The month-long ‘Amar Ekushey Granthamela’ is perhaps the most eagerly awaited book fair in our country. Particularly enthused are the authors, publishers and readers.

However, the mela has had a chequered history. The book fair was the brainchild of the late Chittaranjan Saha, founder of the publishing house Muktadhara. He embarked on this front with a small sale in front of the Bangla Academy on February 21, 1972. Later, other book publishers joined in unofficially. Bangla Academy took over as the fair authority in 1978. In 1984 it was named ‘Amar Ekushey Granthamela’. Gradually it became the official and hugely popular book fair in Bangladesh.

Jawhar Lal Shaha, the current director of Muktadhara, The conversation covered Mukta-dhara’s history and involvement with the ‘Amar Ekushey Granthamela’.

Muktadhara embarked on its journey in the course of the Liberation War. In those days, eminent authors and journalists, who were being forced to take shelter in Kolkata from Bangladesh, regularly gathered at Syed Ali Ahsan’s (National Professor) temporary residence in Kolkata. All of them were fired with the zeal to do something for the country. Chittaranjan Shaha regularly met and encouraged them to write for the country and took upon himself the responsibility to publish their writing.?

After that, the artistes established the Swadhin Bangla Shahi-tya Parishad and Chittaranjan established Muktadhara in Kolkata,? said Jawhar Lal Shaha, who is also the brother-in-law of the late Chittaranjan.

Jawhar also pointed out that throughout the nine months of the Liberation War, Muktadhara published 32 books on the war.

Talking about his role in the establishment of Muktadhara, Jawhar said, I used to assist Chittaranjan Shaha in publishing.?

After the Liberation War, Chittaranjan returned to Bangladesh and continued his mission by publishing creative works of noted and upcoming authors under the aegis of Muktadhara.

About Muktadhara’s involvement with the Amar Ekushey Granthamela, Jawhar Lal said that initially (in the early 70s) the Bangla Academy used to arrange only weeklong programmes to mark Language Day. In the course of such an event, in 1972 Chittaranjan Shaha began to sell books at the Bangla Academy premises, seated on the ground.

In 1974, Bangla Academy arranged a collection of literary books. In the same year, Chittaranjan further developed his idea and built a stall.

Gradually some other publishing houses, including Khan Brothers, Chalantika, Boighor and Chittagong Boighor, joined hands with Muktadhara. In 1978, Bangla Academy, in collaboration with Bangladesh Pustak Prokashok O Bikreta Samiti, arranged a full-fledged book fair for the first time.

Aptly, last year (2008), Bangla Academy dedicated the book fair to the late Chittaranjan Shaha and placed a portrait of him at the fair. However Jawhar urged the authorities to pay a fitting tribute to the pioneer by setting up a permanent stall or place for Muktadhara.