Title: Jeebrahasya Part I & II [Animal Wonders]
Author: Not mentioned. Translated from the English by Madhusudan Mukhopadhyay
Publisher: The Vernacular Literature Committee
Part I: Printed at the Bidyaratna Jantra (Bidyaratna Press), Bahir Mirzapur, Calcutta.
Part II: Printed at the Bidyaratna Jantra (Bidyaratna Press), Mirzapur, No 59, Upper Circular Road, Calcutta.
Date & edition:
Part I: 1860. April. 2nd edition. (First published 1859)
Part II: 1861.June.
Part I: 3½annas
Part II: 7 annas
The volume aims to provide general knowledge about the commonly seen insects and animals. The necessity of such easy, informative books on Natural Science had been perceived by Rev. James Long, under whose guidance the Vernacular Literature Society worked. Testing some of the meritorious students at the schools in and around Calcutta, he had found them grossly deficient in their basic knowledge of the plant and animals around them. Their school book curriculum had been inadequate in teaching them simple facts that the illiterate farmer or the untaught hunter naturally acquired from their professions. Long himself compiles the necessary materials from ‘various English books’, which then Madhusudan Mukhopadhyay translates into Jeebrahasya.
The volume provides fairly detailed information about various animals and insects like snakes, horses, cats, birds, caterpillars, silkworms, spiders and so on. Though largely factual, the book is surprisingly an enjoyable read. With the language at its simplest best, trimmed of frills; the book varies its tone and subject to engage the reader’s attention. At times dwelling on much needed advices like treating a snake bite scientifically (and urging the reader to use the medicinal antidotes like Chlorine or Ammonia as prescribed by the “European doctors” instead of the redoubtable plant extracts generally used by the rustic quacks), it becomes anecdotal when elucidating on the horse’s wonderful memory. The book is also keen to explain common curiosities like the functions of a cat’s whiskers in the dark, the spider and its web or the transformation of caterpillars into cocoons. It is interesting to note that the text is occasionally punctuated with references to God, the ‘Maker’ of things great and small. For instance, while discussing venomous snakes the reader is urged to, “Imagine, how great the thought of the Creator, as He had only allowed a small number of poisonous snakes on earth.”
Compared with the earlier books in the same area like Pashwabali and Pranibrittanta, Jeebrahasya I is distinctive; not at all a dry book of knowledge - its popularity as a recreational or pleasurable reading matter is evident form its selling three thousand copies within a year.
The second part is divided into lengthier chapters on the various species, and subspecies like birds, reptiles, quadruped herbivores, rodents and honey-bees. Each chapter is followed by a set of questions at the end.
None in the book, the back cover of the first part bearing a small woodcut print of a dog.
The ‘Advertisement’ at the beginning of Part II notes the unprecedented reception of the first part of Jeebrahasya . In a year it had sold near about three thousand copies. No other VLS title, apart form Sushila’s Upakhyan, had been so well received by the readers.
Though initially targeted at the school-going boys and girls only, the book had been eagerly read and heard by a wide section of people (a literate person reading aloud to entertain a group of illiterate listeners had been a common practice, especially so among the masses which the VLS tried to reach through the Bengali Family Library series).
Part I: 99
Part II: 210
Genre: Bengali Family Library. Educational literature: Natural Science.
Source: The British Library
Pages from the book:
1. Cover page, Part I
2. Page 1, Part I, Sarper Bibaran [A Description of the Snake]
References consulted for this entry
1. Schwarz, Henry. ‘Aesthetic Imperialism: Literature and the Conquest of India’.