The Tradition Of Diwali Literary Supplements

Posted on 2008-10-27
MY thoughts go back to 40 years ago when I got a copy of the special Diwali issue of ‘Amrut’, a popular Marathi periodical – an Indian version of the ‘Readers’ digest’. Special Diwali issues are known as ‘Diwali aank’ in Marathi. My appetite for reading was not vetted with Amrut. I combed the shelves of local libraries for old issues and begged relatives and friends to lend me more Diwali issues of the popular Marathi periodicals.
Over the past 40 years, reading of my favourite Diwali issue has enlightened me a lot. I become restless if I fail to buy copies of my favourite Diwali issues. Reading of the special Diwali issue is a pleasure for all those who love the rich modern Marathi literary traditions. This year the Marathi cultural and literary world is celebrating the centenary year of the publication of the first Diwali issue by K R Ajgaonkar alias K R Mitra. He published ‘Manoranjan’– a popular Marathi monthly before the First World War. Little did he know that he was founding a unique publishing tradition without any precedents and parallels in Indian languages.
Marathi did not have an official status or state patronage when the Diwali issue tradition was launched. But it captured the imagination of progressive Maharashtrians who were seeking their own cohesive state. The platform of Diwali issues served as a launching pad for many new modern novelists, short story writers, poets, painters, photographers, cartoonists and artists. After Manoranjan set the trend, many other Marathi periodicals followed. The socio-economic and cultural transformation of Maharashtra and the Marathi world in the 20th century also contributed handsomely to patronise this pioneer cultural tradition. It is a tradition which UNESCO needs to include in its’ global list of human literary heritage.
By 1950 more than a 100 special issues were published during the Diwali festival. Today more than 500 ‘Diwali aanks’ get published mainly from the publishing centres such as Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Nagpur, Nasik etc. More than ten thousand pages cover a huge spectrum of topics. Popular Marathi dailies like – ‘Loksatta’, ‘Lokmat’, ‘Pudhari’, ‘Maharashtra times’, ‘Sakal’ have also followed this tradition.
Today the publication of the Diwali issue has become a big cultural industry. Despite the onslaught of electronic media and many other cultural distractions, these special publications have survived. From the neo-literates there is a big demand. The Marathi publishers are now promoting ‘literary niche marketing’ by focusing on topics of readers’ interests. On any large book stall one would find Diwali issues dedicated to astrology, cuisine, health and medicine, sports, humour, children, youth, arts, music, parenting, womens’ issues, economics, consumer rights, science and technology, spirituality and yoga, religion, politics and agriculture. These issues appear in the market around Diwali time and the most popular titles are sold out in a few days.
Among the issues, which have consistently promoted quality literature, we need to include a few illustrative titles like – Mauj, Deepavali, Akshar, Rasik, Sadhana, Shabdalaya, Lalit etc. A special mention has to be made of Nisargsevak, Pune’s ‘Abhijat’ – an issue fully devoted to ecology, environment and sustainable development. Every issue of Abhijat is a treasure trove of information and a collectors’ item. Over the past 26 years, Abhijat has maintained its’ quality and novelty of topics. It has no competitor among the Indian languages and the only competitor in India is the Hindu, Chennai’s annual ‘Survey of environment’. Hundreds of new short stories, novels and thousands of poems are published in the Diwali issues. There is a certain loyalty and preference among the readers – who eagerly await the publication of their favourite issues. During festival days they frequently visit the local bookstalls to inquire about their favourite Diwali issues.
Among the common man’s favourites are ‘Avaz’ fully devoted to humorous literature and cartoons, ‘Dhanurdhari’– devoted to astrology, ‘Mauz’– a favourite with readers of modern literature, ‘Sadhana’, popular among the activists, ‘ Sugandh’ , ‘Vasant’, ‘Hans’ known for short stories and ‘Dnyandoot’, ‘Dharmabhaskar’ and ‘Prasad’ popular with readers of spiritual literature.
For children – ‘Kishor’ is a superb gift. Every year 5-10 new titles appear in the market. Some are short-lived. Although Marathi is the world’s 12th largest and India’s fourth largest language by number of speakers, the total print order of Marathi Diwali issues seldom exceeds more than two millions. This is a ridiculously small number considering the potential readership in Marathi speaking regions. The Diwali issue publication industry has an estimated sales turnover of just Rs 10 crore annually. It is not difficult for the government to subsidise the cost of these publications, which are still largely dependent on revenues from advertisements.
In Goa, the tradition from Maharashtra was also followed by Konkani periodicals. Konkani, Jag, Bimb, Konkan Times and a few other periodicals publish their Diwali issues. The local Konkani daily ‘Sunaprant’ however brings out a ‘chavath’ special issue considering the more important festival of Ganesh chaturthi. Magazines in the Roman script issue a ‘Christmas special’. Many Goans have made pioneer contributions in enriching the Marathi Diwali issues.
The famous Goan artist Dinanath Dalal, painter Raghuvir Mulgaonkar, writers Laxmanrao Sardessai, Gopal Krishna Bhobe, Chandrakant Keni, Gurunath Naik, Chandrakant Kakodkar, Dadasaheb Satoskar, S G Kantak, Subash Bhende, V J Borkar, Arun Heblikar, Sharad Dalvi, poets – B B Borkar, Shankar Ramani, Narendra Bodke, Sudesh Lotlikar, Pushpagraj, Vishnu Wagh are a few illustrative names who’ve made important contributions. ‘Dipavali’– founded by Dalal has become a benchmark for Diwali issues. The poet Shankar Ramani used to publish at least 20-30 Marathi poems every year in several Diwali issues. The local office of Maharashtra information centre and the Goa Marathi Akademy organise annual exhibitions of the Diwali issues. Many circulating libraries also purchase multiple copies of popular Diwali issues.
During our college days we used to have serious discussions on the literature published in the Diwali issues. Marathi and Konkani literary organisations and the literary circles in colleges used to organise special symposia on the best of the literature in the Diwali issues. Unfortunately, such initiatives are slowly dying. There is an overall concern in urban Maharashtra that Marathi readership is on the decline. But there is a ray of hope from rural areas, which has seen a phenomenal increase in readership. Both Maharashtra and Goa need to jointly celebrate the historic centenary of India’s and the worlds’ unique tradition of publication of mind enriching Diwali issues. Both the states have benefited from this glorious tradition for a century. The art and culture department of Goa should make bulk purchases and gift sets of a few popular Diwali issues to taluka, village, and school and college libraries. The young generation should be encouraged to read and enjoy these Diwali issues. Goans who read Marathi must patronise the Diwali issues to keep the glorious tradition alive because we feel indebted to visionaries like K R Mitra.