History of books and others

What does the history of books say about society; can we understand the text without knowing the context? Or is there any documentation of the Jharkhandi food? These diverse sets of ideas took centrestage on the concluding day of Dumka State Library Literature Festival.

Academic and scholar Abhijit Gupta from Jadavpur University, who is also the University’s Printing Press Director, spoke on a range of issues, including on books and their evolution. Gupta said that though India printed texts in the 18th Century, printing presses arrived during 16th Century in Goa sent by the Jesuits, but printing was scattered.

Gupta, who has written a book ‘The Spread of Print in Colonial India’ and has edited several books, said that history of books also revealed a lot about the society. He added: “One cannot understand the text without understanding the context as the context changes the text. When we talk about reading the history of books, we also talk about the invisible labour such as binders, publishers, booksellers, illustrators, and its impact. The whole world of bookmaking includes social, economic and many other aspects—all encompassing.”

Karn Satyarthi, who is the Deputy Development Commissioner of Dumka district, asked whether a system prevailed where literate people thought that literacy should be access controlled? On this Abhijit Gupta said that when printing came to India there are recorded instances of books being not bought or sold, but were just given away. He added that around the 1820s when Indian sacred texts were being printed there was a lot of anxiety on whether the texts still remain sacred if foreign technology was used.

Dumka State Library Literature Festival (Express Photo by Abhishek Angad)

He added that later printed books were given to only selected recipients as earlier people only sponsored it to select elite people. However, he emphasized that various people, including the Maharaja of Bardhaman printed Mahabharata and gave it to whoever wanted. “In that sense books became democratized, so there are examples of books being controlled and simultaneously the release of control.” He underscored that in the Indian scenario there is a painful situation that Universities don’t publish books as professors would not agree on which books to publish.

When asked by the Deputy Commissioner Dumka Ravi Shankar Shukla on what was the future of books, in the historical perspective, Gupta said that there will be technological change but whether people will read more due to it will need to be seen. He added that there are instances of oral works published digitally bypassing the physical printed form, but added that the content will be more diverse.

The event also saw a session by Puspesh Pant, food critic and historian, who spoke on a range of issues on various cuisines and relevant literature. To a question from the audience on whether whether there is any documentation of ‘Jharkhandi Food’, he said: “There is nothing called Jharkhandi cuisine. In Southern India there are several states, and just taking the state’s name does not define its food. The food changes as per the caste, for there is food defined as eaten by Iyer Brahim, Iyerngers…of Chettiars from Chettinad; of Christian and so on. So, if you talk about Jharkhandi food, are we talking about food habit of a prosperous family in Hazaribagh or we are talking about food of Santhali family sharing a border from Bengali.”

One the comparison of Jharkhandi food to the Bihari food, he added: “This is oversimplifying things. Is Bhagalpur’s food the same as Mithilas’ or Bhojpuri’s…Food changes with time.”

Another important session happened on ‘Nostalgia for Home’ by Professor Achyut Chetan of Jadavpur University and author Mihir Vatsa, who last year wrote a book ‘Tales of Hazaribagh’. The discussion ranged from whether Nostalgia was good to whether it was a disorder or whether everyone can afford being nostalgic. A person from the audience asked: “There is an understanding that women are prohibited from being nostalgic….” To this Professor Achyut Chetan responded there are a lot of theories, but generally women can’t afford being nostalgic because it is a privilege and that there was also a class factor attached to it. “It is easy for men because it is a privilege, but not for women who are engaged in a lot of household work.”

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