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Since 1st March, 1999
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Penned on Poila Vaisakh, preserved for posterity

Aji jar jiboner kotha tuchchhotamo,

Sedin sonabe taha kobitwer samo.

Prophetic lines penned by Promothonath Bishi in 1963 at Mitra Ghosh Publishers on the first page of what he christened Kheyalkhushir Khata. This khata became the Poila Vaisakh jottings volume, compiled over the years at the College Street address. Another such khata came into existence at neighbouring Dey’s Publishing in 1981.The khatas are products of Nava Varsha gatherings of authors at the offices of the two big publishing houses.

Repository of words of wit and wisdom, these boipara khatas may soon see the light of published day. Mitra Ghosh, which completes 70 years in 2004, plans to print these writings, according to Sabitendranath Roy of the company. Sudhangshusekhar Dey of Dey’s also has similar plans, though he will wait a few more years.

From good wishes to worries about advanced age to comments on topical issues — the authors’ ink encompasses everything. At Dey’s, Prof Jyotirmoy Ghosh this year has given vent to his anti-war outrage — Notun bochhore notun judhho, Haratei hobe Bush-key shuddho. Below this, Tarapada Roy has tersely added “Oi”, signalling his assent.

The Bengali New Year festivities at College Street date back decades. Recalls Syed Mujtaba Siraj: “Authors would drop in at the bookshops, as would buyers and agents. Food packets would be distributed. The early hotspots for such gatherings were MC Sirkar, Bengal Publishers and Prakash Bhavan. Shirshendu (Mukhopadhyay), Shyamal (Gangopadhyay), Atin (Bandyopadhyay) and I were the regulars.”

Septuagenarian Prafulla Roy recalls seeing Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, Manoj Basu, Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay, Sukumar Sen and Sunitikumar Chattopadhyay at such gatherings. “The conversation would centre around literature, social issues and economics. We were the backbenchers then.”

Says Sunil Gangopadhyay: “This day would give us access to senior authors as well as reinforce relations with the publisher. In the 70s, it was customary to give authors gifts instead of cash royalty. One year, Ramapada Chowdhury got a car. When I went over on Poila Vaisakh, Gopaldas Majumdar, my witty publisher, asked me: “Do you want a refrigerator'” I already had one. The next choice was a radio. That also was there in our house. So, he paused and asked: “Is it a car that you want'” I modestly said that I had bought a second-hand one. At this, he sombrely nodded: “Baba, tumi bari nebar yogya ekhono haoni (You do not qualify for a house yet, son).”

All authors welcome the idea of getting the Nava Varsha jottings published. “Earlier, all books used to be released on Poila Vaisakh. Ever since the Book Fair came up as a more viable occasion, the day has lost much of its sheen. But the historical value of the publishers’ khata cannot be denied,” Dibyendu Palit points out.

“The knack for repartee that people of the earlier generation had spice up these spontaneous comments,” says Sabitendranath Roy. As for the Nava Varsha gathering, which Sunitikumar Chattopadhyay used to call his “muri club adda”, Ashapurna Devi’s lines (in the Mitra Ghosh diary) are worth quoting: Bhebechhilam sheshe elam, porlam lokshane, labh lokshan kothay ghote kei ba seta jane. Readers who came in late will benefit from the publication, for sure.

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