Inking a rich culture

Inking a rich culture

In an era when publishing magazines which have thought-provoking feature articles is vanishing, the thriving ‘Diwali Ank’ tradition is a reminder of how ideas and thoughts can shape communities, writes Deepti Ganapathy

During a visit to Pune, I visited my friend Viji Abhyankar’s parents’ home and was pleasantly surprised to interact with her now-retired banker father and writer Jayanth Marathe. The conversation veered to my career as a journalist and I stumbled upon a rare publishing history that has withstood the onslaught of digital media and helped inculcate reading and writing traditions in this region.

Jayanth Marathe was happy that his short story had been accepted for publication in the forthcoming Diwali issue of a prominent and well-known publication. In an era when print journalism is facing tough times due to rising production costs and dwindling readership, it is astonishing to know that more than 350 publications bring out Diwali feature issues every year in Maharashtra. Diwali is a festival of lights and is celebrated with much grandeur throughout India. Friends and family greet one another by exchanging sweets during this festival. In Maharashtra, the Diwali issue (known as Diwali Ank) is also considered to be a valuable gift to be shown as a token of festival bonhomie.

Different genres

“Most of the well-known authors and poets in Marathi literature started their journey by publishing their writings in these Diwali issues,” says well-known poet and author Ashlesha Mahajan, who lives in Pune. There are prizes for the best Diwali issue based on the quality of production, design, layout and the articles. The jury consists of journalists and established littérateurs. Most of the libraries during this Diwali season (October–November) offer special schemes to enable their readers to get the benefit of subscribing to more than 2-3 books or magazines. The range of articles that are featured in these special issues are characterised by the readership too. There are magazines for women, senior citizens, men, youth, teenagers, visually impaired and rural youth.

“The Diwali Ank is a characteristic feature of Marathi literature, with a tradition of 110 years. It is our identity and we make every effort possible to keep this tradition going,” says Mahajan who has a fan following which she caters to from her Facebook page and website. Some of the Diwali issues now have electronic versions to cater to the millions of readers across the globe. Children are encouraged to carry forward this legacy.

Every single page in this Diwali issue is sponsored by advertisers ranging from banks, multinational corporations to the local sweet shop. After all, it is a prestigious and landmark issue of the magazine and every establishment would like to be a part of history.

Prakashan Vishwa, is a magazine which has documented the 350 plus Diwali issues along with the name and address of the publisher. This makes it convenient for writers to pitch their stories and contribute well ahead of time. The Police department too bring out their Diwali issue and it is not surprising to see a cop hailing you to a stop in a small town in Maharashtra (where the residents know the local cop) if you are returning from the city to celebrate the festival of Diwali in your ancestral home and persuading you to buy the Diwali issue in his hand.

Every year, these Diwali editions generate a revenue of 60-70 million dollars. However, publishers do face challenges with the rising cost of newsprint and printing these issues in colour. Nevertheless, this is a community of literary lovers who want to keep the spirit alive. When the first Diwali Ank was published in 1909, it was priced at INR 1 and consisted of a few pages. Today these issues are priced between INR 50-200 depending on the publisher and readership.

Impact of Covid-19

The charm of holding a freshly printed Diwali Ank cannot be dampened by the Covid-19 pandemic this Diwali. The impact of the pandemic on business can be felt with the dwindling number of print advertisements this year, however, publishers are committed not to stop the printing of the magazines and some of them have digitised the copies making them available online for readers in India and overseas. Appealing to all age groups 

The range of Diwali Ank issues appeal to children and adults with magazines having specific issues for every age group and gender. For men, the articles range from start-ups and VC funding to investments and astrology, while for women, topics include fashion, beauty, recipes, interior design and creative hobbies.