It was merely two months after the birth of Bangladesh in 1972 when a 46-year-old publisher came up with an innovative idea to pay homage to the 1952 language movement martyrs.
This publisher, Chittaranjan Saha, popularly known as ‘Dada’, displayed the books published by his publishing house Muktodhara Prokashoni next to the south gate of Bangla Academy to pay homage to the martyrs in the month of February.
The innovative idea and his sincere effort drew the attention of other publishers and later these attempts turned into Amar Ekushey book fair.
Jahar Lal Saha, the present director of Muktodhara Prokashoni and also brother-in-law of Chittaranjan Saha, said the day was so memorable as he was one of the eyewitnesses to the first attempts in 1972.
He said that day, Dada laid a sackcloth under a mango tree of the Bangla Academy and put on display 32 publications of his publishing house. Needless to say, the rest is history.
But the journey was not that easy.
According to Banglapedia, the seven-day long programme organised without any announcement laid down the foundation of the book fair.
Two years later in 1974, the books were sold from the very stall (eight feet by eight feet) set up by Muktadhara and the next year a few other publishing houses – `Nauroj Kitabistan’, ‘Khan and Brothers’ and ‘Boighar’ from Chittagong participated in the book fair in the same place at the initiative of Chittaranjan Saha, said Jahar Lal.
In 1979, Bangladesh Pustok Prokashok O Bikreta Samiti in collaboration with the Bangla Academy authority organised a book fair in the Bangla Academy courtyard. In 1984, a guideline was made and the first ever Amar Ekushe Boi Mela was held, he added.
After Chittaranjan Saha’s death in 2007, his wife Bizli Prova Saha published a book titled ‘ Chittaranjan Saha memorial book.’
According to the memorial book, born in 1927 at Chaumohani in Noakhali Chittaranjan obtained BA degree from Chaumohani College in 1948 and began publication business in 1951 and the name of his publication house was Punthighar.
Writer and journalist Amir Hossain in his article at the book said Chittaranjan might be inspired to get into publication business being influenced by reading books at a family library.
He moved to Dhaka’s Patuatuli and set up his Punthighar publication house there in 1956. Later the office was shifted to Banglabazar.
In 1967, Punthighar turned into a private limited and its head office was established in Farashganj. Later in 2002, the office was again relocated to Dhaka. This time the office was established at 22, Paridas road in Old Dhaka, said Amir Hossain.
During the liberation war in 1971, Chittaranjan went to Kolkata. There he met exiled Bangladeshi writers and convinced them to write for the country, Hashem Khan, an advisory committee member of Muktadhara, in his article at the book said.
He published 32 books during the liberation war, founding Muktadhara Prokashoni in Kolkata. The first book published under this house was Roktakto Bangla which included writings of noted writers like Zahir Raihan and Ahmed Sofa and was edited by Prof Anisuzzaman. Eminent artist Quamrul Hassan illustrated the logo of Muktadhara, said Hashem Khan.
These books were displayed and sold in February 1972.
Till date, Muktodhara has published over 2,000 books.
Abul Kashem, former high official of Jatiya Grantha Kendra, said Chittaranjan Saha pioneered mobile library that traveled and arranged single stall fair throughout the country to develop the habit of reading among children and youths.
Researcher and writer Morshed Shafiul Hasan in his article at the book wrote that Muktadhara might be the only house that provides royalty to the writer in time. The publishing house has its own reviewer and editing committee as well. And once the reviewer says the book is worth publishing it is published following the writer’s consent.
If the current publication houses have half of the professionalism like Muktadhara the sector would have been established as an industry, he added in his writeup.
As the recognition of his work, Chittaranjan Saha has received many accolades. He was awarded the Ekushey Padak and the Vidyasagar Puraskar in 2005, a gold medal for being the best publisher in 1997 and the Natyasabha Puraskar in 1988.