Kolkata library that celebrates parallel literature turns 40

Little Magazine Library grew from artistic writing.

June 23, 2018 11:20 pm | Updated 11:23 pm IST - Kolkata

 Visitors browse the collection at the library. Photo: Special Arrangement

Visitors browse the collection at the library. Photo: Special Arrangement

Nestled in Temar Lane, off College Street, Little Magazine Library is a bright yellow building. The small entrance to this home-turned-library in Kolkata opens up to wall after wall of books. Seated in the midst of these mountains is founder Sandip Dutta, the owner of the library that turned 40 on Saturday.

His quest to open a library of this kind, which would eventually host poet Mahasweta Devi and other literary figures, began on one of his many trips to the National Library in 1972, when he was 21.

“When I walked into the National Library, I saw the little magazines thrown on the floor. Dust and worms had wrecked most of them,” he said.

Mr. Dutta launched his archive when the country was taken up by the little magazine movement in the 1970s. It made its way across Maharashtra, Kerala and West Bengal, nurturing marginalised, less-known writers. In Bengal, the movement gathered steam through post-modernist Bengali literature.

Periodicals prosper

The coming of the Hungry Generation writers popularised periodicals like Krittibash (edited by Sunil Gangopadhyay and Dipak Majumdar), Sabuj Patra , Kali Kalam , Kobita Saptahiki (edited by Shakti Chattopadhyay) and Kallol .

Initially, Mr. Dutta organised an exhibition, which showcased about 750 little magazines from his collection. By 1978, he had set it up, and was working to clear the confusion about what the magazines meant: “People often take ‘little’ in this case to mean ‘for children,’ but few realise it is a non-commercial, parallel establishment that celebrates artistic voices.”

Sandip Dutta in his library with a new member. 
Photo: Special Arrangement.

Sandip Dutta in his library with a new member. Photo: Special Arrangement.


The venture started off with 1,500 magazines and was known as ‘Library and Laboratory for Bengali Little Magazines.’ It later became the ‘Kolkata Little Magazine Library and Research Center,’ housing about 60,000 periodicals, 1,600 of them digitised. It also houses research material on 60 topics: from film, music, politics and feminist theory to subaltern studies.

Filmmaker Jojo Karlekar, who made a documentary, Little Magazine Voices , says, “I don’t think it is possible to ever be comprehensive about it.”

Mahasweta Devi was a regular patron. When she lost the manuscripts and a few publications, Mr. Dutta was given the task of retrieving them.

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