In the past two weeks, Mahim resident Seema Samarth has already made around 10 trips and many more phone calls to Dadar’s Ideal bookstore as part of her Diwali preparations.
Like most Maharashtrian families in the city, she is desperately waiting to grab the first copies of her favourite annual festival reading, the Diwali anks.
“These seasonal magazines are the pride of Marathi culture, and an essential part of every Marathi house,” said Samarth (50), a television talk-show anchor who grew up reading anks such as Awaaz, Maher and Mauj.
Brought out by leading Marathi publishing houses and newspapers in the state, these magazines have traditionally been the most coveted platform for emerging writers and poets to showcase their oeuvre.
Today, the anks have moved beyond literature to include everything from religion and astrology to politics and health — a move that has only boosted their popularity among the average Maharashtrian. This year, as many as 345 Diwali specials are getting ready to hit the stands, and the ones already out are selling fast.
“Anks such as Mauj and Dipawali are a feast for the literary world, but people are also interested in a variety of new topics,” said Pramod Bapat (50), a banking professional from Borivli whose family diligently reads at least 20 magazines over the winter.
Take 55-year-old Rakhi De, for instance, who enjoys the cookery, embroidery and rangoli specials in anks such as Maher and Sri. “They make perfect reads when you’re tired of working or cooking, and have more content and colour than other monthly magazines,” said De, a Prabhadevi resident.
It is precisely to cater to such specific groups of readers that Ideal bookstore, the wholesale and retail epicentre for anks in the city, began publishing five anks of its own in 2004. These topical editions include titles such as Career, Dream Home, Fashion and Investment.
“We get experts and celebrities from the fields to write in these magazines, and most of them get sold out,” said Ideal owner Mandar Nerurkar.
However, some who view the present boom in the quantity of Diwali specials as a compromise on quality.
“Today, publishers have turned the ank industry into a kind of factory. There is too much publishing, but the standard of literature and taste of the humour have deteriorated,” said writer and critic Aroon Tikekar, who believes that readership for these magazines is now limited to housewives, middle-aged and senior citizens.
But young readers such as 12-year-old Alisha Masurkar, who came all the way from Gorai to Dadar to buy her favourite children’s magazines, seem to defy this perception.
“Children from English-medium schools don’t read in Marathi much, but I love the stories and cartoons in Diwali anks,” said Alisha, who studies in a Marathi-medium school.
Writer Vijaya Rajadhyaksha is optimistic that the sales of these magazines will not drop even though the new, English-oriented generations disregard them. “They may have no connection with Marathi culture, but there is a significant section of Maharashtrians from disadvantaged backgrounds who are now getting more education and love the anks,” she said.