Kolkata: A man's movement against the poor upkeep of little magazines -- the independent, experimental periodicals run without a profit motive -- in the city's hallowed National Library has now blossomed into a flourishing collection numbering over 60,000.
It all began on a sunny day in 1972, when Sandip Dutta, a student of the Scottish Church College, went to the National Library looking for little magazines, which have been an integral part of Bengali literature since the early 20th century, with their magnificent oeuvre of experimental and unconventional literature sans much commercial value.
He was shown a heap of books tied in bundles, with more dust and worms in them than pages. That fateful day, the student vowed that some day he will establish a library dedicated only to little magazines.
Today, after nearly four decades, the city has the 'Kolkata Little Magazine and Research Centre' with over 60,000 collections -- many of them rare and found only here. Dealing with varied subjects, including politics, cinema, arts, sociology, philosophy and religion, the library is housed in the residence of Dutta, now 60, who is proud to have kept his vow.
'I was so shocked to see the condition of the books. In September 1972, I held an exhibition of 750 little magazines to protest against the shocking upkeep of the books as well as to spread awareness. Since that exhibition I have walked many a mile. So has my library,' said Dutta.
'I am proud not only for keeping my vow but also for doing my bit to make available these books to the needy. They are 'little' only by name. Their contribution to society has been and continues to be immense,' says Dutta, who recently retired as a teacher from the City College School here.
Almost all the rooms of Dutta's two-storeyed house is now full of stacks overflowing with books. A caption reading 'For me every day is a little magazine day' adorns one of the stacks.
The library boasts of little magazines like Sabujpatra by Pramatha Choudhuri, which started in 1914, Communist Party of India-Marxist founder Muzaffar Ahmed's Langal (1920), Kallol (1923) that brought together luminaries like Kazi Nazrul Islam, Achintya Kumar Sengupta and Premendra Mitra, among many other titles.
'Once Mahasweta Di (Devi) called me up asking for help. She asked me if I had some of her old writings as she had lost them. I instantly told her that I had them. She was so overwhelmed to hear that,' reminisced Dutta.
Leading poet Joy Goswami too had sought similar help.
'He has rescued me several times. I found my long lost writings in his library. Why only me, many writers like me have taken his help. His library goes a long way in giving an identity of their own to the little magazines,' said Goswami.
The library was born on June 23, 1978, and christened 'Library and Laboratory for Bengali Little Magazines'. It was thrown open to the public on May 8, 1979. It has over 150 members, with at least a dozen daily visitors.
'Dutta's contribution and dedication is indescribable. You think of any magazine and he has it. He is not a librarian but an encyclopaedia himself,' said Sarosij Basu, a writer and a member of the library since its inception.
The early days were financially taxing, so Dutta made a piggybank, named it 'Three Penny Opera' and set aside a part of his earnings. Today, his library has an annual budget of Rs.15,000.
Dutta has been regularly holding exhibitions across the country to spread awareness about the little magazines and the need for such a library.
He credits his family for his success. 'Without the support of my wife and son it would never have been possible. They allowed me to pursue my passion and never complained.'
With all rooms of his house crammed with books and periodicals, Dutta is planning to shift his library to a separate building. 'I am planning to meet the chief minister Mamata Banerjee and ask for help. I have done my bit by bringing up this library, hope the government ensures that it flourishes,' he said.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)