Recently, I was invited to Malaga in Spain and was told that I must visit Cordova and Granada to see the rich Moorish cultural heritage. I found both the places engrossing. Granada is famous for its landmark United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage monument called Alhambra, and I have no words to explain its beauty and architecture.
What caught my attention was the use of a simple technology to enhance visitor experience. A counter just inside the Alhambra entrance provides audio guides that look like mobile handsets and cost €6. But observant visitors would see a blue board that reads: Bluetooth Kiosk Alhambra Audio Guide.
All I had to do was to switch on the Bluetooth option in my mobile, and I had the entire audio guide in my handset, narrating the fascinating story of Alhambra in an interactive manner. Not only did I manage to save €6, but I was also able to carry back my beautiful memory of Alhambra with me. I wondered how a country like India, with its enormous cultural wealth, could benefit from such innovations.
India can turn its cultural heritage into a source of economic strength by using mobile and related applications, as at Alhambra. Technology can enable monuments to improve as revenue earners and this can double the efforts of preservation.
There are around 1,200 monuments and heritage buildings in Delhi, down from 1,317 in 1914. The Delhi Archaeological Department, along with the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), has identified 250 lesser-known monuments and collected complete information on them—including statistical data, historical facts, maps and photographs.
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And 18 of them are being thoroughly documented before the Commonwealth Games begin in October. The Alhambra excitement enthused me to hold a brief talk with the Delhi government’s arts and culture secretary and propose to install Bluetooth kiosks at each of the 250 lesser-known monuments as well as in the 400 villages that Delhi has.
My argument: Even uninterested visitors could download informative files about the monuments; this would spread the history, photographs and even anecdotes related to the monuments worldwide and create more awareness about local culture and heritage, that too in digital format.
Even as the Delhi government explores the idea, we have planned to create a mobile-enabled wireless mesh in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh. It will cover 3,000 weaving families in a radius of 5-7km. The ruins of more than 300 monuments are located here. With the help of Internet Society (ISOC), the idea is to create a seamless network of knowledge in Chanderi with hotspots and Bluetooth-enabled points.
We have already digitized the information for about 300 monuments and are now recording voiceovers on all of them—including anecdotes narrated in an interactive manner. When tourists visit the sites, they would feel being a part of it and go away with memories to spread around the world.
There are two reasons why I am highlighting culture and heritage in this column. One, preservation of art, culture and heritage is one of the prime responsibility of those in the relevant institutions. Two, there is very little visible effort to including new technological tools and platforms like mobile phone applications to preserve, sustain and promote cultural heritage.
Indeed, the first move towards this is extremely limited and reflects how far behind we are in using simple mobile and wireless technologies. This will not only spread awareness about the culture and heritage of the country, but also help preserve this culture with the active participation of citizens.
India thrives on “innovation by necessity”. An example: I was in Nalgonda in Andhra Pradesh a couple of years ago, participating in a self-help group training programme. I observed that most of the 30-odd women with mobile phones were receiving calls that they wouldn’t attend but leave the phone to ring on low volume.
I asked them why, and their reply stunned me. One of them said, “We don’t have to attend the calls; we get (the) message through the number of rings and missed calls... For example, if I receive three missed calls, it means my husband is home; two missed call means (the) kids have arrived home, and so on.” Can you beat that?
Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of the mBillionth awards. Mint is a partner of the mBillionth awards.
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