Alisha Sadikot is a SOAS scholar who works at the intersection of heritage conservation, education and local histories. When it comes to the folk, oral and intangible heritage of a country as vast and varied as India, social media can play a role in conserving them in formats closer to their original ones, she says. Stories can be performed live again; heirloom recipes can be shared alongside the traditions and stories that shaped them. “The important thing is to ensure that such content checks four boxes. It must be authentic, inclusive, relatable and relevant.” Excerpts from an interview.
Folk and oral heritage tend to suffer because so much of it is in intangible forms. What role can social media play in conserving it?
People are doing a lot of interesting things to conserve our folk and oral heritage on social media. What is amazing about the digital medium in this context is that it gives you a democratic platform for sharing these traditions. So people who couldn’t reach too many people organically, suddenly have a larger audience.
For people who wish to access this content too, it’s now easier than going to a physical event. In the pandemic, people are giving the medium a focus that perhaps should have been given much earlier.
There are issues. Everyone has become a content creator, and this can make the audience confused or fatigued. So the oral or folk heritage communicator needs to be authentic in what they are sharing, authentic to the traditional knowledge, accurate with research and informational.
In a world of new stories, new recipes, new formats, why does it matter that we preserve these forms of heritage?
In exploring these traditions, first, we learn new things about ourselves and others. Second, these traditions often offer, in today’s context, healthier and more sustainable alternative. So rather than ordering fast food, people may give a traditional recipe a try, or help a local business. Or they might learn what fish are in season, because you shouldn’t eat the fish when they are breeding. Fishing communities like the Kolis have inherited knowledge on this. And in the digital medium, they can reach a wider section of consumers.
But most importantly, we have so many different cultures and identities. Preserving our folk, oral and cultural traditions is also about preserving our diversity because we lose so much in the loss of intangible traditions. This is vital if we are to build a more inclusive world. Of course, educators face the challenge of making the traditional relevant and relatable today. The arts can’t be stagnant. They remain alive by changing.
That sense of continuity within change can give a young person a vital sense of belonging, a sense of who they are and where they come from. Which is also a vital thing to have, in a world striving to be inclusive but diverse and authentic.
Is there a downside?
I don’t think the digital medium can ever replace the physical or the analogue, yet it can play a very important role. A puppetry performance or a theatre performance online vs in a traditional physical setting won’t be the same. I think it shouldn’t be “either or” anymore as I don’t think going back completely to the physical would be advisable as the reach of the virtual is so much greater.
The biggest downside here is the digital fatigue. There’s a lot of pressure on the creators to keep content fresh and interesting all the time. That’s challenging.