Sunday, January 29, 2012

India's first one-page magazine

India's first one-page magazine
A railway clerk in Kolkata has found a place in the Limca Book of Records for writing, editing and publishing India's first one-page pay-as-you-like literary magazine.
Apoem greets you at the door as you enter the modest railway quarters that stand near the Baranagar ticket counter on the northern outskirts of Kolkata. To the right is a garden. From petunia and pansies to broccoli, aloe vera, even giant-sized brinjals - the garden has it all. Every plant stands tagged with a hand-painted wooden sign that you'd mistake for a new-age scarecrow. The plaques carry poems in Bangla; a different one dedicated to each plant.
This is Aribinda Singha's land of flower and poetry; what he calls Phool-O-Kobitar Desh. Singha, a writer has been conceiving, editing, publishing and selling India's first bi-annual singlepage literary magazine at the Kolkata Bookfair since 1994. Ekti Kobita, published in English, Hindi and Bengali, carries stories interspersed with poetry, and is the country's first 'pay-as-you-like' magazine.
Enough reason for Singha to find place in the Limca Book of Records last year. It all began when he was a class V student in Egra. A teacher, Haripada Sashmal, used a unique way to get the kids' creative nerve ticking. "He'd take us to the school garden and ask us to write an impromptu poem on a flower. My father, a clerk in the military audit office, would write a daily diary. He inspired me. My parents, both fans of literature, even named my brother Rabindranath," says Singha.
If poetry is his passion, yoga is what he terms an obsession. Singha has conceived what he calls the Spider, a unique yoga asana that he developed to strengthen his biceps. "I haven't thought of patenting it," he smiles, rummaging through a heap of old issues of Ekti Kobita. The thought of editing a literary magazine struck the 46-year-old in 1991. Frequent visits to newspaper offices to submit articles were marked by rejection. "It prompted me to write a poem on the high-handed attitude of the boro potrikar boro babura (editors of magazines). Around then, I decided to launch a magazine that didn't carry a price tag. It didn't bother me if people sniggered and offered me one paise!" says Singha, adding the maximum price his mag has fetched is 50. But his fondest remuneration is the Indian flag he received from a little boy in 2008 in exchange for Ekti Kobita. The cost of production for each issue is 1.75. Singha prints 15,000 copies at a time, all picked up by visitors at the Book Fair. "Unless bad weather prevents people from turning up, I don't incur a loss," smiles Singha who holds a job as a clerk with the Indian Railways, and moonlights as one of the official lyricists for All India Radio.
A harmonium that sits on a diwan near a window sill spilling with books along a wall, hand-painted in acrylics, becomes the centerpiece of the room and testimony to Singha's fascination for music. In 2011, he released a CD inspired by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Banglar Baghini Mamata (Bengal's Tigress, Mamata). "I would frequent didi's home when she was a Congress worker. I'm not sure if she remembers," says Singha, admitting that he doesn't exist beyond the arts. At the Book Fair, he says he happily stands for six hours at a stretch, trying to sell his magazine. "My legs hurt but I don't take a break. My passion gives me strength." That his wife, Sumana, doesn't mind the quirks, helps. "Even our five-year-old daughter, Sudhagni, is happy when I sing and paint."
Having a mention in the Limca Book of Records has made him somewhat of a star in the family, but life for Singha is quite the same. "Can someone ask the Railways to get my quarter repaired? The washroom door is broken and the roof of my kitchen is about to cave in. I've complained but nobody bothers."
A record-breaker must grapple with mundane challenges of living too.
Ekti Kobita in numbers
1 (number of pages the magazine holds)
1.75 (cost of producing one copy, in Rs)
15,000 (number of copies printed at a time)
50 (maximum price he has received for the magazine, in Rs)


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