This grant supports research into an indigenous children’s literature in 19% century Bengal, which grew rapidly in opposition to the British education system and recovered a displaced swadeshi tradition.
Pathshala education in Bengal, which was imparted through a wide network of Persian and Bengali schools since the 17" century, was predominantly vocational, and taught simple arithmetic, commercial and agricultural accounting, functional knowledge of Bengali and rules of. formal correspondence. Unlike Sanskrit, Bengali was accessible to all, irrespective of caste. It was the language of the semi-literate classes, the clerical workers and commercial masses. Gargi Gangopadhyay, who is a senior lecturer in English and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Jadavpur University says, “The more demotic profile of the Bengali readership spawned a variety of earthy literary genres, based on rural, local ballads and religious cults. These texts invariably rhymed and adhered closely to the spoken form of the language. However the Western model of pedagogy ushered in by the East India Company, the missionaries and the English Parliament aided the British in establishing a cultural hegemony.”
Gangopapadhyay adds that “print literature for children in Bengali vernacular took roots in the early 19" century (1818 onwards) essentially as a part of the British colonial policy. Modeled after the Western pedagogies, it sought to dismiss and displace the native culture of childhood and ostensibly served to sanctify British moral supremacy from an ideological point. However in the second half of the century, this niche print genre, evolving through complex encounters of the oral and the written, the popular and the elite, the indigenous and the western had gathered a momentum and an agenda of its own: rejecting the coloniser’s ‘alien’ literary culture. Children’s literature in Bengal strove to reclaim its displaced heritage to recover the ‘lost’ self and to build a national identity, a deshbodh through its indigent traditions.”
Digdarshan (The Compass), a monthly periodical edited by John Marshman published in 1818 by Serampore Baptist Mission, credits itself for having published the first title in children’s literature in Bengali. The text and the form of these new printed books were modeled on their English predecessors. The culture heralded by these printing presses was a far cry from the popular culture of the oral tales that pulsated with myths and legends. But Gangopadhyay says, “The vibrant sociologies of the colloquial cultures and childhood lore relating to the everyday lives of the common people could not just disappear with the advent of print and a foreign pedagogy. The residues of the pre- print era continued to exist simultaneously with the new culture of children’s books... the oral narratives banished from the pedagogical boundaries of official print, found a fresh lease of life and resurfaced in the form of cheap Battala books.”
By the second half of the 19" century the Battala (also a locality in central Kolkata) presses were doing roaring business by selling popular and cheaply printed books. These books catered to the masses and cashed in on pre-print literary tastes. “What was dismissed as ‘trash’ actually formed a bulk of this early vernacular print literature,” Gangopadhyay says, “and wandering hawkers and peddlers helped diffuse these works far ‘into the rural interior and very often fairs were’ ideal venues for selling them... the consumers ranged from the newly literate and the functionally literate to the rural and suburban population and the urban petty bhadralok, women, wayward youth and truant school boys.” Even Rabindranath Tagore could not resist the fast-paced and juicy Battalas and the legend goes that as a young boy, he stole a copy of a farce that he was very keen to read from a lady ‘in the Tagore household. Often young school and college boys were attacked in newspapers for being addicted to Battalas. Gangopadhyay says that “the arrival of print far from displacing and erasing the pre-print traditions actually helped in a wider dissemination of those oral and aural cultures through cheap, popular prints.”
Scholars such as Krishna Kumar, Gauri Vishwanathan, Aparna Basu and James Bryce have worked on the colonial history of education in India and others like Tapati Roy and Anindita Ghosh have drawn attention to the marginal areas in Bengali print culture. But none of the works, even the writings on Battala, focus on the child as a reader or even the genre of children’s books. Gangopadhyay says, “The growth and establishment of a full fledged literary tradition for children in Bengal thriving on affordable and popular print culture, in the wake of gathering force of ‘nationhood’ has not been mapped. There is no thorough and extensive documentation of those innumerable and varied writings brought out as books, booklets, pamphlets and serialized in the ephemeral children’s journals and papers that helped build an indigenous tradition of children’s book culture in Bengal.” :
Gangopadhyay will map the virtually un-researched aspect of social and cultural history of Bengal through 19" century Bengali children’s literature. Her research will culminate in an encyclopedia of indigenous children’s literature. Each individual entry in the encyclopedia will be furnished with original publishing details, an overview of content, significant additional information and a short critical comment. Wherever possible, the entry will be supplemented by a reprographic copy of its cover/title page and other significant pages or illustrations. The encyclopedia will be prefaced by a detailed introductory essay and a concluding essay. In addition to the encyclopedia, the research output will also be archived on a website.
This description is part of the institutional records created by IFA at the onset of the grant. The project may have changed in due course as reflected in the deliverables from the Grantee.
Grant No : 2008-0-010
Grantee Name : Gargi Gangopadhyay
Programme : Arts Research & Documentation
Grant Status : Completed
Start Date : 01-12-2008
End Date : 01-06-2010
Duration : One year six months (Six months extension)
Grant Amount : 293,000
Geographical Area of Work : West Bengal
Disciplinary Field of Work : Literature
Language : English