Once out-of-print, now preserved forever: How rare 19th century Assamese journals are going online

A digitising project led by two Assam-based non-profits has given hundreds of rare, out-of-print Assamese journals a second life

There are not many copies of Cartoon — north-east India’s “first monthly cartoon journal”— around. So rare is the 1970s Assamese language political satire magazine that even its founder-editor, the late Pulak Gogoi, was once said to have been hard-pressed for a copy.

Gogoi, who passed away last year, would have been pleasantly surprised then to find that the journal — published between 1967 and 1973, and sold at 50 paisa apiece — now has a new virtual home.

Digitising Axom, a digital archiving and preservation project, led by two Assam-based trusts, has given Cartoon — and at least 125 other out-of-print Assamese journals — a second life online.

The range is immense: from love poems to political affairs, social commentary to children’s literature, humanitarian crises to tips on homemaking — all captured in an ambitious project to cover “every possible rare book and journal published in Assam”.

If a slim 16-page booklet, Gogona, provides an insight into the workings of a Bihu committee of Dibrugarh in the late 1950s, the 20 issues of the historic Orunodoi(1846), Assam’s first magazine, is a window into the social and political life of the time. There’s Jonaki (1889) that introduced romanticism in Assamese literature, Abahon (1929) that was considered to have pioneered photojournalism in the region and Ramdhenu that birthed a new crop of writers, many of whom went on to become the state’s leading literary luminaries.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in June 2023. Full article here.