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        Volume 11 |Issue 31| August 03, 2012 |


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Special Feature

Without Him


Akram Hosen

"Around 75 percent of all the books that are published and sold in the country every year are written by Huamyun Ahmed," says AK Nasir Ahmed of Kakali Prakashani who has published more than 30 books by the late author. Since no statistical data is available to testify the claim, and since other publishers' opinions only support that of Nasir, we must assume that the claim has some truth in it.

Humayun Ahmed has undoubtedly been the best-selling author of the country for many years. The publishing industry in the country owes much of its present establishment to the immensely popular and steady flow of Humayun Ahmed's writings over the decades. Popular writer Anisul Haque informs that in 1972, Muktadhara was trying to establish itself as a publishing house. In its attempts to get people to buy books, campaigns with slogans like 'Present your loved ones with books on the new year's/birthdays' were launched. The publishing industry has travelled a lot since those days. "It flourished when Humayun sir became popular," says Haque. According to him, Humayun's contribution in the establishment is two-fold: his publishers became rich from the sales of his books and when they became rich, they ventured into books of research or serious essays by other writers; and secondly, when somebody comes to Banglabazar to buy Humayun's books, he doesn't return with only Humayun but takes some other writers as well. The same thing happens at the Ekushey Book Fair. The Book Fair and publishing houses have gained a lot from Humayun's popularity.

Haque further adds that before Humayun came to the scene and before the publishing houses were established, the market was saturated with pirated books from India. Moreover, books were hard to get outside Dhaka. “It is for him that Bangladeshi books are now available everywhere and I suppose the books that we write can be found in the district towns,” he says. Since the entire establishment of publishing owes so much to the one man, how will it deal with the fact that there won't be any new books by him again?

Huge black banners mourning Humayun's passing can be seen in the alleys of Banglabazar, where most of the publishing houses have their offices and presses. Quite predictably, the publishers are seeing an unprecedented surge in the demand of Humayun's books since his passing. CDs and DVDs of his TV plays and films are also sold in large numbers everywhere. Book store owners at Nilkhet are selling more books everyday than ever before. Md Monirul Hoque of Ananya Publication has published 35 books by Humayun. "I think this growing demand for his works will persist," he says. Humayun has well over 300 books to his credit. Not all of his readers have read each one of his books. Hence the demand for his older works will remain unchanged, predicts Monirul Hoque.

During the last week, Humayun's passing, his funeral, and the grief of his family have been extensively covered in both print and electronic media. "Thanks to the media blitz, the people who haven't read Humayun Bhai's works before are taking up his books now to see what is so special about him. So in a way, he has found a new readership now," says popular writer Imdadul Haque Milon. Besides, the size of the crowd at his funeral was a clear indication of his popularity as a writer. Milon predicts that his books will remain the best sellers in the next Book Fair. In a similar vein, Anisul Haque says that the next Book Fair will be dedicated to Humayun. "There are some unpublished works which will be published by that time. Many other books on his works and his interviews will be published," he says. As a result, Humayun's absence will not affect the sales this year, according to Haque. "Besides, nature doesn't like voids. After a couple of years or so we will get new writers," he adds. However, Haque felt Humayun's absence affecting the crowd in the last book fair and he told some publishers so. He thinks that it will be felt in the next book fair too.

The Amar Ekushey Granthamela will be bereft without one of the most popular writers of the country. Photo: Palash Khan

According to reports, the publishers are making huge profits from the recent rise in sales. Since the writer hadn't specified the inheritor of his royalty, some newspapers have gone so far as to claim that the publishers will be less than honest in dealing with the issue of royalty. As popular writers themselves, both Anisul Haque and Imdadul Haque Milon deny the possibility of any such thing happening. "The copyright owner is mentioned with publishers' details in almost all of his books. I suppose the person whose name is mentioned as the copyright owner of a book will get the royalty," Anisul Haque says, "That's how the industry works."

It has also been known that Humayun Ahmed didn't ever make any written deeds with his publishers. Many writers do not bother to make any written deeds with the publishers, informs Imdadul Haque Milon. "Huamyun bhai didn't do that and I don't do that either. I've been working with the publishers for many years now and I don't think that issues like copyright ownership and royalty will confuse anyone," he says.

The author's family is still struggling to bear the loss. Questions of royalty and inheritance haven't come in any of their public appearances. “I think it is insensitive of us journalists to talk about his distribution of royalty at the moment,” concludes Haque.

Farid Ahmed of Shomoy Prakashani, the executive director of Academic and Creative Publishers' Association of Bangladesh, has published 28 books by the author. He also asserts that the copyright owners mentioned in the books will get the royalties.

For all the talks about Humayun Ahmed's royalty and the possible decline in our publishing industry, very less is and has been done to contain piracy of books. It's not a secret that Nilkhet is the centre of all pirated books in Bangladesh. It's not only the expensive medical and engineering books or the novels of JK Rowling or Orhan Pamuk that get pirated in Nilkhet. Alamgir Rahman of Abashar Prakashani informs that Humayun's books were pirated more than once even when he was alive. Since it is very hard to control illegal commercial photocopying of books in Nilkhet, we need to be more conscious to prevent the books from being pirated, asserts Rahman.

The writer's death has spurred new interest in his works. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

On the question of the future of our publishing industry, eminent writer Selina Hossain does not think that Humayun's absence will make a great impact on the industry. She agrees that the industry has reached its present height through his popular novels. But she also thinks that the readers have become more serious than before in recent years. In the last five years, she points out that works by many other authors have been published in the book fairs. “From the list of sales published by Bangla Academy during the last Fair, we have found that the publishers didn't only sell 4500 copies of Humayun, but books by many other authors on a wide range of subject matters were sold at the fair,” she says. From the sales of books it is evident that a considerably large market has been created for books. “Obviously, there are readers for fat research books that win Bangla Academy's best seller awards during the fair,” she adds.

While the chances that readers of Humayun will begin to read other more serious writers all of a sudden are relatively low, the publishers hope that readers will keep buying his old books in the coming years. Moreover, Imdadul Haq Milon points out that Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Anisul Haque are very popular writers who sell a lot. “There are other young writers and hopefully more new writers will emerge in the next five years. But like Sharatchhandra, Rabindranath, Nazrul, Bibhutibhushan, Tarashankar and Manik, Humayun's books will be sold for years to come,” he says. However, he adds that in the realm of literature, an author who stands apart can never be replaced by another author.

The publishers, who have been coming up with one after another of his best sellers since the mid 80s, will not be presenting the readers with new Humayun books again. However, Bangla Academy's reports reflect a growing demand for research oriented, non-fiction works among the readers, which is a positive trend. Even if the publishing industry sees a temporary decline, it will continue to thrive in the future.

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