I arrive late for this session, rather typically. Still disturbed, I settle down as furtively as I can as the speakers take the dais.
Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey opens the talks. She wonders when the practice of bringing out annual puja volumes, or Puja Barshikis, first started. Nabakumar Basu wonders how well the quality of the literature produced is considered or maintained during the rush to produce the puja volumes. The discussion veers into nostalgia: puja volumes are and have been an indispensable part of Bengali childhoods. Himadri Kishore Dasgupta allows that of all the enormous number of volumes written and published in the century-old tradition of puja sahitya, not all are of outstanding literary quality, but quite a few still endure. The Tagores were one of the first to start this practice, he points out.
The moderator reminds us that a few very familiar faces whose writings we have repeatedly looked forward to over the years, will no longer with us: the late Suchitra Bhattacharya is only one of them. How are the other panelists dealing with the demands of puja literature in the digital age, where impatience and short-lived hype are the some of the most important determining factors for the success of the book? Krishnendu Mukhopadhyay responds: he points out that through social media, the connection between the reader and the writer is much more direct. The readers have changed, as have their reading methods. With a throwback to the earlier “Do We Write for Our Readers or Ourselves?” discussion, he points out that the new-age reader might prefer this kind of short spring, rather than all-year-round releases. Reading 5 novels in one book gives us the option to simply skip one not to our taste: something that cannot happen with traditional single-volume novels. He outlines the challenges as well as the USP of puja literature very succinctly.
Binod Ghoshal considers “good” writing to be an “accident”: he points out that many a renowned author write on the prompt of just one line, in one night, and create lasting works of art. The reader, he adds, is “merciless”- and so is the literary muse: neither lets the writer off easily! The “pressure” of puja literature is not the point, he thinks: in fact, he thinks the pressure may even be an inducement to the creation of art.
The discussion moves to digital media. Binod Ghoshal is a staunch supporter of both the interactions and the kind of publications one can see through social websites. The younger generation is moving to the digital world, and simultaneously excelling in producing their own puja literature online.
Nabakumar Basu has seen his father Samaresh Basu, the beloved Bengali novelist, work under this pressure. How was the experience of watching him write? Interesting, he says, and adds that his father never was a very rushed writer. His discipline was remarkable.
The discussion is opened to the audience. An emotional exchange of mutual appreciation follows, including questions regarding children’s literature and the suspicious lack of fairy tales in it (HARRY POTTER IS MENTIONED!). As evening falls in the Kolkata sky, the discussion comes to an end.
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This post was live-blogged for the Apeejay Bangla Sahityo Utshob. It is part of “A Literary Journey” series.
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