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Saturday July 2, 2022

Of This & That : Spirit of Festivity and Puja Barshiki magazines

puja barshiki magazines lbb.in

The greatest festival of the year for us, the Bengalis, has come knocking at our doors. The Durga Puja is not just a festival. It is hardly a mere religious ceremony. Far from these, it is a sentiment and a bonding. As we deify the feminine power to conquer all evil, we also venerate all the women who played a great role in our lives. It is the time of the Nari Shakti. For me the ideal Durga, is the one found in Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhay’s Pather Panchali. The fact that white ‘kaash’ flowers (which are really grass stalks) epitomise the advent of autumn in Bengal, was brought before the world in the Satyajit Ray-made classic film.

Normally people welcome the Goddess with Agomoni songs. This year it is quite different. All of us are preparing ourselves to adjust to the new normal ways of living. The Pujas are just round the corner and the microphones are blaring rules about social distancing?

In Sandesh, I waited with eager anticipation, for Leela Majumdar’s stories. Jethu also wrote for Sandesh. Needless to say here, inputs from Satyajit Ray himself were voraciously read by his ardent followers which included me.

When I was a young girl, a gentleman resided in a building, opposite our residence. Sisir Kumar Majumdar, was called by the name of ‘Jethu’ by one and all, irrespective of age. An avowed bachelor throughout his life, he had been closely associated with the Bengali magazine, Sandesh, incepted by Upendrakishore Roychowdhury. He had made me subscribe to the magazine, which used to arrive regularly, neatly folded in our letterbox. Their annual Festival Number was an edition which I always awaited eagerly. The Pujas meant the publication of a host of festival issues from a host of publishing houses. This was before Anandamela, the popular children’s magazine entered into my life.

The first things that I sought in these festive issues were the adventure stories. In Sandesh, I waited with eager anticipation, for Leela Majumdar’s stories. Jethu also wrote for Sandesh. Needless to say here, inputs from Satyajit Ray himself were voraciously read by his ardent followers which included me. Pujas meant the publication of festival issues from diverse publishing houses. Ma was recounting to me the other day about how Dev Sahitya Kutir used to publish their festival publications, meant especially for young minds. I still remember their logo as I also remember the masthead of Sandesh magazine, designed by Ray himself. Besides Ray and Leela Majumdar, there were inputs from other writers as well and they encouraged young readers to send in their contributions also to them.

Years later, when the only daily in Kolkata to publish a festival issue in English, The Statesman, published my short story, Connection Lost, in their annual issue, my joy knew no bounds. It talked about a father-son relationship which was in dire straits. Festival numbers have, for want of a better word, a festive air hanging in, around and amidst them. The crispness s and novelty of each publication send everyone in a déjà vu. It’s like our old days of covering up our school notebooks with brown paper and sticking labels with gum or glue upon them. Festival issues have that feel-good sensation inherent in them.

So even though new clothes were much cherished after, the festival issues were regularly purchased and read with equal enthusiasm. After having competed reading them, we wait in eager anticipation for the next year’s Puja celebrations to arrive. That would mean newer festival issues -with newer novellas, stories and poems. Many of the best selling Bengali novels had had their first publication in these festive issues. That said the new normal ways of living have all but immersed these festival issues into troubled waters.  Leaving aside the bigger and more flourishing publishing houses, the rather smaller ones are facing Herculean hurdles in putting their best foot forward. So even though their intentions and sincerity are beyond all doubts, they are but puny creatures before the effects of the raging pandemic.

Years later, when the only daily in Kolkata to publish a festival issue in English, The Statesman, published my short story, Connection Lost, in their annual issue, my joy knew no bounds.

When I say festival magazine issues are like new clothes, I imply that they are must-buys every year. I do know a few people, who instead of purchasing new clothes during the Pujas, invest in festive issues. I am peeved by the sheer thought that these days, due to the Covid-19 virus the publication of these editions may get affected. Some of these, a handful, have already been published. So the advent of the Pujas isn’t that far away indeed!! If these festive issues are here, can the Pujas be far behind?

I especially look forward to the various illustrations that go with the articles, fiction and essays. When the publishing house is of greater renown, the advertisements are also on a larger scale. I have heard that these sponsors are the people who keep alive the tradition of the publishing industry. Since sincere readership is slowly dwindling, publishers have to rely more on sponsorships. Don’t we see big banners adorning each and every Puja pandal in Kolkata? Campaigns for shops selling garments to shoes, jostle for space against those of packaged food.

These issues have something for readers of all ages. Even though it may be catering to adult readership, there are often cartoon strips interspersed, acting as comic reliefs. For those interested in travel, there are travelogues. For those having a penchant for thought-provoking essays, there are always incisive ones which delve into serious issues of present or future relevance. Some gems of modern poetry can be read in these issues. What’s more is that most of these are modestly priced! So we get to read the best of contemporary literature for a pittance! I have known people who have treasured these volumes with care over the years and also those who have sold the previous year’s issues to the shops selling second hand books near Gariahat.

Being a true Bengali at heart and in soul, these have become a part of our essential existence. Without them, we may collapse into an unfavourable existential crisis!

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