In Bengal, Durga Puja is a Time for Literary Celebration, and This Year is No Exception
on Sep 27, 2022
Durga Puja is a time when Bengali literature asserts itself, with almost every publisher in Bengal, big or small, bringing out special issues for the public's annual intellectual nourishment.
While the much-anticipated puja launches of music albums have become a thing of the past with the disappearance of CDs and cassettes, the puja-specific magazines that launched many a literary career remain not only in circulation but also in demand.
While demand may not be as high as it once was in the pre-smartphone era, Bengali readers still enjoy short stories and poems, as well as fish and meat delicacies, during the festive season.
"The puja Sankhyas (puja numbers) still generate excitement; you won't find such a phenomenon anywhere else in the country," said veteran writer Amar Mitra, who won the prestigious O. Henry Award this year and was also awarded the Vidyasagar Puraskar this month.
Mr. Mitra has had a busy year in terms of output as well. He has contributed to the puja issues of three major publications, and the issues addressed by the 71-year-old writer. "I wrote a short story called Hanabari for Pratidin that looks at what happens when the protagonist works from home and is confined at home for far too long."
For Nabakallol, I wrote a long story called Gour Gopaler Mrityu Hok about a young man who sells his land to pay a bribe to get a government job but then loses it. "I wrote Abhagir Ghar Basot for Bartaman about old Kolkata houses whose ownership we no longer know about," he said.
If there is one thing that has changed about puja issues over the years, it is the emergence of smaller publishers, who have effectively ended the monopoly of the biggest names in the business, according to Mr. Mitra and also the writer Parimal Bhattacharya.
"What I've witnessed is the marginalization of a couple of large publishing houses that used to rule the roost and the rise of countless smaller players." Every year, new magazines with new writers are added to the list. There is also a wide range of content, with a particular emphasis on nonfiction and poetry. But I'm not sure how far this revival has been able to recruit and nurture new readers," Mr. Bhattacharya said.
His point is backed up by the presence of people like Ruchismita Ghosh, a retired banker, and writer who has been publishing a magazine called Sarbonaam every puja for the past 12 years. Due to the pandemic, it was only last year that its publication went online.
"Since we went online, the number of submissions has skyrocketed." We were also able to recruit a large number of new employees. We were mostly repeating the same writers before we went online," said Ms. Ghosh, who splits her time between Kolkata and Gurgaon.
Having said that, some names have remained pillars of many a childhood. "Anandamela and Shuktara were always there when we were kids." They were also less expensive than purchasing individual novels. Later, Desh and Anandabazar Patrika became the most sought-after," said Samata Biswas, an English professor at Sanskrit College and University.
"There must be hundreds of puja specials in circulation now, but my desire for them has waned a little, possibly because I can afford to buy books all year." "What excites me about puja specials are the lesser-known authors who still put in a lot of work, as opposed to the superstar authors who churn out formula fiction year after year," said Dr. Biswas.