Tripura publishing industry: making a mark despite all odds

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Despite poor connectivity and dearth of printing infrastructure, the north-eastern states in India are bringing out quality publications in multi-languages. Here, Subhabrata Deb, secretary, Tripura Publishers Guild outlines the challenges in publishing in north-eastern states, especially Tripura.

Journey down the memory lane

Subhabrata DebPublishing is a century-old business in Tripura, starting with grace of the then Maharajas of the state. They published Raj-Ratnakar and Rajmala in Bengali language about 150 years back. At the end of the Eighteenth century, a publication came out on Kokborok language which was written and published by Daulat Ahmed from the Sonamura sub-division of west Tripura District. I believe, that is a landmark in the publication scenario of Tripura state.

Publishers, especially those who published non-text books, viz. literature, history etc, faced a lot of problems. During mid-fifties, a lot of books were published, mainly of poetry, travelogues and plays. But all these were not for sale, but for distribution free of cost among the friends, relatives and authors.

The sixties saw a lot of little magazines published mostly in Bengali language, which provided platform for upcoming writers. The major landmark was a collection of short stories by Bimal Chowdhury published by Pounami Prakashan of Agartala in the 1970s. That collection was titled Taranath O Chandrabijoy (Taranath and Journey to the moon). Though there were only 3-4 part-time publishers, still they brought out some valuable literary publications at that time.

In the year 1981, with first Agartala Book Fair held at Agartala – scenario of publishing started to change very rapidly and beyond one’s expectation. In March 2009, we completed 27th year of Agartala Book Fair achieving substantial dynamics.

Publishing industry…today

It is indeed achievement to reckon with that there are now 30 active publishers having a record of 250 titles every year from Tripura, in Bengali, Kokborok, Manipuri and other tribal languages.

Challenges and maladies

I believe that one needs to be highly enterprising to be in the publishing business in the north eastern states. As a publisher from this region since 1987, I feel that it is a mammoth task, especially in Tripura, which is almost surrounded by international boundary and aviation is still the basic route to travel to other parts of India. Though railways and roads are there, but still the connectivity is very poor.

Lack of printing and publishing infrastructure in the region compels publishers to take support from Kolkata to produce their publications/books. Cost per unit of the printed book gets enhanced and the bulk books transported all the way from Kolkata to Agartala, hinge extra cost. Besides, the usual print run of 500 copies is not at all viable and sometimes, it even takes more than 2-3 years to sell the 500 copies stock.

Most of the publishers are first-generation publishers, but with the brief publishing courses from NBT and some other organisations, helped them get a professional outlook.

Apart from that, our authors are also not professionals, simply because they are not properly paid for their creation. I don’t think that there is any full time professional author in Tripura, who is living on his writing. The scenario has now started changing and soon there would be healthy changes.

On a concluding note…

Despite all these challenges and maladies, publications from Tripura are now deep rooted. Our leading publishers are regularly taking part in the book fairs countrywide since last two decades and have established their multi-lingual role in publishing by bringing out books in Bengali, Kokborok, Manipuri, and other minor languages. Soon, Tripura would emerge as the alternative centre of publishing.

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