Archival Neglect

It is a matter of prime cultural concern in any nation of heritage to preserve its invaluable assets of antiquity and inherited monuments of fine arts that pass through generations of artistic brilliance.   Traditionally, a culture rich nation plans and preserves its monuments of immense cultural value with pride, adequate funds and a sustainable infrastructure.  Alas! India has hundreds of so-called protected monuments, but in fact have none to actually guard and protect them and prevent unruly defacing of artefacts that once laboriously were sculptured by efficient hands devoting weary long years.

A population which does not realise the intrinsic value in cultural terms does not even object visitors writing their names or of their loved ones indiscriminately on the walls of our monuments. Our predecessors could not prevent the Portuguese soldiers from using the statues and carvings of immense historic value and elegance as targets for shooting practice in the Elephanta Caves without remorse and defacing cultural treasures on stone preserved for centuries.

The criminal disintegration and powdering of Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by Taliban rebels could not be averted even by a well meaning and civilised world community.  Stealing of deities in stone from the sanctum sanctorum of celebrated Indian temples for money continues even today.  India in fact is fortunate to get back its famous dancing Bronze Nataraja Statue of Chola era from the Australian Museum illegally smuggled by cultural traffickers.

India is replete with examples of events missed in history running to thousands of years due to our national character not giving due importance to preservation of invaluable historic cultural works and monuments for varieties of religious and reasons of cultural conflicts. We owe rediscovery of most of our treasures to British pathfinders and inquisitive soldiers, be it Ajanta, Ellora or so many monuments of Buddhist origin. 

With preservation of our historical assets not being our national priority and character, we already have lost substantial works of wisdom of our ancestors in Indigenous Medicines, Astronomy, Mathematics and other applied sciences.  But the present scientific tools that enable easy preservation of great monuments through chemical and mechanical means and digitisation of potential audio and video materials are being fruitfully utilized the world over.  The information technology with its current scientific leap has immensely enabled the world community to preserve great works in print through digitisation instead of managing huge libraries of printed books.

The advent of new media and possibility of preservation of digitised content in cloud form has eased archiving process with excellent networking and retrieval arrangements.  Given the wealth of skilled human resource in IT available in our own country, the delay in archiving assets of audio and video content of Prasar Bharati is inexplicable. 

The sound archives of All India Radio (AIR) came into existence in April 1954 and can well be termed as the National Audio Archives of the nation being the treasure house of precious recordings in more than 53,000 tapes comprising music and spoken words. 

The library has invaluable collection of prayer speeches of Mahatma Gandhi recorded in 1947 at Sodepur Ashram, Kolkata and in 1948 at Birla House, Delhi in addition to his famous broadcast from the Broadcasting House, New Delhi on 12.11.1947.  All India Radio has recordings of all the Presidents and Prime Ministers of India besides important voice recordings of eminent personalities like Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Constitutional architect, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Bismarc of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Nightingale of India Ms Sarojini Naidu and many others.

The library is further enriched with numerous radio drama features, documentaries, memorial lectures and radio autography of eminent personalities from various walks of life.  Although release of archival materials of All India Radio started in April 2002 under the banner ‘Akashvani Sangeet’, only 76 Albums containing legends of Hindustani and Carnatic Classical and light music have been released so far. This despite AIR holding the richest cachet of sound recordings of almost of all genres of Radio Broadcasting including the rare recordings of freedom fighters, unforgettable and resounding voices of great maestros like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Krishna Rao Shankar Pandit, Begum Akhtar, Siddeshwari Devi, Rasoolan Bai, Ariayakkudi, Chembai Vadyortha Bhagavatar and others.

On instrumental music, there are invaluable recordings of Pandit Pannalal Ghosh, Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, Pandit V.G. Jog, T. Chowdiah, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and the like preserved for posterity.  There are oral histories which provide direct insight into lives and creative process of great writers and artists.  In the realm of dramatics, the greatest contribution of radio is Radio play which evolved into an independent creative genre in the hands of very eminent directors and writers.

As of today, AIR has been able to digitize only 6,000 hours since 2002 out of a total of 75,000 hours of archival materials available with Prasar Bharati.  The archives have rare collections of speeches by Quaid-I-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and sensational addresses during ‘Bangladesh Liberation’ by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujeebur Rahman and Ms Indira Gandhi.

Doordarshan archives started in 2003 involving digital restoration, preservation, digitisation of the content, creation of meta-data for easy access and retrieval of archived programmes.   The laborious process of cleaning and finally preserving digitised content in file format through Media Assets Management (MAM) saving files on Linear Tape Open (LTO-4) format is on for a very long time.

Doordarshan has digitised programme in 38 subjects to include animation and puppetry, ballot, documentary series, environment and ecology, fair and festival, game show, interview and conversation, light music, literature and poetry, variety entertainment, etc.  Out of 21,000 hours of digitised content, Doordarshan is able to bring out only 77 DVDs so far.

The process of digitisation is painfully slow with no technical road map, finalised plan for marketing digitised content as also making free accessibility of speeches by great national leaders to the world at large as decided by Prasar Bharat Board. 

Other developed nations which have successfully archived their contents like NHK, Japan and Deutche Welle, Germany in High Definition have their Central Archives networked with programme generating facilities dealing with a single or couple of languages with few dialects. But India suffers from a complex need to document archival materials available in multiple languages and hundreds of dialects in stations and kendras spread over the length and breadth of the nation as also link them up.

Learning from its experience, Prasar Bharati needs to create meta-data at the time of programme production itself, secure produced content online and avoid piracy with a central archive in New Delhi networked with regional centres of rich cultural content.  It would be worthwhile for Prasar Bharati either to create a vertical for archives or expedite digitisation of its archival content of historical and monetary value by outsourcing to reputed media houses or facilities with domain experts without any further delay to save on precious tapes from open wooden shelves and gunny bags exposed to vagaries of adverse weather conditions.

While Prasar Bharati Board has conceptually cleared creation of a well-networked data house on the programmes of AIR and DD stations all over India, procurement of equipments connected to MAM needs to be compatible.  Piecemeal procurements due to lack of funds should be avoided at all costs and avert resultant obsolescence of technology.  Aggressive strategy and an action plan to promote products released by AIR and DD could earn huge dividends and benefit Prasar Bharati monetarily.

The revenue receipts of DVDs and footage sale of Doordarshan has declined by 70 per cent in the year 2015.  Despite its rich archival content, Prasar Bharati has been able to earn about only Rs 50 lakh in the last financial year compared to its revenue of Rs 1.5 crore in 2012. 

Fast tracking of digitisation and archiving of its audio and video content is workable by an active national level steering committee duly monitored by Prasar Bharati Board on monthly basis for speedy accomplishment of digitisation of born content as also legacy content in gramophone records and analogue magnetic tapes.

Prasar Bharati does not have a recruitment mechanism and in the absence of a statutory body, Prasar Bharati Recruitment Board, there is an emergent need to put dedicated personnel in place to supervise handling of invaluable archival content with inherent security even if outsourced for digitisation to private players.

Establishing an exclusive web portal for AIR and DD archives with a payment gateway for purchase of archived programmes and expeditiously installing digital kiosks of Prasar Bharati in airports and railway stations to access its popular archival content would enable Prasar Bharati Archives self sustain. Prasar Bharati Board on its part had already cleared development of ‘Leaders of India’ website with facility to download famous video clippings and sound byte free of cost.

Training of staff at grass root level with proficient archival procedures would enable Prasar Bharati to achieve its archival goals in a shorter duration. The nation could expect speedy action on the archival front especially with an ex-Secretary of Culture, Jawhar Sircar, CEO who initiated the process and is leading from the front. 

(The views expressed here are purely personal views of Prasar Bharati principal advisor, personnel and administration VAM Hussain and does not necessarily subscribe to them.)

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