Artefact 04

Learning to speak to an elephant and other forest stories

The increasing integration of technology into tribal life creates the need for new approaches and practices, particularly around the governance of the data it records and generates. One such approach is the development of Data Stewards, people elected by the tribe to oversee the data, its collection, its use, and how it is shared.

Backstage, Nagamma is unconsciously playing with the small glass disc in her left hand. It still feels strangely like a toy. She can hear the announcement starting out front. The host of the 25th anniversary Data Handlers conference is introducing her
as this year’s keynote speaker. Nagamma hates this bit. “Oh my” she thinks. “I’ve been doing this for too long”. She wonders if they will have grown tired of the story of her transformation from a Soliga language denier to its champion? Or the part where she reflects on writing papers about the forest in Kannada and English before gaining the confidence to return to and embrace her native tongue and mould it into a language fit for academic discourse? Will her transformation from writer to singer still resonate with this young audience?

On stage, she can hear the host telling the audience how Dr. Nagamma C changed the world’s view on data belonging to the forest; how her initiative of ‘designing for life’ meant the end of data as something remote from the people and place; that data, places, the forest and its life had all to be treated as a ‘single entity’. She hears her describe the early work, and shudders at the idea that she ever had to write papers … that seminal paper on Ways of Seeing should really have been a seminal song.

Despite nerves, she feels her excitement building and allows herself to feel just a little proud. She is holding two discs. In her right hand is her first vinyl record, released by Roopa’s Socio- biodiversity department at Bangalore University. She knows the vinyl is an affectation but she can’t help but be excited by the idea of listening to her songs and field recordings on a turntable, the sounds representing the heart of her people and the forest. In her left hand is a glass disc the size of the now-defunct two- rupee coin. This, she told Roopa, was her life’s work, a 5D optical data-disc that contains everything she has ever recorded in BR Hills. The disc can survive for millions of years.

She waits for the host to stop. She then takes a deep breath and walks to the centre of the stage. She looks out at the audience, smiles widely and opens in her usual way:
“I’d like to sing you a story”.

Learning to speak to an elephant and other forest stories. Vinyl record published by Bangalore University Press Academic Songs. 2050. Laser written, nanostructured glass, 5D optical data disc. 2050.