Autonomous Archives: 05 Sundar and Gurung
Cinematographer: Nisha Vasudevan
Duration: 00:51:57; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 25.432; Saturation: 0.096; Lightness: 0.352; Volume: 0.200; Cuts per Minute: 0.289; Words per Minute: 88.061
Summary: Properties of the Autonomous Archive
, a 2-day event, hosted by CAMP, was a gathering of key internet platforms, archival initiatives and related infrastructures.
The discussion was intended to focus on the qualities and powers of contemporary archives: including their stable or emergent properties, their performance and beauty, survival and capacity, and autonomy.
"In declaring their autonomy, archives seek to produce norms beyond normativity, and ethical claims beyond the law."
- excerpts from Pad.ma, Ten Theses on the Archive
, no. 9.
Day one was a day of presentations and discussions: "Show me your Properties!"
: Jan Gerber and Sebastian Lutgert - 'people annotate describe make add'
: Kenneth Goldsmith - 'If we had to ask permission, we wouldn't exist: a brief history of UbuWeb and the law'
: Sean Dockray
04 SFG (Shared Footage Group)
: 'Its past and future'
05 Sundar and Gurung
: 'Archiving in the vernacular, experiences from Tamil and Nepali'
06 Rochelle Pinto
: 'The mundane state - historians in a state archive'
07 Peter S. - flattr
: 'Flattr, the need for alternative financial views'
08 Matthew Fuller
: 'Two evil media stratagems: Structured data & Know your sorts'
09 Liang and Lutgert - Leaks
: 'Privacy and Scandal: Radia tapes and Wikileaks'
Amar Gurung is the Director of the Nepali Language Computing Project at Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya
(MPP), a non-profit institution established in 1955 which archives published materials in the Nepali Language including manuscripts, photographs, A-V materials, etc.
G. Sundar is the Director of the Roja Muthiah Research Library
Following Roja Mutthiah's death in 1994, the University of Chicago bought the entire private collection (books, periodicals, etc), leaving it in Tamilnadu owing to the collection's deep roots in south Indian culture.
LL: I met Amar around 10 years ago at a Free Software Workshop. We were all interested in free software at that time. Its strange how a number of free software people have all converged on the question of archives.
LL: In the morning we had some discussion on the question of vernacular and the translation problem. I think they will both address this in terms of their own collaboration on addressing questions of archiving in the vernacular.
S: We plan to present what we've been doing, both at Roja Muthiah Research Library in Chennai, and Madan Puraskar Pustakalay in Nepal.
S: Lawrence has been talking about both the libraries in many places, so many of you will be familiar with what we are going to talk now. That is Roja Muthiah, he lived till 1992.
S: How Roja Muthiah collected this material is a wonderful story. He was a signboard artist. Since we was an artist, we was interested in collecting visual material for his own business. Over a period he expanded his interest to printed material, books, newspapers, etc.
S: When he died, he had left about 100,000 items in his collection. For a long time, a number of scholars from all over the world were visiting Kottaiyur....the collection was moved in 1994 to Chennai.
S: Though that's a straight line (from Kottaiyur to Chennai), but we say jokingly that the route from Kottaiyur to Chennai is via Chicago, since it was University of Chicago which was interested in this collection. They bought the entire collection in 1994 and brought it to Chennai.
S: It was done by a writer, an author - C. S. Lakshmi. She lives in Bombay. She runs the organisation called SPARROW. She was instrumental for University of Chicago to come and buy this collection.
S: A. K. Ramanujam was teaching at Chicago at the time... They came and valued the collection. And it was also decided to keep this collection in India and expand it further.
S: Muthiah collected all kinds of material.
AG: Siimilar to RMRL ,..deleopment times are also same... Kamal Mani Dixit in Kathmandu, more than 60 years ago, he is still alive --
AG: Some of you might know (?) Dixit. It was his father who started it. A bit of background -- Nepal opened up only in 1915.
AG: Because it was never colonized, in 1850, it was closed - Nepali never had a formal education system, so no archives, libraries existed.
AG: Some of the people then who came to India, mostly Calcutta, Benaras, and studied or worked here - they went back - Kamal Mani was one of those people. He spent when he was young some time in Calcutta working in a press.
AG: He went back to start a printing press - the first privately run printing press in Nepal. Collecting books was his hobby since he was in school.
AG: One of the intentions starting MPP - the state of Nepali as a language was just starting. They were part of the movement to make that the national language. Initially that was how MPP was started to preserve, promote Nepali as the national language.
AG: So it was collecting anything that was in Nepali. That's how the collection grew. It's now run by a trust, an NGO. Because we still cant register a library as a library in Nepal. So you have to register an NGO..
AG: It's much older than the national library and national archives, which were established in the 70s (in Nepal). So its one of the oldest libraries.
S: The Roja Muthiah collection is a collection for Tamil studies. Its very interesting if you see in the 18th century, when William Jones set up the Asiatic Society... Indology as a subject evolved. For a long time western scholars used to name - whichever language material they studied it was considered to be Indology then.
S: It was in the early 19th century, when one of the officers in the colonial period - F. W. Ellis - started the Madras school of Orientalism. There was a lot of political debate around language was going on - Aryan, Dravidian, etc. - the word Dravidian was coined by people like Robert Calvin - a visionary. Slowly, Dravidian studies as an area evolved.
S: Then Tamil region, as a political region, became distinct, and Tamil studies became very prominent. Now it's called Tamil studies. It's no longer called Orientalism or Indology. So that is how this subject evolved.
S: The kind of material Roja M had in his collection was classical ancient literature - which is Sangam period, which goes 2000 years back, then we have medieval literature, mostly Bhakti literature, then we have what is called as indigenous medicine (mostly Siddha and Ayurveda), traditional veterinary medicine was a very important component of this subject.
S: He also collected a lot of stuff on popular culture - mostly on theatre and cinema - and of course ephemeral material like invitations, pamphlets, etc. This is the broad subjects of material he had collected over this period.
AG: Regarding the collection at MPP, we had about 30,000 books and then about 6,000 periodicals, and a lot of ephemeral posters, pamphlets, photos, etc. And, because we had been collecting these for quite some time, and the quantity of publications increased only after 1990, most of this material would be after '90 - a very rough estimate as to how much has been published in Nepali language (because publication only started after 1950), is we assume, based on loose calculations, that we hold at least about 60-70% of whatever was published in Nepali.
AG: Earlier, in the 60's, 70's, more than half of what was published in Nepali, would be either in Calcutta or Benaras. Based on that, not much has been published in Nepali. Of those, 80-90% would be fiction - what that shows is that in the Nepali language, there is a lack of books in social sciences, physical sciences, etc. That reflects on the education system that is there as well.
AG: This collection has - till about 10 years ago we had only 3 staff - publishers would come in and whenever they published something, they would give us a copy. Because Nepal still doesn't have a legal deposit act. But (since we have been around for such a long time) it was based on faith, so they would give us a copy.
AG: The collection drastically increased 10-15 years ago, and we deal with a lot of audiovisual and digital materials. That has created a lot of issues as to how we handle and store those materials at MPP.
S: The way we go about collecting materials is also varied, we have used different techniques - a lot is gifts or donations, but we approach individuals, scholars, retired. professors, etc. We also do something we call (?) Survey- we go all over Tamil Nadu, asking people to donate material - if they dont want to donate, then atleast we borrow, we make copies and return it back to them. So, keeping RM's collection as nucleus, we expanded this collection. We now have about 250,000 items in the new collection.
S: During this survey, we get to know a lot of stories. In one place, Nagarkoil - it is down south in Kanyakumari- in one of these remote locations, we found a very small library - about half the size of this room, with 20 beautiful wooden racks.
S: This library was closed for nearly 20 years. We persuaded a local chief to open the library and they obliged. By that time the whole village was around. We saw these beautiful wooden cases with glass, so you can see what is inside. There was nice bound material.
S: This man went and opened one of the cupboards - pulled out one bound volume, and all the material fell down - there was nothing inside. It was all eaten by termites.
S: In this context, our work is important (both in our library and doing the Library surveys and getting all the material to) a centralised location is very important.
S: We asked why they were closed for 20 years, and asked why it was closed, and they said it was because of Caste problem. A lower caste boy would come to the library and shake his leg, and the upper-castes did not like it, so the library shut down. Such are the stories we get to hear when we go about in Tamil Nadi. It is in this context, a collection like RM is very important for culture studies.
AG: Let me talk about the collaboration - normally, institutions in India and Nepal collaborating -- would be between Delhi and Kathmandu. So- when our collection started growing, we had to have a preservation program. We (planned to start) started micro-filming, we couldn't afford to send people to the west to get trained.
AG: And then we found out RM has been doing micro-filming for a while with really good outputs, so we sent our people to Chennai to get trained in micro-filming. Because even till about 10 years ago there was only 2-3 people (?).
AG: Once we started with micro-filming, in Nepal because of the lack of library science, we couldn't get cataloguers. So, there again, we asked them to come to Kathmandu and help us do the cataloguing work.
AG: In the past 5-6 years, we were involved in local technological development in Nepal. So we had a big team of 40 developers. My background is from software as well. So we are repaying our dues by helping RM with the software - installing dpsace, and all that.
AG: In that sense, the resource sharing has been really helpful. Also, the other useful thing is because of the script that south asians use (it's quite a complex script), we face very similar problems.
AG: With software, for eg. - if someone is not familiar with south asian languages, its very difficult for them to understand...that it's not just about installing Koha. There has to be a lot of customisation done to read out script. So we have to make that extra effort just to make sure that our records in our own script, rather than some roman script.
AG: RM has records in Tamil as well as Roman. We have records in Nepali. So atleast this collaboration has really helped, and it hasn't cost us anything other than the time we give each other. So it would be very useful for other institutions to see that collaboration as well.
S: Having collaborated in these areas, we also work together on a common platform called South Asian Union Catalogue. It is a hitorical bibliography of all published items 1556 onward (Why 1556? - That was the first printed material in south asia, which incidentally, was in Tamil.)
S: So, we have been documenting all published material and the role we have taken is not just to document Nepali and Tamil here, but also to train other libraries for other language people - for eg. Hyderabad - in Urdu and Telegu, Maharashtra, Pune for Marathi, and couple of libraries in Karnataka for Kannada. Amar has also been training some libraries in Kathmandu.
S: It has been divided into 4 phases - 1> South Indian, incl. Sri Lanka - 2> Eastern Indian, (Bengali, Assami, etc) 3> North Indian and Nepal and 4> Western India and Pakistan (Urdu, Marathi, Gujarathi, etc). The idea is to have everything in one common place - South Asia Union Catalogue website. Libraries involved in this project are from the US, Europe, and South Asia.
AG: Both Roja Muthiah and MPP, though not state instituions - you can call it public - coming from an institutional library, there is a legacy at the MPP. In recent years, we have been trying to open up - but with most institutions, like the national archive, natioanl library, etc. as well as MPP - I think because of the fact that they have a big interesting collection, the blame is always there that it is not open enough.
AG: We have been trying to change that perception and how we're doing that is we're trying to put up more and more of our stuff online - but because we actually have to deal with physical stuff as well - preserving, managing and storing them, and with limited resources, it is always a difficult task.
AG: Software - there are open source software, etc. - but the current situation is you have to use one software to put up a records (library) catalogue, then you have to use another system just to upload images or digital files, etc. So it is easy but also not-so-easy situation we're currently in.
AG: A lot of effort is spent working around technology, trying to fit in. The other thing is maybe on our collection site, maybe we have to change - the notion that we have to collect everything. At MPP, the team would say, anything that is in Nepali, we need to collect, but this is not possible with the resources or space we have.
AG: Even more difficult would be to create a selection / collection policy. Then, we'd have to deal with what we'd collect and what we would not collect. And that would take a lot of thinking, research, etc. In absence of that, we are still collecting as much as possible and not being able to manage it properly. That's the base.
Q(KG): How much of this material would people be collecting separately, archiving on their own, putting it up on networks, etc... is there something that you'd be able to pull down from, not just self-generating the arrchive, taking that which is already existant out there? Or is that not at all there?
A(AG): We do a bit of web archiving from sites, etc. There's not much content in Nepali on the internet ..
A(S): In Tamil, there is a lot of sites with a lot of content - a lot of blogging has been happpening in the last 2-3 years, especially because of diaspora population.
Q(KG): Looking at the MPP site, the audio collection looks incredible here, but there's no audio on there at all. It's got to be out there on mp3 blogs, etc.. There's got to be a great deal of this work already digitised. There's probably quite a bit of something out there, isn't there? I don't know, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.
A(AG): For the digital resources, we have Dspace setup, so we're uploading ... So the plan is to upload whatever we have.
KG: It's brilliant. It's so rich!
S: Do we still have some time?
- yeah yeah -
S: So I will show you some of the stuff we have in the collection.
(Showing some stuff in the collection)
The Mail - no longer exists in Tamil Nadu, etc.
I think only the Nehru Memorial museum has some issues of the Mail. And when we approached the British Library, they said it cost them 22 lakhs for them to buy a set of Mail. 22 lakhs of rupees. They said we need to get permission from the owners. Mail has changed hands 3 or 4 times. So how do we identify who the legal heirs are? It's a big problem.
Tamil Daily newspaper - on the left is when Gandhi was alive; and this is 1948 when Gandhi was dead and gone .. and he is a star already there!
KG: Is it possible to dim the lights?
S: These are some popular magazines - Kalki - Cinema (?) - the earliest cinema magazine in Tamil.
S: Another magazine on the freedom movement. It was a monthly.
S: This is (one pais tamilian), which was sold for one paisa, which is the first dalit magazine in tamil.
S: First woman editor in tamil - V.M.Kothainayaki Ammal - ran this journal called Jagan Mohini..
S: This is on Veterinary practice - branding cattle.
S: This is very interesting stuff. 19th - 20th century folk literature. On the left is about railways - when railways were introduced,... they had written this book and its a kind of ballet.
S: And this is on people's power. There is no people's power now, at least in Tamil Nadu. This is about people's power, during colonial times - a conversation between father and daughter. The father is explaining the daughter about people's power and the daughter is asking questions.
S: We also have some official publications.
S: On the left is the cinema songbook, and right - grammophone song book. RM has a nice collection of grammophone records as well. As part of RM's collection, the grammophone sound books were part of the original collection, and we're adding grammophones records to it so that it becomes complete.
S: These are cinema posters. On the left is (?) chief minister.
S: This is a cinema handbill.
S: Theatre pamphlet
S: on the left is a wedding invitation - a very interesting one - there are 2 people on the left - you see two people, each getting married to two women. Its a 1920 wedding invitation - he's a zamindar ofcourse.
S: On the right, on the top is 60th birthday invitation, on the bottom is an obituary. Roja Muthiah had collected all this. Its really unconvential material - no state library collects this kind of stuff.
S: This we have been doing - documenting walls and posters in Chennai. This is a very interesting one because during Jayalalitha's chief ministership, she conducted 1000+ weddings on one day.. the procession started from her house and she had to go to the temple for this wedding ... I think its about 20 km... this 20 km stretch was full of posters and banners. So we documented the entire thing.
S: Here she is addressed as amma (mother). In other places she was addressed as different things - Amma, Tai, Cauvery tai, etc.
It's very interesting. You can see the geneology of names. Some are very bold. Depending on the hierarchy one can understand who is who.
Q(KG): is it possible to actually get the physical posters ..?
A(S): These are huge, banner. Posters yes its possible.
KG: Whoever's been making them...
S: The actual challenge was when we were taking the photos, people asked us why, etc. worried that we would take them to court for the posters.
AG: - We also share practices, do similar stuff - to give an example, wall painting is still popular - So we go around taking photos of these different wall painting banners, etc.
AG: - to give an example, when Gyanendra, the king, took over power, he started putting all these sayings all around the place. The minister of information started putting these up --
AG: - we took photos of all this, same problems -- then when the king took over, the army would have posts around these things, and it would be very difficult to take photos.
AG: After a year, there was a revolution and he got thrown out, and all of these boards were taken as symbols of the monarchy and burnt down. Nowadays, nobody has records of these kinds of things - how quickly things change.
A: Can we see the second...wall photo... the last 2?
S: We have some lithographs -- this a folk ballet again - when coffee shops were replacing Toddy shops, this is a ballet between husband and wife .. why were these coffee shops ruing their lives? ..the sing a song..
S: That's my micro-film camera -- thats how we preserve material - microfilm, and also digitise. We also organize exhibitions as an activity -- We organise lectures, and provide support / training, workshops to other libraries.
LL: We have about 10 minutes more.
Q(RB): Very moving to know this is happening - I was very moved to hear the story of the library in the small village and everything disintegrating because of caste.. that's such an unprecedented insight, yet so real - that's one of the interesting things about this meeting.
RB: I've been curating brooms as part of this desert museum. And then we're making a documentary film on the broom. What's interesting to me is that footage is ... actually, I'd say we're documenting caste. That's what we're doing, inadvertently. Everytime we go to a group in a rural area, there are very specific caste locations and very specific caste discriminations and very specific caste responses to reservations.
RB: That's one of the most complex areas of life in our country, and am struck by the fact that we didn't begin saying we're going to document caste -- we said we were documenting brooms, but the moment you start opening that question, you're actually talking about caste. So, I was wondering, what archives here really take on the question of caste - Gopal Guru has been approached by a rich family .. a Dalit museum is in the works...
RB: I think this is a very important endeavour at many levels - when you pointed out the first dalit newsletter -
S: Magazine -
RB: Okay... because if we follow what many dalit scholars and activist intellectuals are saying, there's very little evidence. Archives always you have to turn to some sort of evidence. Or you have to create evidence.
RB: When you're poor, you're very oppressed; access to photographs - which could be something that middle class families can, etc. - that archiving possibility does not exist. In those circumstances when there is no visible, how do you begin to create evidence? And that's one of the interesting things - that evidence is not a given. Evidence is something that you have to construct. For eg. Women's Documentation Centres in the India in the 70's - they knew a lot about women's movements and wanted to start documentation centres. We know that this and this exists, but how do we put it, how we actually get it out?
Q(RB): My question, more specifically, is who uses your collections?
A(S): We have MA, MPhil, PhD scholars, post-doctoral scholars, and teachers, journalists, lawyers, all kinds of people..
A(AG): Ours, mostly because it is thought of as a Nepali archive, of Nepali fiction - so most number of users we get from the Nepali dept. in the university - those are our regular users, then we get some interest from others.
S: This question of caste is very complex. We get to know a lot of stories when we go around. One library was closed because low caste boys were talking to high caste girls. In another place, we get to know of problems between Vaishnavi brahmins,... and Shaivite brahmins. We also get asked which community we belong to .. whether we can enter or not.
LL: I have a question which draws Rochelle into the conversation. The argument she makes in the book is really about a critique of a certain kind of indian histography which is based on a small region called Bengal.
LL: I have a slightly different.. - uncovering a different linguistic archive challenges ofcourse the entire tradition of a certain histography itself. I was curious because you guys position yourselves (both of you, RML and MPP) as intervening (?) in linguistic archive. ... Do you see a new scholarship emerging out of this area?
RP: When I was researching the constitution of archives, we realised that each state actually fills the archive differently. So on the one hand you have this idea of a national legacy, but once you actually get into why - what this Tamil Nadu archive for example sees as a significant collection? What would it not let go of? -
RP: Then you realise that the (?) of identity becomes (?) to determining which collections are significant and which aren't important - who the users are, who are the prefered users - in each state will actually differ. Once we decide to make the idea of a singular Indian archive...
S: This question of selections is a very important thing. Because, in one place, we were invited to see a collection. There were around 200 books. It was significant. But then they opened a room, it was a godown and said this is what we have. It was full of waste paper, about knee-deep waste-paper. The said that they were going to throw away to some raddiwalla
. We thought let's see what's there.
S: We saw some very interesting documents on cinema. It's about the entire history - correspondence of one cinema company called South India Pitcures. We got about 30 gunny bags of material and it was shipped to Chennai. And then we sorted out. Now working on it - at least 2-3 books could be written using that material.
AG: MPP has been strongly associated with Nepali language - there is a large Nepali diaspora in India and when we went for a survey because a large amount of publications was published from those areas -- They still have MPP as the ... they believe everything they publish is in MPP. Not everything is there, but that strong- beyond a library (I think), they also have respect ..or something
RB: This is a curatorial question about uses in a broader sense. Amber should have been here because I've had this conversation with her. Its one thing to get people to the archive, but if the archive can go out into the street and engage with public culture, this could be another way of circulating these images. This is where collaborations become necessary with artists, visual artists, etc.
RB:It could be like taking some of those images and putting them on buses....I'm just thinking aloud... Some kind of public art..this is where the notions of public art, etc - this is very necessary. Because one problem we're facing say with this culling an archive that you're talking about, is that it's very closed. A certain set number of people come there... But how can one dynamise its visiblity?
LL: Just adding one more - schizophrenic about being the time-keeper, maybe we can discuss tomorrow. But the contrast between the morning session that I want to place - the incredible care that you have for materiality and the conservation instinct which brings you to a certain proximity to the material - Kenneth had some interesting things to say, about sometimes with the digital archives that we're all about, we don't know the material necessarily, or we dont have a proximity to it like you do... because of the physicality, there is a very different relation .. But when its marked by this interiority or closure -- we should discuss this tomorrow.
KG: Ubu doesn't digitise much - we repurpose. We used to, years ago, I'd rip a lot of LPs - my LP collection - There's one part of Ubu that I didn't show which is Outsiders, and is scraps of paper collected from NYC - not content-wise, but visually - crazy visual things - people scrawling novels by hand
LL: Actually physical paper?
KG: -actual physical paper which I collect and I often display them- I can show some later - they take up the entire room - wonderful crazy stuff - Its trash, really - I dont have to care.. what you're dealing with are cultural artifacts - these are cultural artifacts of much lesser quality, I pin them to walls and make holes in them. But I do the same thing. ... I just keep scanning my collection and putting them up. It's actually the identical impulse. ...
KG: Does anybody know the work of Gustav Metze? A british artist, a very old man now. But he's a packrat. His whole reason for being is to make enormous collections of ephemera. - really beautiful collection.
LL: We have to end for now..