Seeing, hearing and learning

Updated: 27 October, 2020 13:11 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

On the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, here's a look at Indian initiatives and organisations making the medium more user-friendly

Malvika Bhatia interviews Ivan Alva. Pic/The citizens' archive of india
Malvika Bhatia interviews Ivan Alva. Pic/The citizens' archive of india

History is not always written on paper. Sometimes, you see it on your screen or hear someone narrate it. That's the essence of audiovisual heritage and today happens to be the World Day of Audiovisual Heritage as declared by UNESCO in 2005, to raise awareness about the importance and preservation of audiovisual (AV) documents. Here are a few Indian initiatives and platforms who are doing a good job at it.

A story to remember

"There might be a certain charm to having an old diary or picture but one of the best ways to retain information is to tell a story. An object or photo is great when you can have someone tell you its story. Stories are part of your identity; you internalise and relate to them," says Malvika Bhatia, archive director at The Citizens' Archive of India (CAI), an oral history archive. With on-camera interviews of people who have seen India grow from pre-independence to the present day, AV documentation is central to their work.

The best part about recording interviews on camera, according to Bhatia, is that half the story lies in what the subject does not say — the expressions. "One of my first interviews was with my grandma, who was engaged at 16 but got married at 21. I asked her about the first time she spoke to my grandfather. She giggled and said she won't tell me on camera. It's just that giggle that made it so special," she shares, adding that people are starting to use oral history a lot more in India and it's nice to be in the small community of oral historians.

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People portraits

Deepti Anand

For Deepti Anand, co-founder of city-based archiving and research agency Past Perfect Heritage Management, the AV medium is a window into bringing people alive. "Everyone looks at Jankidevi Bajaj as being a strong woman but it was when we converted a cassette into a digital recording while setting up the Bajaj archive, that we got to hear her voice and really grasp the strength that is spoken about," Anand says.

An exhibit in Paving The Way, an exhibition of Bharat Floorings at Chatterjee & Lal in 2019
An exhibit in Paving The Way, an exhibition of Bharat Floorings at Chatterjee & Lal in 2019

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Bridging access

Dasai being celebrated by the Santhals. Pic/Youtube

Started during the lockdown, the Museum Memories Project (MUME) is aimed at documenting oral histories through the sharing of personal memories related to museums. And recently, founder Poulomi Das of Varnika Designs, put together a Durga Puja special on YouTube with videos of Bengali cuisines, textiles and other narratives around the festival such as documenting "Dasai" celebrated by the Santhals , indigenous people of Jharkhand and Bengal. "AV has been becoming an important process of archiving in the last decade. It has given power and access to individuals who may not have it. And it isn't just futuristic. We have to learn to live digitally," Das says.

Dasai being celebrated by the Santhals. Pic/Youtube
Dasai being celebrated by the Santhals. Pic/Youtube

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Also check out

. Oral History Narmada
Founded by activist and researcher Nandini Oza, it chronicles the mass resistance against the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project. You can learn about the early history of the struggle, the impact of submergence and strategies of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

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.Sarmaya Arts Foundation
A platform to discover arts, artefacts and living traditions from the Indian subcontinent, the foundation instituted by Paul Abraham offers several videos and talks by experts on an eclectic range of topics — from temple towns and the to architect Geoffrey Bawa’s legacy.

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First Published: 27 October, 2020 09:24 IST

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