The Wordsmith Speaketh

ICE Today converses with the young yet accomplished writer, Kingkor Ahsan about the state of book reading and selling in Bangladesh and what steps he has taken to increase the sales of his creations

“Why can’t every month be February?” says Kingkor Ahsan in dismay when we sit down to discuss February’s Boi Mela. He explains that in other countries, writers are involved in writing on a full-time basis. Throughout the year they visit various places, interact with people and speak about their work. Writers in Bangladesh don’t have that same opportunity. Following this statement, we decided to find out more about what individual actions he has taken to ensure that his books are being read by many more.

When did you start writing?
I started writing pretty early, around the age of 14. I used to write for Prothom Alo Bondhu Shobha when I was in Dhaka University. Then I joined Kaler Kantho where I found the topics I had to write on so mediocre. For example, I had to write about how to harvest pigeons or how to run a rock cement business. Since I love fiction, I used to make things up and write them, which is obviously not a good attitude for a journalist.

I did this once at Prothom Alo too while covering a story on achievement speeches. Most of the speeches were the same, so I made them up. Before it got published, I was called out by my superior. This was a learning experience for me. Rather than writing about how to run a rock cement business, I could write a much better story on the person running the business. At that point, my superior told me that the scope for that kind of writing in newspapers is very limited. So, I moved to advertising industry.

Have you ever thought about why you enjoy writing?
I believe everyone has something to say. We say that in everyone’s writing there is a book, which is their subconscious or attojibon.

I used to write letters to my friends. As I kept writing, I started to feel a desire within me to see my name published somewhere. I liked the idea of sharing my thoughts with others even though it was not necessary that they would agree with my opinions. I believe that the world is beautiful because people have different thoughts and opinions. Let’s think our own thoughts and talk about them. That was the point when I started writing for real.

How many books have you published till now? How has your approach to readers and publishers changed over the years? Are you content with the number of books that are sold?
Bibiana is my 11th book.

When my 7th novel, Modhyobitto, was released, I saw that there were book groups with many members on Facebook discussing it. When they started sharing their thoughts, I broke free from the idea of shying away. I realized then that I was not committing a crime. Even a man who sells tehari in the market knows that his tehari is good so he calls out to people, advertising his creation. Similarly, I also need to let people know this is my book and this is what it is about. Whether they like it or not is up to them.

A professional publisher must know the steps to publish a book, how distribution works, how to work collaboratively with the author to promote the book, rather than just focusing on the capital one may need to publish a book. This concept is more or less absent in Bangladesh. In our country, publishing a book means, there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony and that’s about it. That was when I realized that I had to do some work on advertising my novels, so I created the first trailer for a book, based on my novel, Modhyobitto.

Till now, 6000 copies of Bibiyana have been sold. I don’t want to be content with selling only 6000 copies. People may congratulate me and assume that this is a cause for celebration for me, but I think in a country of 160 million people, at least 10 million copies should be sold.

Throughout the year around 40 book fairs are being held in Bangladesh. Is this a good sign for writers?
The most significant aim of a book fair should be to create a trend for books, increasing its popularity and as a result, increasing its sales. In that sense, those fairs don’t really yield any results. One of the main aspects of selling a book is its merchandising, such as creating T-shirts, mugs, bookmarks, etc. It’s one of the approaches I’ve been using as well. A writer always hopes to increase their reach to readers. Therefore, I think book fairs should break out of their conventional practices, and come up with new and creative ways to create and attract readers.

When a book is written, the author usually writes it with a targeted audience in mind. Is your approach to creating novels similar?
I receive a lot of reviews on my books, and sometimes people share their perspectives on my novels, which ends up being different from what I had perceived when I wrote it. After Rajtontro, I had decided not to write any more novels. But Bangla Academy screen director sent me a letter once, as a fan, including his thought on one of my stories, Mohon. It dawned on me that his understanding of my story was much broader than what I had thought of myself when writing it. My aim is to write down the thoughts I hope and want to share with people, but my words are perceived differently by people from different walks of life, even the way they relate to the story is different.

People don’t read books these days because their attention span has reduced drastically. Is this an issue as a writer?
I think people are trend followers. If reading the novel Bibiana were to become a trend, then those who still haven’t read the book would be shamed by those who have.

How do you think we can convince more to become writers?
In previous generations, parents were invested in their kids attaining a conventional profession. However, nowadays, you can see parents willing to invest their time, money, and energy towards their children’s physical and mental recreation too, like sports. The availability of resources, such as training institutions has made it more feasible for children to pursue an athletic dream. This happened because of the illustriousness of a professional cricketer’s lifestyle. In the same way, if we believe that being a writer is a respectable and stable career path and we see models of this in our own lives, right?