Title: Balaker Pratham Paribar Bahi [The Child’s First Reading Book]
Author: Not mentioned
Publisher: The Calcutta Christian Tract Society.
Printer : The Baptist Mission Press for the Calcutta Tract and Book Society
Date: 1836 [the last page notes 1835 as the date of print]
Price: Not mentioned
[The objects of the Baptist Missionary Society included the preaching of Gospels, distribution of Tracts and Scriptures and the establishment of schools. The Society later joined hands with the Independent Missionaries to form the Calcutta Tract Society for the cause of promoting education among the natives. Such books as this one were therefore probably given gratis to the students of the missionary schools.]
The reader containing ‘Short and Easy Lessons on Scriptural Subjects together with the meanings of more difficult words attached to the lessons’, first introduces short phrases and simple sentences for beginners before moving on to more advanced chapters like ‘Manushyer Pataner Bishay’ [About the Fall of Man], ‘Ishwarer Premer Bibaran’ [On God’s Love], ‘Dauder Bibaran’ [About David], ‘Pratahkaler Prarthana’ [Morning Prayer], ‘Balaker Kartabya Karma’ [A Child’s Duty] and so forth.
The book over and above being didactic in spirit has a pronounced Christian bias. The first prose lesson titled ‘On the Creation of the World’ begins: “What the Hindu shastras say regarding the creation of the world is incorrect and irrational…and none but a man of poor intellect would ever believe that. This world was not made by any devata [Hindu God]…it has been created by God, who, as is written in the Bible, said ‘let there be’ and so was born the earth. With His infinite power He thus created heaven and earth, the sun, the moon and the stars, men, animals and insects….”
Exemplary sentences such as ‘Atone for your sins’, ‘If your sins are not forgiven you shall go to Hell’ (‘9th Lesson’) or ‘The horse is to be chained, the donkey beaten and the foolish child whipped’ (‘Hitopodesh’) and prose pieces like ‘Man’s Fall’ firmly place the book in the Puritan tradition in British children’s literature. These ‘Godly books’ (as they were called) formed the chief reading matter for children in England after the Reformation, when the Catholic Church was replaced with a sterner Protestant faith. Deeply rooted in the concept of Original Sin and a need for salvation and typically forbidding and admonitory in nature, these volumes inculcated a spirit of fear in order to make their little readers virtuous.
However, neatly printed in a large and beautiful type, Balaker Pratham Paribar Bahi remains one of the earliest books in Bengali to introduce a step-by-step easy reading through lucid language – a model that was followed by innumerable primers and readers to come.
Note: Cover page mentions a print run of 2000 copies. The book appears as ‘No.4’ in the ‘School-Book Series’.
Source: The National Library, Kolkata
Pages from the book:
1. Title page
2. ‘Ishwarer Premer Bibaran’ [On God’s Love], p 20
References consulted for this entry
1. Harvey Darton, F.J. Children’s Books in England.
2. Lushington, Charles. Esq. The History, Design and the Present State of the Religious, Benevolent and Charitable Institutions, Founded by the British in Clacutta and its Vicinity.