A update from Ian Magedera, project co-ordinator. Collaborators working in Montreal, Paris and London have started to extend the range of the bibliography back in time into the seventeenth, sixteenth and fifteenth centuries. The first results of this long-awaited project may well appear next week, thanks to Anne Le Sinq the project webmaster. Another group of volunteers working in West Bengal have started to survey and sample materials in Bengali about the French presence and the wider interaction between Europeans and Indians in that part of the world between 1754 and 1954 (those year markers remain provisional). That work has led to wonderful chance discoveries, one of which I would like to tell you about:
Rediscovered! The French-book ‘almirahs’ of Chandernagore College, West Bengal
‘Almirah’ is a word that has come into Indian English from the Portuguese armário and from Latin armarium (while still also used in Hindi अलमारी (almārī) and Urdu الماری (almārī). Following a keynote lecture given by Dr Ian Magedera at an international conference organized by the College’s English Department in January 2016, Assistant Professor Antara Mukherjee began a hunt for references in Bengali sources to the French and French culture during the period from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. During that time, despite several interruptions by the Royal Navy and British Army, ‘Chandernagor’, as it is still known in French, was a trading post profiting France. Today’s Chandannagar is a busy town situated 35km upriver from Kolkata, a megacity of fourteen million people. References found will enrich the MLC-hosted, AHRC-funded, digital resource French Books on India, an open access digital library with bilingual annotations and links to full-text books via Gallica and Googlebooks. Though Chandannagar has an Indo-French Institute and its French language learners are served by the Alliance française du Bengale, French influences there are not as obvious as in Pondicherry (Puducherry) in South India. Dr Mukherjee has found traces of them in domestic architecture and cultural practice, insights that could feed into further outputs for the Liverpool-Kolkata ETIC project, but another thread led her right back to her own college library and to books in bookcases that had been donated by the French-speaking Bengali philanthropist and historian Hari Har Sett (among others) in the 1930s. As well as containing several unique items, these hitherto neglected ‘almirahs’ are time capsules filled with books their donors considered important to hand down to Bengali students of French.
Books from the almirahs, photo credits: Sayantani Chakraborti and Antara Mukherjee.