Think of the books, on subjects as varied as fiction and self-employment tips, that you find people selling in buses and trains. The custom of writing these books, which are meant essentially for those with little education, is not new though. And Jadavpur University has now undertaken a project to archive as many of these books as possible.
And the decision to collect such works of para-literature is meant not just to restore the books. It is also meant to throw light on the social and cultural evolution of the state. For, the books do provide a window to this.
“These books are called heto books (books sold in haats, or village markets). It is not easy to find these in shops, since these are peddled usually from the streets or in trains and buses,” said Prof Sukanta Chaudhuri, director of the School of Cultural Texts and Records at JU.
As for the range of subjects the books cover, these include religion, education, children’s literature, self-help and self-employment tips, popular tales and legends and even pornography. The books, in fact, are somewhat of a rural parallel to the more prominent battala books.
The school has already collected over five hundred heto books. “These have been collected mostly from South and North 24-Parganas and various rural markets. Some have even been bought from city vendors,” said Poulomi Ghosal, a project fellow in this endeavour.
The subjects of the books the school has collected include cooking, beauty tips, yoga, songs with their notations, law, palmistry and social prejudices.
“Next, we shall visit the printers, publishers and wholesalers of these books in order to extend the collection,” Chaudhuri said. And the various ways in which the books are going to be sorted is according to the names of the publishers, printers and the genre of the books. “The collection would be a guiding line for people researching topics such as social and parallel culture. The effort would also highlight the evolution of the printing technology,” Chaudhuri added.