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Textualization of Folklore

Sadhana Naithani

By Stuart Blackburn
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2003, pp. 240, Rs. 550.00


This book is a study of the history of printing in South India focussed on the role of folklore in printed books. The author approaches the matter from a folklorist’s perspective and finds the proverbial saying “that print did not produce new books, only more old books” holds true. The history of modern folklore research tells us that textualization of Indian folklore – the orally transmitted tales, songs and other verbal expressions – was started by British collectors in India in the middle of the nineteenth century. Stuart Blackburn studies textualization of (Tamil) folklore in connection with the arrival of the first printing press in Goa in a Portuguese mission. In the Introduction to his work Blackburn lays out his plan succinctly, draws the boundaries pragmatically and sets forth to write the history of print. In the next chapter about the ‘early books’ beginning from the first book by a missionary, he goes on to narrate the competitive attitude in different missions to acquire printing presses, to mutual and religious rivalries and conversions, and to the hugely popular “Guru Simpleton” (1744) by Beschi – a missionary whose work borrowed from the current oral narratives as well as contributed to them because it became very popular.       The following chapter of the book deals with the period 1800 to 1850 and we find the debates becoming based in British colonial establishments like College of Fort St. George, and they center around how to teach Indian languages to Company officials. “Pundits at the College” is a section that refers to Indian teachers in the College who taught languages, and often created texts that were folktales. In this same chapter Blackburn also discusses commercial publishers and calls them Pundit-publishers, a categorization based more on the castes of the new publishers, rather than qualification or role (as in the case of teachers). This chapter closes with a hint on the forthcoming politicization of printing and folklore. In the following chapters Stuart Blackburn discusses the increasing politicization of printed folklore – both in the British circles and amongst the Indian populace and nationalists. From the middle of the nineteenth century come the famous British collectors and collections of Indian folktales, and towards the later part of that century and in the beginning of the twentieth century the terms, contents and publications were defined increasingly with reference to ‘nationalism’ – or with reference to independence from the British rule. In his conclusion Stuart Blackburn ...

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