Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rajasthan State Archives

I wish I could go back here, really. Yes, it is miserably hot in Bikaner in the summer, but the material held here is just amazing, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the other researchers gave me candy.

You won't find the address for this place on the internet, so let me just tell you it is on Government Press Road, or "at the Old Government Press." The facilities are a bit harsh during the summer--the reading room is small, with only one window for light. This is important on those days when you have mandatory 3-hour power cuts. There is no air, and no light, and it generally feels like you've landed in hell. As long as there is power, there is a fan, and then you can work. When the power goes...have an alternate plan, like going home (where there will also be no power, so you might as well stay). They installed a window AC unit while I was there, and it helped when the power was on, but only so much.

Okay, so the reading room is a bit hard sometimes, but the material makes up for it, right? I never really figured out the catalogue system for this place. My general approach was this: I knew that I wanted to look at records from the Imarat Khana (Building Department) between 1721-1743. After a few miscommunications, eventually I was given a handwritten catalogue, divided into section by khana. Under each khana heading was a list of years for which records were available. For instance, under Imarat Khana records, I could request Income-Expense records for 1721, bundles 1, 2 and 3. That's as precise as it got. The bundles for the year would arrive, and I would go through them page by page to see what was there.

This same approach was taken with Rang Khana (Paint/Dye Department) records, Pothi Khana (Book Department) records, and with the rest of the Khana records. It would have saved so much time if there had been even a small description of each bundle, but there wasn't so I had to look at every page.

To request material, ask for a request slip (mang patra) at the front desk. Or, watch the other researchers--they just grab them from the desk drawer when they needed them, so I started doing that, too. You can fill out the slip in Hindi or English, or a combination of the two (my preference). No one here had any problem with me looking at whatever I wanted to look at. They brought me what I wanted, unless it was missing. The records aren't in a great state, a lot of dirt and worm damage, so when they said something was missing, it was easy to believe.

The photocopy policy was both liberal and restrictive. I was allowed to copy anything that had the word "observatory" on it, no questions asked, for 6Rs./page. They kept a running tab, and I just paid it off at the end of every month. So, that was great. However, there were a lot of building records not specifically related to the observatories that I would have loved to have copies of, and I ended up trying to frantically transcribe them. Difficult work, since it was in 18th c. Rajasthani. I had to write it all by hand, and I can tell you, I made a lot of transcription mistakes just because I couldn't read the record properly in the moment.

Oh, for access to the RSA, you need to have your paperwork in order. That is, you need:

  • Letter of introduction from USEIF if you are a Fulbrighter
  • Letter of introduction from U.S. Embassy if you are not a Fulbrighter
  • Letter of introduction from home (U.S.) institution
  • Passport with visa
  • Copy of passport with visa
You will be interviewed by the In-Charge and the Director. I just nodded a lot and smiled, and that seemed to work. It was at the RSA that I adopted my "absolute silence" approach to archival access. Even if someone says, No, you cannot work here, stay silent. Eventually, they will talk themselves into letting you do the work.

Facilities: the bathroom situation is horrid, so don't ask me about it. Don't plan to use them if you are female. Bring your own bottle of water if you don't trust the well water provided in the reading room. There is a chai stand just outside the complex gate to the left, but the chaiwallah also visits 2x a day if you want to put in an order. To the right outside the gate is the road to Junagarh Fort. It has some little shops, places to buy cold water, and several photostat shops, convenient for copying out your transcription notes. Keep walking along this road and into Junagarh Fort, and you can have lunch at Prachina, the Princess of Bikaner's snack shop. Across the road from the fort is Gallop's, an expensive coffee shop. They have good Bikaneri chicken if you feel like a splurge.

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