This Diwali, celebrated amid a pandemic and restrictions on movement, another tradition — and a cherished habit — may have to take a backseat.
Diwali ank, the 800-odd Marathi magazines that are published every year in time for the festival season, have seen a drop in numbers amid the pandemic, with reduced advertisements and apprehensions over drop in sales leading to fewer copies being published this year. About 100 magazines have backed out from publishing this year and many others have reduced the number of their pages.
Amid this gloom, there is a silver lining, though: The fewer copies of various editions available in the market this year have sold out in India and abroad, even before Diwali.
The tradition, about a century old, of reading Diwali anks has been dear to many Marathi households. It evolved during simpler times when adults and children spent their Diwali vacation reading these magazines that had a range of subjects — social and philosophical issues, health, women’s issues, caricatures, humour, children’s specials and also satire and politics.
But in a year when little is like it used to be, publishers, who usually begin work on the Diwali special editions around April-May, and distributors were faced with many challenges amid the pandemic.
Hemant Bagwe, owner of Girgaum’s B D Bagwe Agency, prominent sellers for various Diwali ank, said this year, about a hundred magazines, including the popular Shatayushi and Vasant that are published annually, did not bring out their copies and many others who did, had fewer pages. Over 20 children’s magazines were not published this year, said Shivaji Dhuri, founder member of the Diwali Varshik Ank Samiti(DIVA).
“Since there was a drop in the number of advertisements, many of the magazines had fewer pages and the prices have slightly increased because the entire costing math was disturbed. We have over 200 magazines this year and some more are yet to arrive,” says Bagwe, adding that while most of the magazines are sold out, it’s not a sign of increased demand. “If only 30-40 per cent of the copies are available this year, they are bound to be sold out. So we can’t say demand has increased.”
With public libraries re-opening only around Dussehra and many, especially senior citizens, avoiding public spaces, the ank readership in these libraries too may be see a drop in numbers, he says.
“With local trains not functioning fully, the chain of distributors to readers has been upset. Readers haven’t lost their love for reading but many haven’t been able to buy the Diwali ank this year,” says Bagwe.
Bharatbhushan Patkar, editor and publisher of Awaz, a popular humourous Diwali ank, began commissioning articles to writers around April. “I gave them standing instructions that we don’t want articles about the coronavirus. It is a serious issue and we should not be mocking it,” says Patkar, a resident of Borivali.
The lockdown meant that his graphic designers could not visit his housing society, but Patkar says he was determined to bring out the ank. “This is our 70th year of publication and I did not want to take a break. There were difficulties… for four or five months, I have been single-handedly working towards bringing out the edition. But for 69 years, our readers have stood by us so I had to do this for them,” he says.
Dhuri said, “No doubt it was a difficult year but the tradition of the Diwali Ank is 100-125 years old. All of us have to strive to preserve it.”
But this has been a good Diwali for Chaprak, a Pune-based ank, that has published and sold one lakh copies, outdoing its previous sales.
Ghyanshyam Patil, editor and publisher of Chaprak, says they aimed at capturing the market that fell vacant with not many Diwali ank publishing this year.
“For five months, my 15 colleagues were dedicated to bringing out our Diwali ank. This Diwali, we wanted to make every Marathi reader happy. We brought out a 316-page magazine priced at Rs 250 and sold a lakh copies, of which 46,000 were pre-booked. We had readers not just from Maharashtra but other states such as Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and from 25 countries such as USA, Australia, Abu Dhabi. We sent three copies to Fiji too.”
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