Staff members at the School of Cultural Texts and Records digitise street literature. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Film and theatre scripts, political pamphlets, election manifestoes and street publications have found pride of place along with Bengali literature of the post-Tagore era in the School of Cultural Texts and Records at Jadavpur University (JU).
The school, which completed its fifth year recently, is also setting up a musical archive.
“A culture for archiving has not yet developed in this country. Our main objective is to preserve, digitise and circulate all kinds of texts and documents relating to cultural history,” said Sukanta Chaudhuri, the director of the school.
The school has an enviable collection of manuscripts of the post-Tagore era, primarily obtained from the families and associates of writers.
“Sudhindranath Dutta and Rajeswari Dutta left their papers, along with other property, to Jadavpur University. There are many unpublished Bengali short stories by Sudhindranath and also his writings in English,” said Chaudhuri.
The material was digitised and the Bengali short stories and the English writings published as two books.
The school has a treasure-trove of manuscripts of the writings of Shakti Chattopadhyay, Jyotirmoyee Debi, Sanjay Bhattacharya and many others, besides digital copies of manuscripts of works of Buddhadeva Bose and Arun Kumar Sarkar.
“Shakti’s family presented us with video recordings of the poet reciting his own works, which we have made into a CD,” said Chaudhuri.
Ten teachers and around 20 project staff members are associated with the school.
It has also undertaken the recovery and editing of texts in the Sylhet-Nagri script. The script that was in use in the Sylhet-Cachar region till the middle of the 20th century, has now become obsolete.
“Over a hundred texts have been acquired and digitally stored, while 32 texts have been transcribed into standard Bengali,” said Anuradha Chanda, a retired professor of history at JU. “I have found printed versions of the scripts that date back to the 1930s but the handwritten manuscripts are even older. The themes suggest they may even date back to the 16th and 17th centuries,” she added.
The school is setting up an archive of early north Indian classical music. “The musical archive includes a great deal of rare material from private collections of collectors as well as singers,” said Amlan Dasgupta, a professor of English who oversees the musical archive.
“In the last year, we have digitised 500 GB of music,” he said. The archive has recorded music from some music conferences of the 1930s and 40s like the Tansen Music Conference and the All Bengal Music Conference.
The school is also involved with the collection and digitising of film and theatre scripts. “We are digitising the scripts of several Tapal Sinha films and Badal Sircar plays,” said Chaudhuri.
The school also collects and preserves oral narratives. “We went to the Bijoygarh colony and spoke to the residents. The aim was to record reminiscences of the first immigrants who came from East Bengal after Partition,” said Meghdut Rudra, a former student of film studies at the university.
Another significant work is the collection and digitisation of street literature. “These books are usually sold on trains or in streets and are considered ‘low literature’,” said Sahana Ghosh, a former student of English.
The school needs a steady inflow of funds. “Project-linked funds come from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and the University Grants Commission. But an assured inflow of funds will help us to work in more planned manner,” said Chaudhuri.