The chapbooks in this collection were sourced from Bireshwar Bandyopadhyay (b.1924), one of the unsung pioneers of the study of popular print culture in Bengal. A lifetime member of the Communist Party of India, Bandyopadhyay pursued many vocations in his long career, including journalism, government service and free-lance writing and editing. He did his research independently, without any affiliation from any established institution. He has collected these chapbooks over a period of more than seven decades, starting very early in his life, and his zeal has taken him to various parts of the state and the country. Though, initially, there were approximately two thousand items in his collection, a lot of them got destroyed over the years because being an independent collector, he could not afford proper preservation. A lot of them also perished during the partition of 1947 and the riots that followed. Out of his extant collection, Sree Bandypadhyay has kindly allowed us to digitize about two hundred chapbooks and pamphlets.
Being a political activist for the most part of his life, and having been involved in India’s struggle for freedom, Bandyopadhyay was mostly interested in the pamphlets that emphasized the need for revolution, making people aware of the growing social injustice in everyday life. However, this did not stop him from collecting chapbooks of other sorts as well. Most of the items which appear in this collection focus on topical issues: hence as commodities they were cheap and transient in nature. In most cases the paper used to print these books was of very poor quality, as a result of which the pages are now yellowed and brittle. Most of the books are quite slim, with the average length being 8 pages. However, there are a number of books that have 10 or more pages. Almost all the books are stitched using metal pins which are now rusted and falling apart. The places where these pins are attached to the paper are decayed and covered with rust. While digitizing, great care was taken so that we could take photographs of the pages without causing any significant damage to the primary material.
The pamphlets and chapbooks in this collection cover a period of almost 60 years— the earliest of them coming from the early 1910s and the latest of them can be dated to the late 1970s. As we have mentioned before, the items in this collection display a wide range of subjects. Here one can find sensational tales of innocent children being murdered by their diabolical parents, gossips of the major aristocratic families of the town, reports on the piety of a local deity or a very informed pamphlet on the horrific genocides in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of the 200-odd pamphlets are written in verse, showing how popular print culture in its early days used traditional cultural expressions to reach out to the fringes of the literary audience. Most of the verses are written in very simple metre, with quite a few of them being composed in ‘payar’, and printed in the traditional ‘Islamic Bengali’ fashion. A large number of these pamphlets and chapbooks were published from small presses located in the district towns far from Calcutta: there are also quite a few examples of pamphlets promoting the latest ‘Vadu’ or ‘Tusu’ songs, genres of folk music native to the Bnakura and Purulia districts of West Bengal. These are very rare samples. We are also fortunate to find a few examples of such pamphlets published from the Cachar district of Assam. This wide generic and geographical range makes this collection a definitive storehouse of rare printed material that has almost totally vanished because of the lack of archival care.
This collection is a very valuable addition to the already existing collection of street literature maintained by the School of Cultural Texts and Records, Jadavpur University.
Online access to the materials is available.