Deliberations on future of books surfaced in AsomGranthamela

nava thakuria (@navathakuria) / Twitter

by Nava  Thakuria    22 January 2022

Guwahati: Amidst the threat of spreading novel coronavirus (precisely
the Omicron variant)  across India, Asom Granthamela (Assam Book Fair)
came to a successful end in Guwahati, the virtual capital of
Northeast. Organised jointly by Asom Prakashan Parishad (Publication
Board Assam, the government-sponsored literary institution) and All
Assam Publishers & Book Sellers Association maintaining necessary
Covid-19 precautions, the 12-day event genuinely paved way for
observation, debate, and resolutions over the future of books.
Braving the cold wave, thousands of book-lovers from different parts
of the region thronged at Assam Engineering Institute playground in
Chandmari locality every day to celebrate the festival of reading,
information and wisdom. Nearly 150 book-publishing groups and
retailers comprising a few from neighbouring Bangladesh, as well as
Delhi and Kolkata besides the local publication houses showcased their
printing works. They were put in six rows in memory of renowned
Assamese intellectuals namely Hemchandra Goswami, Padmanath Gohain
Barua, Panindranath Gogoi, Giripada Devchoudhury, Rabin Devchoudhury
and Sananta Tanti.

Inaugurating the book fair on 29 December 2021, State education
minister  Ranoj Pegu emphasized developing a culture of book
reading and he  insisted on translating various literary works in
Assamese to different larger languages and also translating ethnic
language works of the region into Assamese. Pegu, also the Chairman of
Prakashan Parishad, expressed happiness that more people are now
reading books as they acquired the decent habit with an aim to escape
the loneliness created by nationwide corona-lockdown days.
The minister also honoured  Nandita Devi with Prakashan Parishad
literary award for her novel ‘Bongol Bohu Door’ along with its
publisher Nagen Sarma of Jyoti  Prakashan.  Kuladhar Saikia, president
of Asom Sahitya Sabha, the State’s highest literary forum, graced the
inaugural function to stress on popularising the books among young
people with varied and rich contents. He argued that new technology
should be used for making books available to them.  Noni Gopal
Mahanta, the adviser to the State education department, revealed that even
after the invasion of the internet, the books remain popular around the
world.

The inaugural function was attended by Prakashan Parishad secretary
Pramod Kalita, its vice-president Sumanta Chaliha, top education
department officer Preetom Saikia, State publishers & book-sellers
association’s office-bearers Imran Ahmed, Baharul Islam Choudhury,
etc. The first evening’s cultural program was inaugurated by Pabitra
Margherita, member-secretary of the State level advisory committee
for student and youth welfare.

Mentionable is that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the publishers &
book-sellers could not organise Northeast Book Fair in 2020 and it
even failed to accommodate the annual event because of violent
anti-CAA (citizenship amendment act) agitation  in 2019 that almost
defaced the city with a panicky situation among the residents. However,
Prakashan Parishad successfully held Guwahati Granthamela in 2020 with
visible public support.

Organisers of both the events joined hands this time to go for a
combined trade show, where State chief minister  Himanta Biswa Sarma
took a positive initiative. Sarma, who could not grace the inaugural
function,  visited the fair later and interacted with the book-lovers.
A large number of youths at the venue applauded Sarma, where he
appreciated the efforts of the organisers for making the festival of
wisdom possible. Next year, both the events may take place separately
if the corona situation improves, he commented.

There were however initial resentments among a section of book lovers
as the name of  Granthamela was temporarily changed from Guwahati Book
Fair (or Northeast Book Fair) to Asom Granthamela. But it was done
under a difficult situation and  Prakashan Parishad has publicly
announced that it has no intention to dishonour the legacy of Guwahati
Granthamela started its voyage in 1984.

People of Assam will always remember contributions of the great souls
including author-journalist Chandra Prasad Saikia who were
instrumental in organizing the first book fair in the region.
Prakashan Parishad joined hands with National Book Trust (of India) to
launch the book fair movement and it was a huge success. Later
Prakashan Parishad took enough challenges to organise the book fair
independently in 1987 and it continued.

In the initial years, the regular venue of Guwahati Granthamela was
the Judges field on the south bank of the mighty river the Brahmaputra, which
was later overcrowded by the book enthusiasts. Soon a large number of
publishers and booksellers from various parts of the country started
participating in the book fair and lately, the venue was shifted to the
present location to accommodate more participants and appreciators.
“With the availability of cheaper mobile internet services across the
country there were apprehensions that the young people might turn away
from the practice of reading. But till now it has been proved wrong.
Various exciting (extreme) audio-visuals, made easily available
through the internet, can attract a huge number of people, but they
finally, get solace in serious reading only,” said Dhiraj Goswami of
publishers & book-sellers association, adding that books worth rupees
five crores were sold in the fair.

Visiting the Granthamela, Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal also
appreciated the organisers for taking the initiative. Buying several
books and interacting with book lovers at the venue, Sonowal also
commented that books remain the symbols of the identity of a community
and society. The young generation should inculcate the habit of
reading books, he opined, adding that a book revolution should be
everyone’s resolution. Assam children’s literature trust secretary
Hrishikesh Goswami accompanied Sonowal at the venue.
The book fair witnessed the formal release of more than 50 new books
in  two halls named after distinguished Assamese authors Dr
Lakshminandan Bora and Homen Borgohain. A souvenir titled
Smritigrantha, edited by Devojit Borah and Gautam Barman, was released
by writer Gautam Prasad Barua. Prakashan Parishad released 16 books
and also showcased the digital channel at the venue, where Assamese
folk-tales are narrated by celebrity performers. A number of literary
discussions as well as children’s programs were organised. Every
evening, cultural programs were inaugurated by celebrated
personalities like Moloya Goswami,  Surya Goswami, Aimi Barua, Gayatri
Mahanta, Partha Sarathi Mahanta, etc at the venue.
Bangladesh assistant high commissioner, posted in Guwahati, Shah
Mohammad Tanvir Mansur also graced the book fair to welcome
representatives of three visiting publication houses namely Murdhanya,
Sarulipee and  Joyotee from his country. In a brief meeting, attended
by Mihir Deuri, editor of Prakash (published by Prakashan Parishad),
author-journalist Rupam Barua, columnist Ranen Kr Goswami, author
Prasanta Chakrabarty, poet-journalist Nabajyoti Pathak, Jintu
Geetartha, Minku Hazarika with a few others, the diplomat  thanked
India again for supporting their freedom movement.

Presence of many eminent Assamese authors and academicians including
Govinda Prasad Sarma, Hiren Gohain, Shyama Prasad Sarma, Dhrubajyoti
Bora, Gajendra Adhikari, Pranabjyoti Deka, Rita Choudhury, Anuradha
Sarma Pujari, Rani Gohain, Bipul Deuri, Jogesh Kakati, Mira Thakur,
Ankita Dutta, Raktim Patar, Ajanta Burhagohain, Ranju Hazarika,
Jayanta Madhab Bora, Abhijit Bora, Phanindra Kumar Devchoudhury,
Pranjit Bora, Nilim Kumar, Bandita Phukan, Apurba Saikia, Atanu
Bhattacharya, Satyendra Narayan Goswami, etc were enjoyed by the young
book-enthusiasts.

Similarly, notable personalities like Dinesh Goswami, Dayananda
Pathak, DN Chakrabarty, Gangapada Devchoudhury, Narayan Talukder,
Jagadish Patgiri, Paramananda Majumder, Mrinal Chandra Kalita, Khagen
Saikia, Niranjan Kalita, Samudra Gupta Kashyap, Arindam Borkataky,
Mayur Bora, Utpal Dutta, Debashish Sarma, Noni Borpujari, Aminul
Haque, Nilima Thakuria, Baharul Islam, Bhagirathi,  Pabitra Gogoi,
Subodhmalla Barua, Pranjal Sarma Vasistha, Loknath Goswami, Hyder
Hussain, Bhaskar Sarma, Naba Talukder, etc visited the stalls adding
colour to the festivity.

A session dedicated to Nilamoni Phukan, the third Assamese litterateur
(after Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya and Mamoni Raisom Goswami) to
receive the Jnyanpeeth award recently was intriguing for the literary
enthusiasts. The closing ceremony on 9 January 2022 was graced by
Jnyanpeeth awardee Damodar Mauzo, is an illustrious story writer,
novelist, and critic in the Konkani language from Goa. Bodo Sahitya Sabha
president Toren Boro was also present on the occasion.
An interactive session involving young writers, where they narrated
their literary dreams received appreciation from the audience.
Moderated by this writer with support from promising author Geetali
Bora, the session was participated by budding talents like Anindita
Parag Saikia, Aparajita Pujari, Utpal Deka, Monika Das, Pranjal
Talukder, Gitali Saikia, Srinjana Sarma,  Diganta Nibir, Pranjal
Barman, Manaswini Mahanta,  Jayanta Dutta, Farhan Javed, Pranjal A
Sarma, Ranjit Patgiri, Manoj M Neog, Mukutraj Sarma, Ankurita Phukan,
Dwip H Borhi, Ratan  Sadiyal, Shyamanta Payeng, Munidra Baishya,
Nayanjyoti Sarma, etc.  They were unanimous in their views that the
medium (physical paper) may change in the future, but the habit of reading
will continue forever.

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