This conversation with Avtar focuses upon her work in Southall over several decades. We talked about the film Aaj Kaal (translated as yesterday, today and tomorrow), made in 1990, by Avtar, Jasbir Panesar and Vipin Kumar in collaboration with Punjabi elders. It is a mesmerizing evocation of the sensuality of migrant lives and of home-making. The film in Punjabi with English subtitles includes poetry, song and dance and footage from the life of the day centre, including trips to the seaside and interviews between the elders. Nirmal Puwar has excavated the film in commemorating Avtar's achievements and the passing of this generation of migrants.
Avtar's 1996 book 'Cartographies of Diaspora' was a lifeline for me when I was doing my PhD. What was wonderful about this interview was Avtar's reflections about her work from the vantage point of the present. Her thoughts about the spiritual aspects of Scent of Memory - that as Avtar put it 'connected my life history with Jean's' - have made me think about the essay and Avtar's work in a new light.
1. For people who are not familiar with the film Aaj Kaal, can you describe what it is about?
2. How did you come to be involved in the making of the film?
3. What were you trying to do in Scent of Memory?
4. What was happening in the entanglement between Jean's story and yours?
Avtar Brah is Professor Emeritus at Birkbeck College (London). She has always been involved in community and feminist activism. Her books include Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities and Hybridity and Its Discontents: Politics, Science, Culture (edited with Annie Coombes).
I asked Avtar about a pioneering, but little known film 'Aaj Kaal' that she helped to make in 1990, on South Asian elders in Southhall.
We also talked about her article 'Scent of Memory' published In Feminist Review in 1999 and which was the basis of a Special Issue to commemorate the 100th issue in April 2012.