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August 6, 2015 A Remembrance of Books Lost Bengali Chapbooks at the British Library Aritra Chakraborti The Research This research is focused on the contested history of popular print culture in Bengal, India. Printing technology arrived in Bengal in the late eighteenth century, and the first Bengali books printed with movable type were translation of Christian tracts published under the aegis of the Baptist Missionaries of Serampore.
Although printing was at first controlled by the colonial authorities and the native elite, this “foreign” technology was quickly embraced by local residents, and a thriving publishing industry took shape in the nascent metropolis of Calcutta (now Kolkata), which soon became the second most important city of the British Empire.
The earliest printers were mostly humanists and scholars, but hack writers and pamphleteers soon entered the market with their cheap, entertaining books and crudely written pamphlets. Their target readers were mostly the newly created middle class and the semi-literate lower middle class.
By the mid-nineteenth century, the popular publishing industry became a headache for the colonial authorities and the native elite alike, who were offended by the bawdy contents of the cheap-print. Soon, they adjudged that the local publishing industry had to be controlled in order to inculcate a sound reading habit amongst Bengalis.1 The cheap publishing industry was first established around Battala in North Calcutta. Although this industry later spread to other parts of the state, the name Aritra Chakraborti Sylff Fellow, 2012–15, Jadavpur University. Is currently a PhD student at the university’s Department of English. Received an SRA grant for doctoral research in the field of book history in colonial Bengal.
James Long, Returns Relating to the Publications in the Bengali Language in I857 (Calcutta, 1859) pp. xxiv-xxv
“Battala” became synonymous with obscene and erotic printed material that soon became the target of the censoring authorities. While the Battala presses were persecuted in the nineteenth century for spreading salacious and corrupting ideas, subsequent historians have pointed out that these books represented the “native cultural elements” that the colonial authorities marginalized as part of their efforts to exercise “bio-political” control over the native mind.2 In the subsequent historiography of popular print culture in Bengal, Battala has been celebrated as the quintessential locale of subversion and resistance. This has also contributed to the rather misleading notion that the cheap publishing industry existed only to defy the elite print culture. While the The title of this chapbook is bharatmatar bastraharan (The Disrobing pioneering work in this field done by such historians of Mother India). Written during the as Sukumar Sen, Nikhil Sarkar, Gautam Bhadra, Second World War, it describes how the general populace suffered due to and Sumanta Bandyopadhyay has unearthed a trea- an acute shortage of clothing matesure trove of interesting material, it has, in turn, en- rial and other essential commodities sured that the books that were not so subversive in during the years of conflict. The cover shows a picture of “Mother Innature were buried underneath this “romance of dia” as a poor, yet beautiful woman defiance.” And in time, these books mostly vanished who is wearing rags since she no longer has enough clothes to cover her from the history of Bengali popular print culture.
body. This chapbook was written by My research for the SRA period was focused prolific author Nagendranath Das, primarily on unearthing such material—chapbooks whose works were frequently and pamphlets on topical events that acted as the banned by the British government.
conduit of information for the semi-literate readers who were not a part of the information network of the newspapers and periodicals published by the educated elite. During my Sylff Research Abroad in Britain, I
• Find chapbooks and pamphlets written on topical events
• Analyze their language to see how they used traditional modes of cultural Bernard S. Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996); Deana Heath, Purifying Empire: Obscenity and the Politics of Moral Regulation in Britain, India and Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
expressions to entertain as well as inform and educate people about the modern world
• Understand the role they played as the mass media in the nineteenth century The SRA award allowed me to look for these books in the vast archives of London’s British Library, which was the deposit library of the British Empire. It boasts perhaps the largest collection of nineteenth-century books published within the domains of the empire, and Bengali books were no exception. As a visiting researcher at King’s College London during this period, I also got the chance to speak with scholars and researchers from other institutions, such as the Institute of English Studies and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and Oxford University.
The archival work was done at the Asian and African Studies Collection of the British Library, which houses the complete collection of the India Office Library.
Conversations with Mr. Graham Shaw, the doyen of nineteenth century Bengali print culture, gave me crucial directions on the use of the vast archive.
The books, on the other hand, presented unique stories, and I saw how natural disasters, scandals, incidents of legal or political importance, and other events were represented in the popular print media. And examination of these books is important for The British Library in London.
various reasons. First, the notion that the sole function of the Battala presses was to resist the cultural elite suggests that the marginalized print cultures did not have an independent existence. This, though, was far from the case.
Second, these books show that the colonial public sphere was more complicated than it is generally regarded. Nineteenth century chapbooks and pamphlets serve as important windows on the everyday life of colonial Bengal: a sociological examination along these lines has long been pending.
Third, an examination of these documents reveals that the main purpose of popular print culture was the same as that of elite print culture: dissemination of information.
My research during the SRA period was not limited to the study of these books, however. My other aim was to study the India Political Intelligence Department and the Crown Representative’s Records in order to find out how the British Secret
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Services tracked down seditious literature after the emergence of nationalist movements. Though most of the leading figures of the nationalist movements, both pacifist and extremist, were educated elites, they adopted the chapbook and pamphlet formats for the dissemination of their ideas. Due to the near invisibility and the ephemeral nature of these slender volumes, chapbooks and pamphlets became major carriers of subversive ideas during the period between 1905 and 1947.
The hack writers, in turn, appropriated nationalistic themes to increase the sales of their books, since books written on such themes were very popular. While doing my research in India, I had amassed a vast digital collection of nationalistic pamphlets and chapbooks printed between the 1930s and 1940s, and I needed to consult the India Office Records at the British Library to access many other similar pamphlets (especially those published between 1905 and 1930) and to examine the records of the Secret Services to understand how the authorities tracked down and persecuted the authors, book sellers, and at times even the readers of these items.
While the colonial authorities exercised stringent censorship to ensure that seditious ideas were not circulated, pamphlets and chapbooks written on nationalistic ideas spread rapidly through private vendors and dedicated revolutionaries,
who also doubled as publishers. For this section, my research questions were:
• How were the seditious pamphlets and chapbooks produced and circulated?
• How did the censoring machinery of the colonial government function to control the dissemination of such ephemeral items?
• How did the hack writers appropriate nationalistic ideas in their chapbooks and pamphlets?
• Apart from the criticism of the colonial regime, did the writers comment on other aspects of the social condition? If so, how?
The Burden of the Archive
My research was enriched by everything that I studied during this period: chapbooks and pamphlets, legal records, court proceedings, and reports of the Secret Service agents who intercepted letters, followed booksellers, and sent spies to track down the people who distributed seditious materials during one of the most volatile periods in the history of the region.
While studying the pamphlets and chapbooks that described the partition riots and famine,3 I got a chance to read the disturbing memoirs of the English soldiers The British left India in 1947, marking the successful culmination of half-a-century long 3
who were stationed in Calcutta at that time. The intense nature of the documents that I studied often left me greatly distressed, though this was also part of the thrill that is often associated with archival research of this nature. These findings have enabled me to develop a greater understanding of how this rustic information network functioned amongst the economically disenfranchised sectors of society, long before the coming of electronic media that made communication more democratic.
For this opportunity I am grateful to the Tokyo Foundation. The Sylff fellowship and the SRA award enabled me to fulfil the academic potential that my project had. I would also like to thank Professor Clare Pettitt of the King’s College London, Mr. Graham Shaw of the Institute of English Studies, University of London, and Ms. Leena Mitford of the British Library for their kind guidance.
freedom struggle that swayed between peaceful marches and spells of armed resistance punctuated with gunfire and bomb blasts. Independence came at a price, though, as the partition of Bengal and Punjab resulted in the greatest human migration in history. This period also witnessed communal riots in various parts of India, especially in Bengal and Punjab, claiming the lives of thousands of people. During the final stages of the Second World War, when the British government was apprehensive of a Japanese invasion from Axis-occupied Burma, they implemented a scorched-earth policy in Bengal Province. This resulted in a massive famine, entirely man-made, that claimed the lives of at least 4 million people.
July 3, 2015 The Urban Art of Hip Hop among Young Immigrants in Palermo, Italy Martina riina The Migration Observatory of the Institute of Political Education “Pedro Arrupe” is a website that publishes the results of scientific research on migration to the island of Sicily, where the institute is located. Martina Riina, who received a Sylff fellowship in 2014, chose to focus her research for the Observatory on the culture of second-generation migrants by focusing on the ways in which they express themselves through the medium of hip hop.
* * * B etween April 2014 and February 2015 I conducted social anthropological research in Palermo on a form of musical and narrative expression known as hip hop. My research focused on the ways in which young immigrants living in the city express themselves through hip hop culture and on the importance of this form of social and artistic communication in enabling them to find an identity in their new surroundings.
Urban Anthropological Approach
From a theoretical point of view, I tried to analyze the hip hop narrative as expressed mainly in the rap musical genre through sociological and urban anthropological perspectives, focused on the creative expressions of ethnic minorities in big cities, their message, and elements of cultural resistance.
I followed the analytical approach of French sociologist George Lapassade, one of the first scholars to address hip hop culture in his work on immigrants living in the suburbs of Paris. Lapassade compiled his reflections in what soon became the manifesto of youth hip hop culture—Le Rap, ou la Fureur de Dire (Rap, or the Martina Riina Sylff Fellow, 2014, Institute of Political Education “Pedro Arrupe,” Italy.
Is an anthropologist and founder of a social association, Logiche Meticce, where she works with children, youth, and adults from different cultures.
Fury of the Word)—a deep investigation into the symbols, practices, beliefs, and lifestyles revolving around this expressive language.
I learned through Lapassade’s analysis about hip hop’s origins in the Afro-American ghettos of New York in the late 1970s. The youth in these communities asserted their freedom of speech through real street expressions of song, music, dance, and mural art, weaving messages of civil rights with a desire to be recognized and to participate actively in the social life of the city’s most deprived neighborhoods, even among those belonging to different ethnic minorities who populated those neighborhoods.
Starting from the history of hip hop, I studied the ways in which young immigrants in Palermo today proclaim their freedom of speech and the right to express themselves, comparing these with the behavior of their native counterparts. I tried to answer two fundamental questions: How do younger immigrants express themselves through the medium of hip hop and how does this “language” help create opportunities for different groups to meet each other and to influence one another through a process of “cultural contamination”?
Presenting Distinctive Narratives
What emerged from my research was that the language of hip hop and, in particular, rap—its main outlet of expression—are significant channels of expression for undertaking a comparison of groups of young people; the fact that many of them, both immigrants and natives, “speak” the same language allows them to talk about themselves, discuss and express their values, and register dissent in ways that are comprehensible to all parties.
In the fieldwork phase of my research, I closely analyzed how this language comes to life—the way it becomes the preferred channel both of communication with others and of self-expression in relaxed, everyday settings, away from family or school.
One of the most interesting aspects of the hip hop language is its manifestation in the form of “verbal challenge” or “poetic duel,” a dimension of rap’s expressive world containing some extremely revealing elements regarding how contemporary youths confront one another and present their distinctive narratives.
Educational Potential During personal observations of these young people’s modes of self-expression, I realized how important it is to formulate project ideas or social initiatives that allow them to be leaders of their own growth and to affirm their communication and artistic practices. Producing rap lyrics, for example, encourages young immigrants to learn the language of the receiving society and, at the same time, gives them a new channel to communicate their experiences. In an increasingly global and interconnected world this is essential in order to gain a better understanding and awareness of multiculturalism.
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Stimulating communication and transmitting shared messages are the engines of rap, and it is for this reason that it has the potential to promote creativity and innovative discoveries in educational and training settings, where aggregation and interpersonal relationships are the fundamental conditions of growth.
In conclusion I would like to point out the importance of hip hop today for young people, both immigrants and natives, as an extremely interesting world of artistic expression. The techniques used to create and perform their works require great skill, effort, research, and continuous recombinations of sound and verbal elements.
The ready access to multimedia tools helps young people to learn the use of various technologies by themselves. A rap text is often composed of sentences, refrains, and musical elements of songs written by other artists that are mixed together to create new messages with personal, poetic elaborations. This also allows them to “collaborate” with artists far away in time and space—evoking memories of earlier artistic works and building on them through the reappropriation and reinterpretation of their lyrics.
Creative practices like hip hop in contemporary society are, in my opinion, much more than simple artistic genres: they represent people’s inner voice. It is their personal way of saying who they are and where they come from, as well as their conscious attempt to spread a message about their view of the world.