Asiatic Society, the premier institute for Indology research of the ministry of culture, has gone for digital publication for the first time in its 236-year-old history. This was done by scholars and staff, who are working from home during the lockdown. Having done this successfully, a series of digital publications have been lined up now.
Interestingly, this e-journal is themed on Covid-19 and is packed with look-back articles on two other pandemics that had affected the city, more than a century ago — the plague that caused a havoc from 1898 to 1905 and the Spanish Flu of 1918-20. The cholera epidemic that took thousands of lives, too, is coming up in the next edition.
The volume starts with how Swami Vivekananda led his band of volunteers to help the state authorities, (those days the British), fight the epidemic. Swamiji’s own manifesto to fight the epidemic has been included. It spoke about cleanliness as the top priority in the wake of the plague and how rooms, clothes and beds were to be cleaned and homes sanitized. He had lauded the efforts of the state- run hospitals and said these had a good infrastructure to handle patients and were doing an efficient job, so there was no need to hide the illness when afflicted by the disease. Stressing on the importance of vaccination, Swamiji had tried to remove the stigma attached to it.
“The scene of the city during the plague as has been captured by our writers in this e-volume and Swamiji’s role, along with Sister Nivedita, is so similar to what we are seeing around us today. So, we wanted to chronicle those days,” said publications secretary, historian Ramkrishna Chatterjee.
Historian Urvi Mukhopadhyay, in her article, has written about the first recorded plague epidemic in Europe, better known as Black Death (1347-51), when the West had tried to blame India and quarantined all trade items shipped from India. Zia ud din Barani and Ibn Batuta’s accounts have been quoted refuting the Western claim.
Spanish Flu reached Kolkata via Mumbai, after a ship landed there from Europe in May 1918, writes historian Subhasis Biswas. It killed 18 million people in India and the scene in Kolkata, where the cholera also raged, was scary. Gandhiji himself suffered from the flu and then worked towards its eradication to emerge as a mass leader. Some scholars of literature like Chinmoy Guha and Sudeshna Chakabarty have referred to Albert Camus’s Plague which is a novel based on the plague epidemic in the French Algerian city of Oran and its impact on human relationships.
The volume is also replete with Covid information by leading doctors like oncologist Shankar Nath, doctor of medicine Agnibha Maiti of SSKM and Anup Bhattacharya of Tripura Medical College. “This was our first digital publication and it was made possible by working from home, which was a totally foreign concept that was brought home by the pandemic,” said general secretary Satyabrata Chakraborty.
Source: Times of India