The State Archives Department is getting ready to show the city a rare exhibition of over 200 historic documents tracing the history of Malayalam language and script.

A few miles away on the second floor of the Kozhikode District Collectorate, dust and termites eat up the brittle yellow files at the cramped regional archives here.

Director, State Archives Department, J. Rejikumar, who is in town, spoke to The Hindu about the exhibition and the department’s struggle for space for Malabar’s history.

The exhibition, set to be inaugurated on October 8, is part of a joint effort by the archives department, which is celebrating its golden jubilee celebrations, and the culture department to push the State government’s goal to anoint Malayalam as the official language. Minister for Culture K.C. Joseph is scheduled to inaugurate an administrative language conference also organised in connection with the celebrations.

Mr. Rejikumar said how his department is the custodian of a unique and vast collection of public records and documents in Malayalam. Something which would help the public trace the history and evolution of the language and script through palm leaves, bamboo splints, copper plates, paper and micro film.

“We have records dating back to the 17 Century. These records give an insight into the evolution of Malayalam in every era,” Mr. Rejikumar said.

He said the department has palm leaf records numbering over a crore, ‘the largest collection of palm leaf records.’

Speaking on the variety of documents available with the archives department, he said the department is also in possession of a rather large trove of records of the erstwhile Indian National Army.

He said the history of Malayalam language is inter-twined with the history of the State through the department’s administrative records of say, the Travancore State, the Malabar Presidency and princely Cochin.

However, Mr. Rejikumar agreed that there is a paucity of space at the regional archives here.

“We have been working on it. I have already talked to the District Collector,” he said.

When asked if there are any plans to shift the regional archives out of the collectorate building, he sounded non-committal.

Meanwhile, the archives office, a blink-and-miss landmark in the District Collectorate complex, is home to a little over 2,200 land settlement registers of Malabar district.

Land settlement registers of 2,300 ‘desoms,’ spanning across nine taluks of the erstwhile Malabar district of the then Madras Province, lean cheek-by-jowl in thickly-packed rows.

They trace the history of land in Malabar and offer a living record of the history of land in a region with details of ownerships, titles, the area of ownership, the population at the time of survey, soil characteristics, the most suitable crops which can be cultivated there, the number of cattle and census details. Local archives officials lament that space crunch is slowly bringing history to a standstill at the archives, with other departments treating it as a ‘dumping place.’ Lack of a separate building, climate control and space cripple the efforts of researchers in search of the region’s history, they complain.