On June 14, the cult followers of the most beloved Sheba Prokashoni got the biggest shock in their lives: Kazi Anwar Hossain is not the real author of most of the books of the thriller series Masud Rana. It's actually Sheikh Abdul Hakim who wrote 260 out of 460 books. The famous writer and founder of paperback pioneer of Bangladesh Qazi Anwar Hossain actually wrote the first 11 books.
Although their glory days are long gone, Masud Rana and Qazi Anwar Hossain are both big brands in the world of books in Bangladesh. Anwar truly pioneered paperback publication from 1964, with the beginning of publication of Kuasha, a series surrounding a controversial scientist and then made it big with Masud Rana, the James Bond of Bangladesh (then Pakistan).
The books were cheap in price, fun to read and very accessible and very intriguing. Yes, of course we knew from our childhood that many of these books were adopted from foreign thrillers and comic books. But it did not matter to us.
We started with reading Kuasha in the early seventies- because it was deemed 'friendly' for young readers like me. Masud Rana was a read for adults-- my elder brothers—because, like James Bond, Rana did adult stuff that my elder brothers would not want me to read.
We were hooked to the Kuasha series. Every month there was a new Kuasha and often the last book would leave readers on a cliff-hanger. So we would impatiently wait for the new one to come out.
We lived in Baily Road—not far from the Sheba Prokashoni office in Segun Bagicha. When we had money to buy books—but a new episode of Kuasha was still far away—we would go there anyway. The smell of press ink and grease would excite us from far away as we would approach the publishing office, which would welcome us with heaps of books at the entry. From there, we would pick up books that we have not read: the Bhoyal Series written by Rahat Hossain, for instance; or a collection of short thrillers like Poncho Romance (which had some adult content, considering our age). We would occasionally get a glimpse of Qazida, as Qazi Anwar Hossain was popularly called, and felt thrilled but too shy to talk to him.
We collected all Sheba books throughout the seventies. My elder brother collected Masud Rana and we collected the rest. Our home was full of books and comics back then.
I was 10 when my father, a bureaucrat, was transferred to Chittagong in 1976. And the last book I read back then was perhaps Kuasha 44 or something. Soon after, we came to Chittagong, and we realised that the Kuasha books reach here at least one week after its publication. We went so crazy for Kuasha 45 that we called up our bookworm friend in Dhaka (who was our regular walking partner to Sheba) and told him that if he bought the next book, he should at least let us know what happened next. Remember; back in those days, we had to call Dhaka from Chittagong via something called a "Trunk Call" where you give the number to an operator and he would put through the call for you if there is a calling slot available.
My friend Palash in Dhaka was so excited to get hold of the next episode that not only did he called us to share the next story, but he tore the book in parts and mailed the book in two envelopes.
We were that kind of fans.
We came across the name "Kazi Abdul Hakim" in the mid-seventies. A Sheba book called "Bipod Shanket" written by Hakim is the first time I noticed there was another writer. From then on, there were several books under his name. We found that Hakim also wrote as good as Kazida.
Throughout the eighties, Sheba continue to flourish. Sheba discontinued the Kuasha series after 71 books but it brought out a whole new set of series—including three (teen) detectives that gained enormous popularity.
In the eighties, Rana books would be sold by thirty-forty thousand an episode. This sort of sales is unthinkable now.
By the eighties, we started to hear that the real writer of Rana was actually not Anwar Hossain but Sheikh Abdul Hakim. Anwar Hossain, by then we realised, was an intelligent entrepreneur in the under developed book market. He set a standard for Bangla paperbacks and a group of writers under his guidance continued to bring out wide variety of adaptations.
The paperback business became so booming that many new publishers came out in the seventies and eighties. Some of our friends used to write for them. I was involved in making some book covers.
From the nineties onward, the paperback industry became less innovative. From then on, the journey was downwards—as it is today.
The paperback industry led by Sheba has fuelled the imagination and possibilities across generations of this country. This is very important because our society is not imaginative or creative. While it did not create original writers, the paperbacks engaged a huge number of young people and inspired them to be creative.
The feud between Qazi Anwar Hossain and Sheikh Abdul Hakim is purely financial. Anwar Hossain had denied him the cut promised for writing books under his name - so Hakim claimed the authorship. While this tarnished the image of Anwar, let us not undermine the Sheba Prokashoni publications. Let there be more paperbacks.