When the month-long Ekushey Book Fair is going on amid a lot of enthusiasm, a very few people know that a library played a vital role in shaping up the concept of book fair in the country. The library, named as 'Sudhijan Pathagar', situated in Narayanganj was the pioneer institute introducing the book fair in Bangladesh.
It happened in 1970. Sudhijan Pathagar was just six years old. The founders and activists of the non-government public library took an initiative to organise a 'cultural week' on the premises of Narayanganj Club. A major part of the grand event was a week-long book fair. With support from the Central Bengali Development Board (Kendrio Bangla Unnayan Board) and the National Book Centre, the younger library and cultural activists of Narayanganj took the challenge to organise the week-long book fair, the first of its kind in the country.
Two individuals, however, worked actively behind the scene. One was Sarder Jayenuddin, the then director of National Book Centre. The other was Fazle Rabbi, the then publication officer of Bangla Academy. Mr Rabbi was also the founder secretary of the library. He had also served as director of the National Book Centre for two decades. He is now the seniormost book expert of the country and also a pioneer of library movement.
In fact, these two people are the pioneers of the book fair in Bangladesh. During the early '60s, the Bangla Academy collected a good number of English books on different subjects. One of those was 'The Wonderful World of Books' written and edited by Alfred Stefferud. Mr Rabbi read the book and handed over it to Mr Jayenuddin. He also shared with him the idea of book fair mentioned in the book. Mr Jayenuddin also went through the book and felt excited about the idea. He started thinking of organising a book fair in Dhaka. As a result, in 1965 he took an initiative to organise a day-long children book fair on the ground floor of the central public library in Dhaka.
Notably, in 1967, a similar kind of day-long book fair was organised in Jessore by Professor Md Sharif Hossain. It was a solo effort of the educationist who continued the event for several years. For the first couple of years, it was a day-long event which later turned into a week-long book fair and spread to few other places in greater Jessore. He is also another pioneer of the book fair in the country.
When it comes to institutional efforts, it is the Sudhijan Pathagar in Narayanganj which played the pioneering role in introducing the book fair. The week-long book fair in October 1970 is a landmark event, though not properly recognised.
The library started its journey very humbly in 1964 in a small neighbourhood in Narayanganj. But from the very beginning, it started drawing attention of the people. Eminent scholars, educationists, poets and other litterateurs regularly visited the library in the early days. They include Dr Muhammad Enamul Haque, Prof Muhammad Abdul Hye, Prof Syed Ali Ahsan, Prof Munir Chowdhury, Dr Sanjida Khatun and many others.
The Sudhijan Pathagar enlivened the cultural arena of Narayanganj in the late '60s by initiating a book-centric cultural movement. While promoting the book reading habit was the prime objective of the library, it got involved with different cultural activities and publications. The library suffered a big jolt in 1971 when a large number of collections were destroyed and burnt by the collaborators of the Pakistan Army during the Liberation War.
The organisers, however, reunited after the independence of Bangladesh and dedicated themselves to rebuilding the library. They were teachers, businessmen, bankers, self-employed people and students. For decades they have been working to improve the library service.
The library published two valuable books, 'Narayanganjer Itihash' (The History of Narayanganj) and Bong Shongskritier Shotobarsha (100 Years of the Culture of Bengal). In the course of time, the library developed and organised a series of creative and educational activities including Bengali spelling workshops for teachers and students and book reading programmes for students and professionals. Last year the Sudhijan Pathagar introduced the mobile library service at different schools of Narayanganj.
In this February the Sudhijan Pathagar stepped into the 54th year of its existence. Housed in a three-storied building, it is bearing its operational expenses from the rents of the first two floors. It has a collection of more than 25,000 books with some rare ones.
Today, it is widely acknowledged that Chittaranjan Shaha, the founder of Muktodhara, was the pioneer of the book fair. But this is a factual error. No doubt he played a very important role in development of the publication industry in Bangladesh and also contributed to promoting the book fair. Labelling him as the pioneer of the book fair is not correct.
In fact, comprehensive research is needed to preserve all details of the history of book fair where the roles of different individuals and institutions will be delineated properly. The Sudhijan Pathagar rightly deserves its place in that history book.
Front side of Sudhijan Pathagar in Narayanganj
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