For the first time in 50 years, Sunil Gangopadhyay’s byline will be missing from the puja editions of Bengali magazines.
The Durga Puja is a remarkable event in the Bengali literary calendar. It marks the publication of special editions of various commercial and little magazines, popularly known as puja sankhya or puja numbers. Usually, their publication started from the Mahalaya. This date started being advanced over the last 10 years. Surprisingly, this year’s puja number of Anandamela (a popular children’s fortnightly) is actually on the stands two months ahead of the festival. In the coming days, every other publisher will try to match this speed. The bookworms are dwindling, and dwindling fast.
Puja Sankhya also holds a special place for the smaller publication houses of Bengali literary sphere. The “little-magazines” or “little magz”, as they are popularly called, are the smallest capillaries of the heart of Bengali literature. They are a large passionate workforce that keeps contributing their splendid works in a hush-hush manner throughout the year.
Last year, on Maha Saptami, many little magazine publishers arrive at the Indian Coffee House, College Street, with their puja numbers. In a very unconventional programme, their books are published in the presence of one or more literary masters. Last year, eminent novelist Dibyendu Palit was present as was Tridib Chattopadhyay, the Secretary of West Bengal Book Publishers’ and Sellers’ Guild. The weather was unfriendly and it was raining heavily. Ignoring hassles, the publishers arrived, the books were published and the flash bulbs blinked. October 23 was Maha Navami. I woke up around 8.00 a.m. and drowsily switched on the Facebook application of my Nokia Lumia. The shocking newsfeed made me sit up. Sunil Gangopadhyay had passed away at 2.00 a.m. and condolence updates were flooding the social network.
In 1965, Gangopadhyay’s first novel, Atmaprakash, was published in the puja special of Desh. This marked the beginning of a new era in Bengali literature. Thereafter, the Desh puja special became a must-read for his fans. Gangopadhyay also penned innumerable children’s works, the most significant being the tales of Kakababu, a private detective. Kakababu, his nephew Santu and his friend Jojo, enchanted Bengali children with their adventures over three decades years. The first of his adventures, Bhayankar Sundar (The Deadly Beautiful) was published in 1979 in the puja issue of Anandamela.
For more than four decades, Bengali literature lovers grew up with his novels and stories. Last year, Dr. Sudarshan Sen, editor of Karukatha Ei Samay, a leading magazine, interviewed Sunil Gangopadhyay for the puja number. I was lucky to accompany him with the camera. It was an awesome experience to watch a legend unfolding the layers of his life over cups of tea and cigarettes. He shared stories of his college days — first crush, first poetry, his initial struggle for money, the birth of Krittibas, his poetry magazine. He narrated how he gathered raw material for his first novel Atmaprakash, from the experiences of a refugee colony where he was forced to live with his mother after the early demise of his father, and many more.
This year’s puja special of Anandamela is already out, but Kakababu is not setting out on a new adventure. For the first time in nearly 50 years, Sunil Gangopadhya’s byline will be missing from the magazines.