An extraordinary collection of music from a record label that operated in Mumbai from 1935-55 has now been digitized and is available online
In the second week of April, the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) of The British Library provided, quietly and without fanfare, access to some heirloom collections of music from India. These treasures are from the collections of well-respected individual researchers and collectors, including Suresh Chandvankar and Narayan Mulani of the Society of Indian Record Collectors.
Working with a grant sanctioned in 2008, Chandvankar steered the EAP190 project that has successfully digitized gramophone records, advertisements and publicity material as well as catalogues of the Young India record label that operated in Mumbai from 1935-55. A staggering 1,427 items populate this extraordinary collection which one can now access for free (http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection). Not even a single-click registration with an email is required to access this splendid collection, but that isn’t all. The mission of the programme, the transparency and clear vision so evident on the website, is nothing short of exemplary.
This is why it would be a pity if music lovers and archivists in the making were to neglect reading through the mission statement of the programme and jump straight to the delicious task of listening to the music or browsing through the catalogues and images. Deep thought and planning have gone into setting up and executing this programme, which offers a lot to learn from. For example, the archival master copy for any collection supported by the EAP usually remains deposited in an archive in the country of its origin. That firmly sets aside the possibility of any bring-back-the-Kohinoor sort of slogans.
A copy of the Young India collection, therefore, has already been deposited with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai, the institutional partners for this project, and copies will also be deposited with institutions in other cities, such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) in Delhi and the National Film Archives in Pune. Currently, the SNA website merely offers a catalogue of the collections in its custody, but unlike The British Library website, it does not offer online access to collections. One wonders when, if at all, the Young India collection will ever be made accessible online by these premier institutions, which have preferred to keep their collections in safe custody, accessible only in person at specific locations.
The EAP does not restrict itself to providing a windfall grant, but offers advice, training in digitization methods, as well as inputs for the professional management of archival collections and strengthening local capabilities rather than assuming the role of a powerful patron.
In short, the EAP has done its bit for archiving in India and across the world. What we in India now need to do is to access the treasures offered, study them, savour them, and learn to document and preserve for posterity the many private collections languishing in different parts of the country. More importantly, we need to demand that the many archives in institutions which remain locked away and inaccessible be made public, with due attention to issues of copyright and archiving policy—for an archive that is stashed away is bound to be on the sure and certain path to death and decay.
Shubha Mudgal tweets at @smudgal and posts on Instagram as shubhamudgal.