35th International Kolkata Book Fair saw the launch of a new Bengali Magazine on sexuality issues called Prakashye- Proshongo Jounota , while two other bilingual magazines Swikriti Patrika and Swakanthey sold a record number of copies this time, writes Sukhdeep Singh
Even in this digital world of today, where tablets and e-readers are putting up a question mark on hard copies of books and magazines, no one can deny the delight of flipping through the pages and that smell of the freshly printed book. It is no wonder that we still go out to buy magazines and books. For book lovers, book fairs are a treasure ground, with books of different genres, authors, publishers and topics, all available at one place. The annual Kolkata Book Fair presents one such opportunity not only for book lovers, but also for many budding writers.
The 35th International Kolkata Book Fair was held from 25th Jan – 6th Feb, and along with the thousands of books and magazines available there, three different magazines stood out and made a definite mark, spreading the message of love, equality and answering many of the curious questions related to sexuality. While both Swikriti Patrika, taken out by Dum Dum Swikriti (Kolkata), and Swakanthey, taken out by Sappho for Equality (Kolkata), are bilingual magazines(Bengali and English) that had their first issue released at the Kolkata Book Fair in 2004, this year, Pratyay Gender Trust launched a Bengali magazine Prakashye- Proshongo Jounota, with the first issue focused on human rights.
Both Dum Dum Swikriti and Sappho for Equality had their own stalls in the Little Magazine Section, where more than 100 magazines put up their stalls, and were able to grab a lot of eyeballs. Swakanthey is a biannual, bilingual magazine and is described by Akanksha, a co-founder of Sappho for Equality, as a “platform where people can talk about issues of women sexuality” with contributors not only from the community, but also from the “mainstream” society, including renowned poets, journalists and activists. This book fair saw the 15th issue of the magazine getting released. Dum Dum Swikriti released the 8th issue of their annual bilingual magazine Swikriti Patrika. On the other hand, Pratyay Gender Trust did not set up a different stall and instead chose to sell Prakashye through other stalls, including that of Swikriti and Sappho. “Our target audience is civil society at large, regardless of orientation. We did not limit ourselves to one particular stall,” said Anindya Hajra, coordinator of Pratyay Gender Trust.
Both Sappho for Equality and Dum Dum Swikiriti agreed that unlike previous years, people were more forthcoming and their stalls were never empty. “There is a difference… the scenario has changed quite a bit. We did not face reluctancy, which we faced until last year,” said Akanksha. That such efforts are finally bringing in a change in the society can be gauged by this incident that Akanksha recalls happily, “A unique thing happened twice this time. A mother took her daughter to our table and requested us to share our views with her daughter, who was in 9th standard.” The book fair has thousands of people from all walks of life coming in each day. So, when Swikiriti Patrika overdid their sales of last year, and Prakashye sold around 400 copies in just three days, there is a reason to be upbeat. “In Book Fair, many non-community people also buy our magazines and ask us about our work, so we directly reach out to the society,” points out Kunal of Swikriti. Sappho for Equality far exceeded their own expectations when they sold out more than 4800 copies of Swakanthey this year. “We were so excited that we marched throughout the ground on the last day with posters, rainbow flags and a got a huge attention. We use the Book Fair as a tool to advocacy,” said Akanksha.
Ecstatic at the response each of them have got this year, they plan to sell more copies of their magazines through various
channels throughout the year. Pratyay has launched Prakashye as a quarterly magazine, and the magazine can be bought from their office, and will also be available at various bookstores, including the Worldview Bookstore in Jadavpur University. They also plan to send copies of the magazine to all district libraries in West Bengal. Swikriti and Sappho also have similar plans.
While there has been a surge in magazines on gay issues in English, the void left behind due to lack of such magazines in regional languages is being filled by Swakanthey, Swikriti Patrika and Prakashey. It must not be forgotten, that a large population of this country still does not speak or read English, and if the message of love and equality needs to be spread, more of such publications in regional languages are required. There is no reason to disagree when Akanksha says, “We have slowly been able to percolate in the public psyche. They have started thinking about LBT issues. People have shown very positive change.”
The first issue of Prakashye can also be read online for free at : http://issuu.com/prakashye-prasanga_jounota/docs/prakashye-proshongo_jounota?mode=embed&layout=http://skin.issuu.com/v/light/layout.xml