August 13, 2020
When Ishar Das Arora, 80, remembers the night that changed everything, he remembers the dread in the air. Arora was 7 during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. “My mother sneaked us into a dark and scary room at the back of the house as the riot raged outside, put me inside a basket, and locked the room from outside. Our lambardar’s [landowner] son guarded us saying, ‘No one can touch you till I’m alive.’ He was Muslim.” Arora’s grandson, Sparsh Ahuja, 22, captured his memories through Project Dastaan, a virtual reality project reconnecting Partition refugees from India and Pakistan to their childhood homes and communities.
His grandfather’s stories were a revelation for Ahuja, who lives and works in London. “It was saddening to hear how his childhood had been uprooted in just the space of a few days.” Ahuja became curious about the “other side” and co-founded Project Dastaan with his friends from Oxford University, Sam Dalrymple, and Saadia Gardezi. “My grandfather always says, ‘I want to see my home again,’” said Ahuja, echoing a common yearning. Project Dastaan aims to connect Partition survivors to their roots — through virtual reality experiences, video stories, and an animated film.