Sunday, January 3, 2010

Collecting the maiden book copies at book launches...!!!

Pillar of strength to the literary world

He has an exclusive hobby that any one in the world would have. It is collecting books. Not merely collecting books but collecting the maiden book copies at book launches. If there is a book launch, you see around you will surely see this wonderful person. Because he is hardly excluded in such ceremonies. Of course it is hard to exclude him when writers know his generosity. And he is the only one in Sri Lanka who undertakes in publishing maiden books of talented writers who find it difficult to bear the cost of printing totally out of his expenses.

He makes their dreams come true - those who are interested in writing and are unable to see their work in print. That is no doubt a great encouragement and a noble favour for writers whose dream is to publish a book yet wait years and years, finally frustrated and give up writing. Now, those budding writers no longer have to shed tears out of desperation having being so far unable to publish their maiden book. There is this god-sent book lover to wipe out their tears.

Puravalar (philanthropist) Hassim Omar is a philanthropist in the very sense of the word. He is a king who helps the needy and talented writers. As a king is responsible for his kingdom, this king is responsible for the kingdom of literature. Our history bears many witnesses of kings who made a mammoth contribution to the field of literature. Puravalar Hassim Omar is the latest addition in that list of kings.

Who else in the world is fortunate than Hassim Omar to possess as huge a collection as nearly 500 maiden book copies? His name should be written in the Guinness Record Book in this regard as he is the one and only person who had purchased a huge amount of first book copies at book launches. “Most of the writers in Sri Lanka are rich in talent but poor in money. That is why I buy their first copies at functions” He says. It is a custom that at a book launch the chief guest is expected to make a small monetary donation to the author of the book. Our protagonist is lavish in his donation for authors. They never receive less than Rs. 5,000. It sometimes exceeds Rs.25,000 depending on the financial status of the author.

In fact Sri Lankan writers are fortunate because they have a benevolent publisher who thinks “The plight of the Sri Lankan writers are pathetic. That is why I embarked on a task like this to help them to market their books and to recover invested money on their creations.” The buzz of his lavish contribution at book launches received feathers and flew overseas. Thus Omar constantly received invitations from India, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand for book launches. “It is a great honour to me when the world famous Indian Agricultural Scientist Dr. R. Swaminathan who introduced green revolution to India invited me for his book launch. I bought the maiden copy of his book,” he proudly reminisces.

Hassim Omar is of Memon origin who was born in India. Though his mother tongue is Gujarati, he studied in Tamil language when they settled in Sri Lanka. His Alma Mater is St. Mary’s College, Kegalle. “I am not a great scholar. I studied only up to grade 10. Then I embarked on my own business,” he humbly reveals. Hard work paid off. With his hard work he stands a gigantic business figure in the country today. He is now spending time leisurely rendering various favours for the needy but with no publicity. “Now I do not have to work hard. Because the money I have earned is now earning money for me.” He smiles restfully.

He established his publishing house- Puravalar Puththaga Punga in 1999 which is a treasure park for budding writers in Sri Lanka. It has hitherto published 20 books. The theme of the publishing house is “Madham Oru Nul” - one month one book. It is not on the purpose of making profits for Omar himself by publishing books. It is absolutely for the purpose and profit of the authors. He undertakes the huge task of publishing and holding a book launch on his account. Whoever the fortunate author does not have to spend a single cent for that.

I asked him, being the owner of a publishing house, if he intends to publish any book under his authorship. “No, if I write a book, I will consider it as the best book of the world. That is the normal psychology. Then I will underestimate other writers and it is an injustice for them. And it will also ruin the purpose of publishing house.” What a philanthropic thought is that.

Yet recently ‘Puravalar Puththaga Punga’ published his biography namely ‘Puravalar Sila Padhivuhal’ Some records of Puravalar. It consists of newspaper articles so far written about him. “I was totally unaware of this at the beginning. Kaleignar Kaleichchelvan had carefully collected news paper articles written on me in all three languages and some valuable photographs. It was a huge and hectic task but Kaleignar Kaleichchelvan with the help of several others somehow accomplished the complicated task.

But you have not allocated a price for that book?

“Yes. If I allocated a price for that many would misunderstand that we try to recover the amount we have so far spent on other books. Moreover it is as I feel a priceless book”.

He recently held a felicitation ceremony for all journalists and photographers who wrote about him in newspapers whose articles were re-published in the book ‘Puravalar Sila Padhivuhal’. It was a great encouragement for the journalists whose talent is hardly appreciated and are often excluded in sophisticated and biased award ceremonies. His immediate plan is to hold a book launching ceremony for four female writers on Women’s Day next year.

He does not stop there. He has a high hope to build a separate place for writers to engage in their work, to conduct book launches and other literary related works. “I need to carry forward this task in future even in my absence. For that I am planning to start a trust fund so that this would continue to exist and help needy writers”. He remarks with a note of triumphant hope in his eyes. Sri Lanka needs more and more people of this caliber with liberality for the uplift of the literary industry. It is hoped that he alone can make a huge revolution in the literary field with Allah’s blessings.

- R.D.W. Subasinghe

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