We need to talk about Humayun

Courier Cultural Desk
Thursday, July 27th, 2017


Single-handedly, he breathed a new life in our once ailing publication industry. As he breathed his last, contrary to the popular belief, the industry has little to worry.


Plethora of essays has already been written in praise of Ahmed’s literary genius. Nevertheless, what is less talked about is how the mastermind built a brand, which was so successful that it gave an entire industry a phenomenal facelift. So, how did he do it? An avid reader as he was, Ahmed used to write not with a motive to create awareness among people, but to satisfy his own heart. He sipped an immense pleasure creating each of his characters and settings that were straightforward, commonplace, and humorous. In addition, almost all the characters he portrayed are day-to-day commoners, which enabled him to reach to masses with such aplomb. To occupy readers’ mind space, the secret ingredient in Ahmed’s recipe was simplicity. Now, my claim is that the brand managers can learn a lot from his approach and in next paragraph I will try to explain how they (brand managers) can do it.


Branding is nothing but storytelling. Following your heart is important while creating a brand image, however, the message should be simple and easily comprehensible and the story you have to offer has to be gripping. At the same time, discovering and unveiling hidden treasures of one’s own culture and making their association clear with the former can do magic for brands, which also is a lesson we can learn from Ahmed and his unending quest to surface folk arts and songs of rural Bangladesh. The third rule of thumb is to maintain the consistency. Had we been apt in digital technology on par with developed countries, there would have been thousand other franchises opened with intellectual products created by Ahmed.


For all those small and medium entrepreneurs out there too, Ahmed has some wisdom to share. He started small, with his novel Nondito Noroke, which instantly caught notice of many because of its distinctiveness in storytelling. This means if you are planning to venture into a new business, always try to offer something that stands apart from the crowd. As Al Ries and Jack Trout mentioned in their book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, ‘If you can, be first. If you can’t be first, create a new category in which you can be first.’ Ahmed was the first to write about the unexplored joys of the mundane life of the urban middle class of our country besides bringing forth their sobs, and failures, just like a complete family picture. Entrepreneurs too could come up with complete solutions or services with an aid of easy to handle devices or methods. They will have to keep inventing and reinventing and make customers keep coming back to them just as we kept going back to Himu and Misir Ali in search of anti-logic and logic respectively. It was a blessing for us as he branched out from literature to making films and drama serials. He collaborated with big production houses and ended up creating films that changed the way the middle class audience used to consider cinemas. That too is a lesson for small businesses. Those who dream big but have less to invest can, by dint of their primary success, tie up with big names to ultimately getting a big mileage from their small engine. In addition, all these lessons are here to stay for good and which is why Humayun Ahmed is also here to stay with us, truly, only if we know how to make the best use of the path showed by him.


Let’s shift our attention to our publication industry now.  As feared by many from the mentioned industry, the business is going to tumble every year, as the lion share of the sales in the book fair was from books by Humayun Ahmed. The answer lies in understanding the demographics of ours – 70% of which are youth and they literally grew up reading easy to digest, full of simple humor books of the writer. Besides the younger generation, the writer was a phenomenal craze among people, irrespective of their age and sex. As some of the publisher admitted that, they dared to publish books by other writers using the profit from selling Ahmed’s books.


So what lies ahead for the publishing industry? Will those doomsday prophecies made by the worried publishers come true? Apparently, they have a reason to lose sleep but in the end, if we look at the current trends in tastes of readers, it is evident that not all is lost. Yes, losing Ahmed is going to create a big gap in the industry, but this is the chance when plenty of other prospective writers can come forward and charm the readers, who are inspired by Ahmed. The fact is since the readers are already habituated to buy books at least during the Ekushey Book fair, in any ways, even to pay homage to their beloved writer, they will buy at least one book as that is something the writer himself would have wanted them to do. Moreover, to ignite their literature-thirsty soul, the publishing houses have to come forward to help create literary brands by endorsing writers, just like galleries in the west do to establish an artist. Now the whole process is not as easy as it sounds, but nothing is impossible.


If any visionary publisher tries to put his heart in it, then to create a popular writer, who of course has a way of telling riveting tales (and I am pretty sure we are good enough a nation to have plenty of those hidden, uncut gems) is not a mammoth task. Besides, the whole trend of buying books only during the month of February has to be changed. Around the world, good books come out every now and then and in the age of social media, it is so easy to spread the word of mouth and create a loyal fan base. There should be national intervention to create more readers. The publishing industry should get more thrusts from the government in the form of tax holiday, more stimulations and overall programs that will hook all those eager readers created by Humayun Ahmed with plenty of new, good books. Besides, being digitized with making ebooks readily available to cater to the tech-savvy busy urbanites and non-resident Bangladeshis should be on the agenda.


If all those people who showed up at his funeral at the Central Shaheed Minar made a vow that they would not let the sacred mission by the writer of creating a literature-savvy nation remain unaccomplished, and then definitely they are going to buy books. And publishers, instead of keep sighing wholeheartedly should cater to them with the bests they have to offer. Achieving that feat might not be a cakewalk, but as the writer said in one of his books, ‘we don’t wait for the dead; our all waiting is dedicated to the ones who are alive’; enough tear jerking; we must welcome the next best writer out there waiting to shine by following the path paved by Ahmed. Only then, his soul will truly rest in peace.

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