Assamese Book Publishing takes a hit Compared to English, other Languages
GUWAHATI: The publication of Assamese books, mainly fiction and literature, has taken a hit in comparison to the publication of books in other languages such as English or Hindi. This applies to both within the state and in the country.
“Since two-three years, the publication of Assamese books has significantly come down. Earlier, sales were good but now our best-selling book is the Hindi-to-Assamese dictionary,” said a salesman from a bookstore in Pan Bazar that only keeps books (fiction, literature, academic) in Assamese.
Speaking at the Press Club in Guwahati recently, senior journalist DN Chakravarty said that while publication of books in English and Hindi have increased in India, the rate of publication of Assamese books is very low when compared to English, Hindi, Bengali and south Indian languages.
“The market for Assamese writers has diminished and so publication has declined as well. There is lesser margin for them and thus, demand has also decreased,” said the salesman from Pan bazar.
One of the main reasons for this diminishing market is that students in English-medium schools now don’t opt to study Assamese if they are given a choice to study another language, according to a saleswoman who owns a bookshop in Pan Bazar.
“Even if the children are Assamese, born and brought up here (Assam), since they don’t learn Assamese in school, they don’t know how to read and write the language. So the demand is continuously decreasing. If one cannot understand the words that are written on the page, how will books in that language sustain?” she questioned, saying that it was a rather sad thing to witness.
While Chakravarty said that in terms of comparative contemporary Indian literature, the most number of books in the country are being published in English and Hindi, while south Indian languages have now surpassed Bengali, which used to dominate India’s book market throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, owing to the fact that Bengal produced some of the best writers in the country.
He however added that important monthly magazines such as ‘Awahan’ and ‘Ramdhenu’ have produced a number of Assamese writers, including several women writers who could give even some of the more-literature-rich-languages in the world a run for their money.
“It’s not like Assamese literature and fiction are dying, but the numbers have significantly gone down. Some people still come in and ask for books by popular authors like Anuradha Sharma Pujari, Rita Choudhury etc but it’s difficult to sell books of new writers. I have to push them to people, give the story and hype it up a little bit to make those sales,” said the saleswoman.
Another complaint that publishers and book-sellers in the city had regarding the declining number of Assamese publications is that the online market is ruining the scene. Since people now mostly buy many things online, they are spoilt for choice and an Assamese title is probably their last choice.
“One of the saddest things however is that readers have decreased overall, irrespective of any language they read in.
Earlier, people used to read. Nowadays, people are mostly glued to their phones all the time, especially the younger generation. They don’t have a book in their hand, but a screen,” said the saleswoman.
In contrast to this, Assamese academic books are not faring so badly. Since there are certain books that have to be published in Assamese, such as Assamese grammar and language texts, they are still doing well in the market.
“Since Assam is not a very city-based place, for a lot of the regional schools here, their main language of learning is Assamese. Thus, the academic Assamese books sell. The strength of the language still exists, even though it might be less in some cases because of English or Hindi,” said a leading publisher from the city.
He added that in a lot of the other northeastern states, English has become very popular and they are losing their regional language, but that it is not the case in Assam. At least, not in terms of academic books. “They still sell,” he said.
He also mentioned that since they have more books in English, if a certain title does well with the English crowd, they also try and take out a translated version of the said title in Assamese.