Once a year, I take a short break from reading books, despite the ever-growing TBR list beckoning me to pick up my next read. Come Diwali, and it’s time to make space for Diwali Ank (magazines), the special issues that publishers bring out during the festival, in Maharashtra. More than the faraal (a spread of snacks relished during the Diwali celebrations), people wait all year to savour the Ank packed with a rich variety of articles, short stories, poems, essays, interviews on diverse themes chosen carefully, and penned by eminent writers.
For a century (the first Ank was published in 1909), these Ank have been launchpads for promising young writers, and a debut piece in one of these becomes an endorsement of the writer’s arrival on the literary scene. The Ank have also been the home that established writers have occupied for years, because it not only allows them the freedom to explore subjects as multifarious as history, nature, culture, socio-economic issues, climate change, literature, art, politics, philosophy, health, humour, women’s issues, cinema, sports, science and so on, it also connects them with a devoted, loyal, eager and discerning readership. There are special issues for children too, which makes the reading of these Ank a family tradition, bridging the generation gap. Several of these Ank end up as collector’s items that lovers of literature return to time and again.
The booking of the bundles of Ank begins on Dussehra. For me, it has been a mandatory annual ritual. Other enthusiasts too set aside a budget to not only buy these festive issues for themselves but to gift them to delighted friends and relatives. You can buy single issues of these Ank if you so wish, and some are available a week before Diwali, but there is something sacred about collecting your booked set on Narak Chaturdashi, the first day of Abhyang Snaan (the holy bathing ritual), when the bookstore begins releasing the sets. It helps to be the early bird to avoid the crowd which turns up without fail to take home the precious loot.
Diwali Ank: Continuing The Annual Reading Ritual
The atmosphere in the bookstores is charged. Outside, there is the burst of crackers. Inside, dressed in their best finery, people walk through rows of shelves filled with Ank, greeting each other, sharing notes on which ones apart from those in the set are worth buying, which writers to look out for, and what to read without fail. It’s a high that has to be experienced, the culmination of a patient wait, marked by the happy impatience to rush home to begin reading them. It’s not easy to choose what to read first. It’s best to go through the contents page first and mark what appeals to you the most. Reading these Ank often takes months, as once they are brought home, and you know they are going to be with you, they have to share your attention with the books that you have kept aside. I usually begin with the sparkling poetry. Then there are extracts from books, longish stories or articles by authors whose work you love. I make a note in the margins so that I do not miss out on the best reads.
One has to share these Ank with other interested family members, and it is not uncommon to squabble over who will read what first till an amicable arrangement is reached. This kind of family participation leads to wonderful conversations revolving around the content, and the reading aloud of favourite portions to each other. Often, friends call up with recommendations, and if you haven’t bought that particular Ank, it means making another trip to the bookstore. Never mind if the pile grows, and some of it remains unread or is read months later.
A few years ago, I came to know that there is a similar tradition in Bengal, where reading annual issues of Bangla patrikas (magazines), or the pujo sankhya (puja issue) or puja barshiki (puja annual) whose editions are timed with Durga Puja, forms a part of the celebrations. Thicker than the regular magazines, these too have a rich mixture of fiction and non-fiction with artistic illustrations. I saw these displayed in a local library I frequented, and whose Bengali owner Durba, told me more about them. Her eyes lit up as she spoke, and we had a long conversation about this enlivening annual ritual. I cannot read Bengali. Durba cannot read Marathi either. But, both of us knew exactly what it meant to be part of an age-old reading culture that has not just survived for over a century but the pandemic as well.
Happy Reading. Happy Diwali!
Archana Pai Kulkarni is the Books Editor at SheThePeople. The views expressed are the author’s own.