Yesterday’s images and sounds…

Frederick Noronha

Facebook reminded me recently of a photograph that I had clicked a long, long while ago. In fact, I had captured this image on inexpensive, black-and-white film and using a borrowed camera, over three decades ago, maybe at the age of 19 or 20.

The photo in question was of a young girl punting a canoe, and helping passengers cross the narrow creek at Baga, Calangute. There were some four others in the canoe, a middle-aged woman, two local youth and maybe a foreigner. There also was a small dog waiting for the tiny vessel to reach this side of the creek.

I shared this ‘memory’ photo once again on Facebook. It was only after the steam of responses that it evoked, that I realised how charming this simple photo was in its own way. It is no masterpiece. But the feedback that came in through Facebook told me that this had become, over time, a kind of a precious image.

What made it unusual was that it captured the Baga of the early 1980s. In those days, there was still no bridge over the creek. Everyone used the canoe, or simply waded across by low-tide. The image was in black-and-white. Life was slow. There are few vehicles to be seen, or even buildings in the area.

As we rush headlong into the lure of ‘development’, and the many goodies it promises to bring with it, a growing number of us might want to take refuge in memories of the past. It was another world, maybe a safer world in some ways. A time we sometimes recollect and go back to.

As a student at the very start of a career, I recall having to borrow a camera, and using the costly process of developing the camera roll, and hoping that one’s photos worked. The affordable film (ORWO, it was called) came in from the then East Germany. Today, we have digital cameras and instant images. But is that necessarily better?

Even as I write this, an online announcement reminds us that this week marked the World Audiovisual Heritage Day. This day is observed on October 27 each year, and it has been celebrated since 2005. Its goal is to raise awareness about the “significance of recorded sound and audiovisual documents (films, sound and video recordings, radio and television programmes).”

For a place as diverse as Goa, with such a rich sense of history, we seem to have done fairly little on this front.

Today, we may boast of having the oldest archive in the sub-continent, or brag about having one of the oldest (often unrecognised) library traditions across India. But how much credit can we really claim for this? These achievements are largely due to the early colonial presence of the Portuguese here. They were so thorough at documenting, that they left behind a huge and rich wealth of records. There are multiple tracks left behind by way of the printed word, even photographs and the rare Portuguese era video of Goa that one can find on YouTube.com

Of course, we do a poor to bad job of preserving these resources. Sometimes, we bring politics into the field, and view these as an embarrassing heritage, which we’d rather forget than preserve.

Going back to more recent times, Goa also has its own treasure of early Konkani films. These have been saved and preserved largely by private initiative. Individuals have saved and preserved these films, often at much cost and sacrifice, which date back to the 1950s if not earlier. Efforts by people like Jerome Mendes of Verna have sometimes been noted.

Likewise, All India Radio at Panji (the successor to the Emissora de Goa), has a great collection of Konkani music, a cultural treasure which it is now digitising slowly and painstakingly.

But a whole lot more remains to be done. Today, the lack of equipment or even (internet) bandwidth is no longer an issue. There once was a time when cameras and video-recorders were in short supply. We then had an excuse for not documenting such work. Today, virtually everyone’s mobile smartphone is a still and moving camera, an audio recorder and much more. So, what stops us from archiving the memories of a culture, the stories of another generation?

We see so many young people especially, clicking and recording away merrily at so many events or occasions. Photography enthusiasts organise quite a few useful photo-walks. But most of these recordings will never make it to any online home. We have not been taught to share our work, and somehow believe that by sharing it, we would be losing something! It is a question of attitude. We need to convince ourselves that sharing, archiving and uploading is indeed important. Increasingly so. The truth is we all have so much to gain, as does our society, when we share such digital resources.

Cost and access to equipment is not an issue any more. There are so many recording studios run out of small flats, bedrooms and attics in many parts of musically-oriented Goa. So can we make the most of this infrastructure?

Quite a few years back, in 2009 to be precise, I came across an unusual expat Goan. Andrew Mascarenhas had then been on a mission of capturing the sounds of Goa. He explained to me about his work in recording the songs of birds, what he had done till then, and why he believed this could indeed be a great project to do in a collaborative, decentralised manner. At that point of time, he said he had some 190 recordings of bird song alone, covering some 90 odd species all from our backyard. There are reckoned to be about 450 species in Goa alone, as he then told me.

Those interested can check out a few of these here:

http://bit.ly/GoaBirds

http://bit.ly/GoaBirdSounds

You can find some Goa-related recordings here too (of varying quality): http://bit.ly/Goa-Audio

Events like the World Audiovisual Heritage Day, which mostly pass by unnoticed here, remind us of what we have to lose, and what we could instead preserve. A society is made up of its memories. One day, someone may say: these were the sounds and images of our forefathers (and mothers).