A festival of words

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 21 October 2017

We track the trend of Diwali Ank, the literary tradition of Maharashtra, which will be celebrating the milestone of 110 years in two years from now.

Last week at Akshardhara gallery’s book exhibition, we heard quite a few people asking, ‘Is Dhanurdhar in stock?’, ‘Mauj aala ka ho?’ (Do you have a copy of Mauj?), ‘What about Zee Marathi’s Diwali special issue?’

This is what Diwali in Maharashtra is all about — Diwali Ank (Diwali magazine) score over fatake (crackers) and faraal (goodies). A tradition which started in 1909 (Kashinath Raghunath Ajgaonkar also known as ‘Mitra’ brought out Manoranjan, the first Diwali Ank), Diwali Ank is now inching towards its 110th milestone. The numbers too have grown exponentially.

Sellers say...
“There are about 350 Diwali Ank being brought out annually. Most of them are published from Mumbai and Pune. People start inquiring about Diwali Ank from Dussehra,” informs Rasika Rathiwadekar, owner of Akshardhara Book Gallery.

“The demand for the magazines, especially those published by media houses, has gone up. Then, of course, there is readership for Hans, Naval, Satyaprakash, Maher and Menaka. There is a magazine called Kishor for young readers,” she adds.

The tradition is similar to Bengal’s practice of bringing out special literary magazines around Durga Puja. “Diwali Ank have always given a platform to young writers, publishing their stories and views, opinion pieces, illustrations etc. Mauj is one such magazine which remains true to its literary beliefs. So does Antarnaad. Milind Joshi has submitted about 25 articles to various Diwali magazines. His will be a name to look out for in a few years’ time,” explains Rathiwadekar.

Since their store went online, Rathiwadekars have seen the demand for the magazine go up from other parts of the state. “One person from Kolhapur placed an order for 6,000 copies of Diwali Ank alone,” she exclaims.

New entrant
Creating a niche for itself in three years since its publication, Sanwad Setu aims to build an articulate, discerning art critic. Vandana Bokil-Kulkarni, editor of the magazine, says, “For us, Diwali has always been a festival of words.

Unfortunately, over the years, the literary quotient in Diwali Ank has gone down, and elelments like the annual horoscope find many takers. At Sanwad Setu, we want to create a sound readership — someone who understands various art forms. In the previous edition, we carried Milind Mullick’s landscapes, with pointers from the artist himself, about what to look for in the paintings. This year, we have interviewed Shama Bhate and tried to create an audience for dance. We have also interviewed sculptors and Konkani author, Mahableshwar Sail, who is this recipient of this year’s Saraswati Sanman.”

The old guard 
In their 72nd year, Hans, Mohini and Naval continue to exercise their hold over the readership. Started in 1946-48 by Anant Antarkar, Mohini now comes out annually, instead of monthly.

“My father started Hans in 1946, Mohini in 1948 and Naval in 1954. Literature was the core of Hans with authors like G A Kulkarni, Di Ba Mokashi writing for the magazine. Mohini used to have vyangachitra spardha or a competition for caricatures/illustrations. We discovered Shi Da Fadnis through this competition. Mohini was a comic magazine, while Naval came out in digest form — concentrating on sci-fi, detective and mysteries,” says Hema Antarkar, a film critic and now the editor of Hans.

In 1991-92, after the subscriptions declined, the magazine became an annual. “Through these magazines, many big literary names came to light. Sha Na Navare, Anil Kulkarni were among them. Then, there were writers like Kiran Lele, Hrishikesh Gutle, Bharat Shahasne etc. In this year’s edition, we have writers like Pandurang Sutar, Ameya Musmande contributing. Rashmi Kashelkar has kept intact the Konkani-Malwani twang in her writing. We also have some pieces on rural life, agriculture etc. Hans continues to be ‘swachand aani swayatt’ (free and liberated) as it was when it started,” explains Antarkar.

When asked about her views on virtual readership through blogs and WhatsApp messages, Antarkar says, “Literature that is uploaded on various web pages or e-magazines can give a new lease of life to Marathi literature — provided there is some editing and/or critiqing involved at some point.”

Guidance from experienced editors is very necessary for the process of publishing. To an undiscerning eye, the half-baked pieces may seem like beautiful creations, but they may be just clever attempts at getting more eyeballs aimed at entertaining the masses.

“It may seem that the digital media in general and online writing in particular, have democratised the creative process. I think it is an illusion resulting in anarchy. A writer has to review and revise his/ her work several times according to some aesthetic criteria.

If s/he has blind spots, someone else — a reader, a fellow writer or a dispassionate editor — must help him /her see the flaws and also help him/her overcome them. I don’t see how literature can evolve without such rigorous process and without any system of evaluating, grading and polishing,” she points.

Perhaps that’s the secret to keeping alive the rich, literary tradition of Maharashtra.

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