saath aate gaye aur karwaan banta gaya’

“Our story is quite similar to that. People come and go but the Karwaan keeps moving. As we say, everyone is a part of History, everyone has their own contributions to History – no matter big or small, but contributions are contributions.”

There were contributions from well-placed people, but it continues to be a student-led initiative. “Karwaan faced a lot of hurdles, from the issues of outreach to the problem of approaching people. But I must say that it wouldn’t have been possible to reach here without the help and support of our teachers, of our academics and of course, the audience,” added Eshan.

As a concluding note, a member of Karwaan tells Patriot that once you reach a point when a person tells you that if Karwaan would have been there during their school days, they would have opted for History instead, “You know that you have achieved something, at least,” he remarks.

Some of the students remained with the initiative until their graduation, while a few continue to continue to carry on the good work after graduation to keep Karwaan’s promise of making history more inclusive, engaging and accessible for everyone.

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