Tuesday, January 13, 2009

National Archives of India

[ETA: Please check out the new website for the National Archives of India. You will find updated contact information, etc. on the website.]

I'm hesitant to post any advice about using the collection at the NAI in Delhi, because I'm still struggling through the experience myself. But the ArchivesWiki on the NAI is completely empty, and the Archives Made Easy site for India only has one entry, Erica Wald's description of her experience. Actually, Erica Wald's description summarizes my experience at the NAI pretty well, so I'll just add a few details now. I'm sure I'll have more to add in three or four weeks, so check back later.

First, being accepted at the NAI as a researcher is not particularly difficult. You need a letter of introduction from your home institution (in my case, University of Illinois and JNU), any other letter of support you can provide (in my case, a letter from USIEF), a letter from the relevant Embassy (see previous post), and copies of your passport and research visa. You fill out a registration form,* available online at the NAI website, and hand all these papers to the fellow inside the Research Room. Once you are approved to do research, you sign the entry book (at a table just inside the RR door), and then you are ready to work.

But wait. First you have to get to the RR. Here's my advice:

Have your autorickshaw drop you at the NAI gate. Take a blue or black pen out of your pocket. Walk into the Reception Office (guard house) just at the gate, look confident and indicate you are going to the RR, and make a signing gesture. This should make the guard think you know what you are doing. If you look confused, you might have to go into a very elaborate exercise over your ID, and why you don't have an I-card (because you're not Indian), and some phone calls will be made, and you will be very annoyed and upset. Don't get upset! Be silent! Just stand there with your pen in your hand and wait. Eventually, enough people will consult about the matter, and you will be able to sign the entry book.

Here is what you need to write:

Your name IN BLOCK LETTERS. Your Delhi address (don't abbreviate!). In the next space, confidently write DDAR MG. In the next space, boldly write RR. Check the time on the clock over your shoulder and note the time in the next space. Don't make a mistake, or this detail might be cause for more delay. Sign your name on the last space on the line. Don't ask any questions, just act like you know what you're doing.

Then stand and wait, and the guard, who is actually a very nice guy once he knows you're not trying to break in, will write you out a daily security pass. Take the pass in hand, and go through the gates into the NAI complex. Sometimes the guard right inside the gate will want to look at your pass, but usually not. Make sure you say "Namaskar" politely to them, it is good if they recognize you and let you in every day with a smile.

So, you're in the gate, but where is the RR? Confidently walk forward. The museum is on the left, and there is a sign on the building saying it is the National Archives Museum. Keep walking straight, the path leads right to the building that has the RR. Sometimes there is a guard outside this building, so you might want to keep your security pass in hand until you are inside.

Once inside this building, you will need to step around the various construction projects (trust me, they will be still be going on 2 years from now), and take a left through the first left door. You will be seeing some elevators. To the left of the elevators is another door. That is the RR!

You have been reading this, and asking yourself, is this level of detail really necessary for a blog post? But yes, it is, because there is not a single sign to tell you where you are going or what to do. So take notes on this stuff.

The fellow who issues the reading passes is usually in the office to the left just inside the RR door. Sometimes he is sitting at a desk in the middle of the RR, next to a pillar. You will know him because he is facing the door, more or less, and the readers are all facing the opposite direction.

Okay, here is some practical stuff. No bags are allowed in the RR, but there are some lockers just outside the door. They don't lock, and often they are all full so you have to just dump your bag on the floor, so make sure everything valuable fits in your pockets because you will have to take it into the RR with you. Using a laptop at the NAI is no problem. There are several power points, but not enough for every researcher. So far, I have had to run on laptop battery power twice in three weeks, so be prepared for that. Either that, or make sure you get up earlier than I do.

The RR is open from 9:30-6:00. You can stay all day, but the staff go to lunch from 1:15 to 2:30, and you can get no help from them during that time. Sometimes it is difficult to find someone to help even during working hours, and I have no good solution for that problem.

There is a canteen on site (as you leave the RR building, it is to your left), but I haven't used it. Another thing, I don't know how it is for the men, but you have to be pretty courageous to use the women's restroom at the NAI. There is a water leak in the restroom, so...well, it's useable, but not comfortable. The restrooms are on the 3rd floor, by the way.

On your way out at the end of the day, you need to give the security pass back to the fellow in the guard house. One or two days of this routine and he will get to know you and it will all be very pleasant. He also goes to lunch from 1:15 to 2:30, so don't expect to gain entry to the NAI complex during those hours.

Just one other small thing. It is difficult to get an autorickshaw in the late afternoons, so be prepared to wait for one. It's easier to get one headed north than south. Don't let the rickshewallahs fool you--you're not very far from CP, so if they ask you for 100 rupees, they are being bandits. It's more like 20 rupees, but if you can get there for 30-40, you're doing pretty good for a foreigner.

*You will be asked for your research topic--make it as broad as possible, encompassing as many years as possible. I have already been refused access to some PWD records because they do not match my original research inquiry (although they definitely do!). So don't write down your dissertation topic. Write down instead a time period well beyond your actual focus, and a very general topic.

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