Saturday, 19 September 2015

Recalling College Street (Part I): Dey's Publishing

WPC has taken an initiative to document the history of the leading Bengali publishing houses of Kolkata. Shubhankar Dey, the third generation representative of Dey’s Publishing, in a conversation with  Aitrayee Sarkar, revealed the history of the house.

On history of Dey’s Publishing 

Shubhankar: Our publication business formally started in 1970-71. But my grandfather Bhagaban Chandra Dey was involved in book-trade long before that. He came to Kolkata at the age of 14 only and used to work as a gatekeeper in a local corporation school then. The headmaster of that school had written a book and my Dadu used to sell them in various counters in College Street after the school hours. That probably made him interested in book-trade. Later, he rented a window-shop in Shyamacharan Dey Street. The shop was known as Dey Book Stall then. That was our first shop in College Street. Gradually, he brought in his sons to the city from our native village in East Midnapore. Then my father, Shudhangshu Dey took over from there and founded Dey’s Publishing.   

Shudhangshu Dey came to Kolkata around 1967-68 after passing the school leaving examination. My grandfather wanted him to work in our book-shop in the day time and study in the evening. So he took admission to the evening section of the Surendranath College.     
Shakti Chattopadhyay with Shudangshu Dey (third from left)

On beginning of your life as a publisher

Shubhankar: Honestly, I cannot tell you a specific date or year about my first encounter with our family business. I was born and brought up surrounded by books. Apart from school hours, I used to spend all the remaining time in our book shop only. I still remember that I had no other option but to skip school for 12 days for attending the Kolkata Book Fair. In childhood days, I used to love putting delivery stamps on bills and handing over books to buyers packing in bags. That was my favourite duty. And with time I started loving each and every aspect of book-making.

On memories with writers

Shubhankar: Oh, its really hard to figure out what to say and what not. I have a vivid memory of interacting with great writers and artists. Many of them used to come to our shop regularly for work purpose, but mostly for adda. I accompanied my father on uncountable occasions to residences of many great personalities. I came across Samaresh Basu, Shakti Chattopadhyay or Purnendu Patri etc regularly as a child. In fact, I once requested Purendu Patri to help me in my school drawing. Hence, publication does not mean a mere business to me. It transformed in to a life style. 

Shubhankar Dey (first form the right) with Shankha Ghosh
On developed book-production by Dey’s in recent time

Shubhankar: There has been a sea change in style of book-production in last 10 or 15 years. One needs to update and upgrade continuously to sustain in such a hardcore competitive market. You have to adapt to that system. One has to be spot on with the packaging of products all the time otherwise; things can get wrong. 

Not only production the choice of readers has also changed. As a result, now we produce more subjective Bengali books than ever. Earlier, subjective book making was considered as a popular trend in English only but that trend transferred to regional languages now. Now-a-days reprints have become extremely popular. Dey’s recently published valuable reprints like Debganer Martye Agomon, Shibnath Shashtri’s Atmachorit, Girish Chandra Ghosh by Abinash Gangopadhyay etc. We also published collection of old magazines like Balak, Khudhartho etc.

On selecting unique subjects for publication

Shubhankar: There is no alternative of having a first hand knowledge of the subject. But that is almost impossible. So, we generally approach experts on specific topics. For e.g Dey’s, jointly with the School of Cultural Texts and Records of Jadavpur University, has recently published a list of the first five Bengali childrens' magazine. I noticed that those magazines used to publish huge number of riddles for children regularly. Later, I requested the Editor of the previous book to prepare a collection of those riddles and published it as Chotoder Dhnada (1880-1930). So, subject selection is a continuous and interactive process.  

On growing price of book

Shubhankar: See price of a blank paper can change but its value become fixed once you put something on that. The amount of one-time investment a publisher makes for a book is quite high. And if the book does not do well then we have no other option but to sell out them in Boi Bazar. 

Dey's publishing's stall in Kolkata book fair
There are people who consider publishing business from different perspective all together. But with due respect, I want to say, after all it’s a business. We have to sustain over that. Particularly, for Dey’s, publishing is the lone source of earning. One has to remember that families of our employees also depend on publishing only.  

But I must say, price of Bengali books is still comparatively low than any other Indian language. However, in terms of quality we are much ahead of many.

On digitization of Bengali books

Shubhankar: Dey’s has already launched itself in digital platform. At least 50 books of Dey’s is already available in e-book format and more to come. 

On current readership

Shubhankar: Stories and novels are still high on demand. Collection of essays is another favourite of readers. Of late, Dey’s has received huge response from the first volume of Abanindranath Tagore’s Rachanaboli and Rituparno Ghosh’s First Person. But overall its difficult to figure out which book would do well and which not. So, keeping a close eye on readership-trend is a must.     

The interviewer is an editor of WebPressClub

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