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Big faith in little magazine

Passion for the Hindi language, a keen interest in Assamese culture and enterprising nature goaded journalist Ravi Shankar Ravi and his wife Kanchan to launch a little magazine depicting the marriage of two cultures. And there has been no looking back.

Their mailbox is never empty. Money orders, postcards and copies of “little magazines” arrive from different parts of the country. What leave the couple overjoyed, however, are requests for copies for their venture Ulupi, which presents Assamese culture to the Hindi-speaking population in the rest of the country.

“People pay for Ulupi priced at Rs 20 through money orders. Our postman gets quite bewildered when these money orders keep coming,” he said.

Lack of awareness about the book has not dampened the spirit of the couple. Their home is their workshop. The computer at the corner and the bed with copies of Ulupi strewn on it, with postage stamps and brown paper for packing suggest that the “next issue of Ulupi is ready to be despatched to the different destinations”.

It is a “labour of love” for them. A “little magazine” is a non-profit making magazine with a mission. Characterised by their non-commercial attitude and penchant for the avant-garde and experimental, little magazines have continuously rebelled against established literary norms. Such publications usually have a limited circulation.

“While I was working as a journalist in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, we came to know about the Assam agitation, the bomb blasts and militancy. Working as cultural activists, we were keen to more about this region,” said Ravi.

He came to Assam to work for a Hindi newspaper in Guwahati in 1989. “I realised that there was a lot of scope for working in the Hindi language. While covering the Assembly proceedings, I had difficulty in understanding Assamese. I started learning the language from my landlord. In fact, I had actually bought a book of alphabets,” he said.

Now, he is so proficient in Assamese that he has even translated Lakshminath Bezbaruah’s Stri Swadhinata in three episodes. “I spoke to Dinkar Kumar, a former journalist and felt that a lot need to be done in the Hindi language,” said Ravi. Kumar himself has a large number of translations from Assamese to Hindi, from Homen Borgohain to Saurav Chaliha.

The couple had been transferred to Tinsukia in 1994 where the idea of a “little magazine” was conceived. Here they bumped into the name Ulupi. The name Ulupi is associated with a myth of the Northeast. Ulupi, a princess from Nagaland was one of the characters of the Mahabharat who was married to Arjun.

“I had discussed it with my friends. We realised — Ulupi was the apt name. She was a tribal girl and Arjun was an Aryan. It would reflect the wonderful synthesis between both cultures,” he said.

“She did not allow anyone to lay hands on her state’s autonomy. Therefore, the name also echoes the sentiments of the northeasterners who hold their autonomy in high regard.”

In 1996, they took out the first issue with 34 pages. The first issue dealt with the aims and objectives of the little magazine. It also contained some short stories by some Hindi-speaking people in Assam.

Binod Ringania, a Hindi columnist said, “Ulupi is a platform for us. It’s like an important resource material for Hindi writings from Assam. Working for Ulupi elicits a pleasure which cannot be described in words.”

A regular reader of Ulupi, businessman Prem Chandra Mishra says, “We gain intellectually from the periodical as we can acquaint ourselves with Assamese literature and culture.”

The second issue was a special one on poet Abani Chakravarty. His daughter Aditi joined them as the art editor. The cover of the special issue was a sketch done by her.

Aditi says, “This is a unique concept and most importantly, it showcases Assamese culture to the Hindi-speaking people in other parts of the country.”

Another of their associates, Rakesh Pathak, is suffering from paralysis and is bed-ridden. “He is so keen that he does most of the translations lying on his bed. I go and collect it as soon as it is ready,” said Ravi.

Ulupi now reaches out to more than 50,000 readers. It reaches Delhi’s Sriram Centre, Hyderabad’s South Indian Hindi Prachar Sabha, Rajkamal in Patna and to select readers all over India. “Networking is a difficult task and it is not easy to reach out to the maximum population. Earlier, we used to charge Rs 15 and had to raise it to Rs 20. For printing 1,000 copies, we need about Rs 20,000,” says Ravi.

Ravi and his team were inspired by the response to the second issue. “It had made us all the more determined to carry on with our endeavour. We need financial support too and we managed to convince some of our friends to finance the quarterly magazine. We barely manage to take out three in a year,” he added. “In fact, the money earned from the sale is recycled. It is used for subsequent productions,” he said.

Interestingly, 50 copies of Ulupi are sold in Imphal, Manipur, through Prof. Devraj of the Hindi department at Manipur University. “He is translating texts from Manipuri into Hindi as part of the Manipuri Hindi Parishad,” said Ravi.

“We are planning a special issue on the history of Assamese cinema, one on poet Navakanta Barua and one on Manipuri plays,” Ravi added. Arun Sharma’s play Aru Ek Adhyay was also translated into Hindi. With the growing networking, they are now planning a special issue on the folk tales of Nagaland.

In fact, their special issue on the Asam Sahitya Sabha was appreciated by noted Hindi litterateurs. Ravi recalls, “Once I had received a letter from a Mumbai group, which had read our translation of Kula Saikia’s story Mere Ladke Ki Bimari and it wanted to translate it into Marathi.”

Lauding their efforts, Birendranath Datta, president of Asam Sahitya Sabha said, “The name Ulupi itself, which is the name of a Naga princess, is striking. It’s a sustained effort by a group of dedicated people who have a sense of purpose and are trying to focus on the Northeast.” “I term the recent clash against the Hindi-speaking population here as an aberration. It’s not a real index of things out here. Ulupi is an exemplary venture and it reflects the strong ties between the two communities,” adds Datta.

“We never tried for government aid. However, we are registered with the registrar of newspapers. We want to run it in our own way. We are staying in Assam and what can be a better way to express our social commitment towards this region'” Ravi asks.

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