India’s National Library Goes Digital – Sort of by C. M. Naim

This post is reproduced with permission from C. M. Naim. http://cmnaim.com/2016/08/indias-national-library-goes-digital-sort-of/

C.M.Naim, among other things, is an Urdu scholar and translator of the Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir’s Zikr-i-Mir, Professor Emeritus of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

In April 2014, The Guardian published a longish piece by Samuel Gibbs entitled, “The most powerful Indian technologists in Silicon Valley.” It opened: “Ever since waves of Indian graduates poured into Silicon Valley in Northern California in the 1970s and 1980s, talented Indians have made breakthroughs, pushed boundaries and held positions of power in the world of technology and media.” Gibbs then went on to give brief but substantial accounts of the achievements of eleven such Indians, nine men and two women. Included were such luminaries as Ajay Bhatt—“credited as being the father of the USB standard”—and Vinod Dham—“The father of the famous Intel Pentium processor.” What is also striking about these men and women is the fact that almost all of them received their foundational education in India, in some of its most prestigious institutions. One may then rightly assume that those institutions, and others like them, must have by now produced a very large number of well-trained and talented people. Too numerous, perhaps, even to imagine. So why is it that not one of them apparently found his or her way to be on the staff of the National Library at Kolkota? For as anyone who visited it knows that the National Library’s website is nothing short of a disgrace to such a prestigious institution.

In April 2014, The Guardian published a longish piece by Samuel Gibbs entitled, “The most powerful Indian technologists in Silicon Valley.” It opened: “Ever since waves of Indian graduates poured into Silicon Valley in Northern California in the 1970s and 1980s, talented Indians have made breakthroughs, pushed boundaries and held positions of power in the world of technology and media.” Gibbs then went on to give brief but substantial accounts of the achievements of eleven such Indians, nine men and two women. Included were such luminaries as Ajay Bhatt—“credited as being the father of the USB standard”—and Vinod Dham—“The father of the famous Intel Pentium processor.” What is also striking about these men and women is the fact that almost all of them received their foundational education in India, in some of its most prestigious institutions. One may then rightly assume that those institutions, and others like them, must have by now produced a very large number of well-trained and talented people. Too numerous, perhaps, even to imagine. So why is it that not one of them apparently found his or her way to be on the staff of the National Library at Kolkata? For as anyone who visited it knows that the National Library’s website is nothing short of a disgrace to such a prestigious institution.

Click on the above link and you will see the following:

Picture1

Note the invitation—“User can register from this website free of cost”— on the left, spilling out of its box. Ignore the amateurish effect, and instead try to register. You will be immediately forced to make an arbitrary choice. There is on the right of the screen a tempting box titled “New User?” with a winking sign saying “Register Now!” But there is also smack in the middle of the screen a box marked “User registration.” Most likely, you will do what I did and click on the “New User” box, to be greeted only with the following bracing message: “This facility will be made available soon.” Now try the box in the middle. It works. You can register – but only if you are an Indian citizen. It does not say that in so many words. However, I as an American citizen was in no position to answer all the “mandatory” questions, even if I chose to ignore their highly obtrusive nature. I gave up and consoled myself by concluding that “User Registration” was perhaps not meant for those who only wished to use the website and the NL’s online information resources.

I next tried the button saying “View Recently Digital Books” (sic), assuming that they actually meant “Recently Digitized.” What did I find? Just one title, as can be seen below.

Picture2

Ignore your disappointment, ignore the incongruity of “1 Records Found.” But do consider the details of the one “recently digital” book. The author is given as “Ober, Fredwick Alboin.” His parents, however, had named him: Fredrick Albion Ober. Now look at the title of the book as offered by the National Library of India: “Comps in Carbbees; the adventures of a naturalists in the Lesser Antilles.” The book when it came out in 1880 was actually titled: “Camps in the Caribbees: the adventures of a naturalist in the Lesser Antilles.” Four serious typos in a context where not one should have happened.

I next tried the box in the middle of the page titled, “Digitised Book (sic),” expecting to find some description of the nature and number of the books, with perhaps an alphabetical list of the most prominent authors so far included. Instead I found I had to blindly try, and if I were lucky I could find something. As fate would have it, almost all the times I was only told: “No records found.” It soon became obvious that no browsing was possible. One could only make a specific request and then pray for good luck.

Finally, I decided to search the library’s online catalog as offered on the home page. My recent research interest has been popular fiction in Urdu at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20 centuries, in particular what was translated from the English. Two authors, George W.M. Reynolds and Marie Corelli, had been particular favorites in Urdu, as in fact they had been in several other Indian languages. I thought the National Library should have a good record of the titles by these authors that had been available in India as well as the translations that appeared in Indian languages. I was not disappointed. A substantial number of the two authors’ early editions are preserved. I also found titles of some translations in Bengali and Malayalam. But very few. Far fewer than were actually done in those two languages. And no mention of any translation in Urdu, though at least 34 novels of Reynolds and 5 of Corelli were to my knowledge translated and avidly read in Urdu in the 1920s.

I also found that there was no easy way for me to check Urdu titles. As shown below, the page invites readers to use regional languages but where is the “Control Panel” that it asks them to use?

Picture3

I had to resort to Romanized forms of Urdu words. It worked – mostly. But it would have more helped if they had offered a guide to their Romanizations. It turns out that there is no fixed system. Different people on the staff have differently Romanized Urdu titles and authors’ names. I wonder if that has happened with other languages too or was that some special treatment meted out to Urdu? Surely, it is not fair to change Urdu ‘z’ to Hindi ‘j’ even in Romanization. Not in Kolkota, where people lustily pronounce ‘z’ and ‘f’ even where they are not required to.

Why should this be the case? A friend suggested the practice of “tendering out” such jobs could be to blame. The library wished to have a website; it asked for tenders from different IT firms; then chose the least costly, hence the least efficient. The usual bureaucratic fiasco. There is also that attitude so prevalent among Indian librarians. Very few of them think of themselves as providers of an essential service to the general public. Most of them view themselves simply as custodians of the contents of their institutions—contents that they preserve and protect but do not, in the same measure, also make available to rightful users. After visiting the National Library’s website it was obvious to me that no one had bothered to try it out and see if it actually worked. They can now claim, like everyone else, to have a website, that it worked or not was of little importance.

Advertisements

Ned Bertz on various archives in Gujarat

Ned Bertz teaches in the Department of History, University of Hawaii and his areas of interest are South Asia, Africa, Indian Ocean, World History. Bertz says that the uncategorised archives produce surprising finds: ‘An 1884 history of Gujarat will be next to the cinema rules of Bombay in 1953. Law court decisions will be next to a pamphlet on Kathiawad’s population problem.’

3 Aina Mahal

Ayana Mahal, which houses the district archives in Junagadh

PBR archives godown

Ayana Mahal, which houses the district archives in Junagadh

After Bombay State was bifurcated into Maharashtra and Gujarat, the latter found itself without a state archives, while the former inherited the Bombay State Archives (later the Maharashtra State Archives). Most of the records relating to Gujarat remained in Bombay, but Gandhinagar saw the need to create its own state archives to collect records scattered across the state as well as centralize other records held in the National Archives of India. The Department of Archives for Gujarat was formally founded in 1971. In the later 1970s and 1980s, the Gujarat State Archives (GSA) expanded to include several branches, varying dramatically in their size and organization. I have been working in several different branches of the GSA since 2009. My overall sense is that the archives are underused, although this is understandable given the uneven nature of its organization.

The headquarters of the GSA is in Gandhinagar, where a library exists but a full records office does not. At least for foreign scholars, permission must be taken here for access to any of the branch archives. The GSA is under the control of a state minister who is also in charge of a range of portfolios including Youth, Sports, Education, and Cultural Activities. All foreigner applications for research have to be cleared by the central state secretariat, as facilitated by the Director of the Archives, which can be an unpredictable process. Each permit is valid for one year. In-person visits and follow-up visits seem essential for clearance. Indian researchers I believe can gain access through a much simpler process.

The largest branches of the GSA are the Southern Circle Record Office in Baroda and the Western Circle Record Office in Rajkot. In working in Rajkot (I have not visited the Baroda office), I found a friendly staff and fair working conditions. There was an ongoing digitization process as of several years ago, and a fairly new building. There is no centralized index to the GSA, but Rajkot has an accession list of holdings in no apparent order. It was clear that not all items held at Rajkot were on that list. For example, a worker there located passport registers for me when I described what I might be interested in. The material held consists mostly of official records and reports dating from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, with a random assortment of books, some of them of historical value.

District Record Offices also exist in Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Junagadh, and Porbandar, all of which I have visited except for Bhavnagar. Jamnagar and Junagadh, like Rajkot, have accession lists. The latter is housed in the gorgeous old Ayana Mahal, which unfortunately has leakage issues leading to ruined records each monsoon, despite the layers of plastic tarp the dutiful staff deploy every season. Porbandar does not have an accession list, but from a few days working there appears to have a tremendous store of unindexed files, bundled up in a godown away from the main office. Staff in each location are very friendly, although not always trained to assist researchers. Local researchers were present in Rajkot when I worked there, and I assume Baroda as well, but the other branches seem largely unvisited. The District Records Office in Kutch, I have been told, is under the charge of the district and not in the domain of the GSA.

The holdings in the GSA appear to be varied, and are largely in English and Gujarati. Official files from British India are present, as is ample material from the princely states. Jamnagar, Junagadh, Porbandar, and Rajkot have mostly holdings related to Kathiawad. These include administrative reports, law court decisions, legal notices, gazetteers, and statistical accounts. Some files from post-independence are also available. A range of printed books, pamphlets, documents, and other records are in the collection, although I have not seen any newspaper holdings.

No full survey of the GSA exists, to my knowledge. There is a publication called Gujarat State Archives at a Glance (1982), which I first found at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. It is also in the archives’ library at Gandhinagar. In 1998, a short piece on the GSA was published in Indian Archives.

 

Who are the Guilty 1984

Who are the Guilty ?
Report of a joint inquiry into the causes and impact of the riots in Delhi from 31 October to 10 November 1984

PUCL – PUDR

A fact-finding team jointly organised by one People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and people’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in the course of investigations from November 1 to November 10, has come to the conclusion that the attacks on members of the Sikh Community in Delhi and its suburbs during the period, far from being a spontaneous expression of “madness” and of popular “grief and anger” at Mrs. Gandhi’s assasination as made out to be by the authorities, were the outcome of a well organised plan marked by acts of both deliberate commissions and omissions by important politicians of the Congress (I) at the top and by authorities in the administration. Although there was the handiwork of a determined group which was inspired by different sentiments altogether.PUCL – PUDR Report: Who are the Guilty ?

An interview with Michael Fernandes

An interview with Michael fernandes

The emergency was quite a tumultuous time for their other brother Lawrence though. He was picked up under MISA too, tortured and was once even beaten up using branches of the banyan tree at the CID office in Bangalore. But more than the physical torment, it was the mental anguish he remembers. “He was taken to the railway tracks and they threatened to kill him and dump his body there,” says Michael. “I think at the time of my arrest the police weren’t so desperate, but with Lawrence they weren’t so patient,” he explains.

An interview with Michael Fernandes

How the Emergency Took my Mother Away – Nandana Reddy

snehalata How the Emergency took my mother away - The News Minute

Now on the 40th anniversary, there is suddenly a clamour to remember Emergency and we find that there are just a few who are still alive and wish to do so. But I am grateful that we are remembering at all; especially now that a silhouette of another dictatorship is eclipsing our fundamental rights and undermining democratic institutions. The time has come to gather our forces and protect our rights and our country from tyranny.

– See more at: ://www.thenewsminute.com/article/how-emergency-took-my-mother-away-31525#sthash.0g9XVnk0.dpufHow the Emergency took my mother away | The News Minute

A time for renewal – some forgotten heroes of the Emergency

A time for renewal

An excerpt from the attached article

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the Emergency, we shall hear many politicians speak about their sufferings and sacrifices. L.K. Advani has already spoken, and no doubt other Bharatiya Janata Party leaders will follow. Perhaps we should remind them that Sanjay Gandhi’s wife, Maneka, is one of their cabinet ministers, while his henchman, Jagmohan, is also a senior BJP leader. Moreover, in BJP ruled states like Chhattisgarh, the bullying of the media, and the violation of the human rights of adivasis, are on par with what happened under Congress rule in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh during the Emergency.