Growing Up With Anandamela

Anandamela is a well-known, and well-loved, Bengali children's magazine. It used to publish some of the best children's writing in Bengali during the late 70's, 80s and the 90s. Today, the quality has somewhat declined, especially after they split the original magazine into two - one catering to "children" and the other to "young adults". I don't know how much this exercise has been successful. It did not succeed with Target, another pioneering children's magazine, which tried the same experiment by becoming more "teen-focused" and ended up killing the whole thing. But I digress.

Anandamela - translated literally - means "fair of joy".

My introduction to Anandamela was the Puja annual issue of 1989. The Puja issue is much fatter than the regular magazine, and it's published during Durga Puja/Dussehra. For the 10 year old me, it was like a gateway to another world. My reading material at that time consisted mostly of my dad's stacks of Reader's Digests. I had not read Bengali before that, but it was not hard since the script is similar to the Assamese script, which I knew well. Understanding the language itself was not a problem - we had plenty of Bengali neighbours in the remote town in the Meghalaya where my dad was posted. After some initial hiccups, I finished it and craved for more. For the aficionados, this was the issue which had Bojro Lama - which I consider to be one of Sunil Gangopadhyay's best in the series - and Boni.

However, my relationship with the magazine remained confined to the annual issues due to the remoteness of the town we lived in. This changed when I discovered that my maternal grandparents' house, that we used to visit once a year, had stacks and stacks of Anandamela. My uncles and aunts - all 7 of them, my mother's brothers and sisters - were avid readers. The house they grew up in had 4 big towering bookcases filled with English, Assamese and Bengali books. My mother used to tell me how her brothers would save their pocket money, however small the amount, and buy comic books and magazines with it. These magazines included Anandamela. In fact, they had every single Anandamela issue from the first one, when it came out in the mid-70s, till 1984. The first Puja annual came out in 1971 before the periodical started. I devoured them all during my annual visits.

The first Anandamelas were bigger in size, the title font intentionally childish to denote its audience. After a while, the title font and design changed to the rainbow shaped one that stayed remained iconic a long time. The format became smaller after a few years - I don't remember when - around 15 x 21 inches, and then got bigger again. Years later in the mid-90s, the title moved to the straight line format that persists today.

I have quite a few left from my school days - most in good condition - which I could accumulate thanks to an indulgent mother. She continued to buy an occasional issue or two for me when I left home to study engineering, and later to find a job. After I started working I made sure the roles were reversed.

The singles date from the early 90s, while the annuals have been a continuing affair in our house till today.

There are efforts to digitize the old issues and some of them are available publicly.

Anandamela was my first real introduction to the vast stores of Bengali children's literature that exists out there. Although I don't read the magazine any longer - the authors and the novels that I got to know from it still form part of my reading list.


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