Ok, so it isn’t exactly The Trade Fair, but a Book Fair is a Book Fair, is a Book Fair. Being a self-confessed book-lover, nothing thrills me more than the sight of books, books and more books. You don’t have to know that the Book Fair held at Pragati Maidan is the second largest in the world, to appreciate the sheer quantity of books that find their way into the stalls at the halls here. It’s hard to miss the nine-day long affair when it comes to town. The Book Fairs are undoubtedly the calendar events in the cultural life of any city.
Though I have to admit, I wasn’t very keen on a Book Fair visit this time. Being a normal college-goer, I have realised that books (and I am referring to the non-pirated ones) will weigh heavily on my lean budget. Throughout the year I have made do with libraries, friends and the local thelle-walla, the Book Fair by contrast is not even a place to bargain! However on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the nine-day long affair which began on 2 February, I inadvertently found myself at the Pragati Maidan entrance. 10 bucks and a merry-go-round entrance later, you find yourself thrown into a maze that is the Pragati Maidan. The Book Fair, however, was not always held at Pragati Maidan, in fact the first one, held way back in 1972 happened at the Windsor Place. It has indeed come a long way, from hosting 200 participants to the 1300, who turned up this time for the 18th edition of the Book Fair.
What really makes this fair a gala affair and not some sort of gigantic bookstore is the whole lot of other activities that happen alongside. This year’s fair, for instance, had an International Rights Exhibition, Children’s Pavilion and a Youth Pavilion. And, as if to drive home the fact that these were serious initiatives, the entry fee for schoolchildren and librarians was scrapped. The International Rights Exhibition on the works of and by Mahatma Gandhi, was dedicated to the Father of the Nation on the occasion of his 60th Death Anniversary. For a man of letters, there couldn’t have been a more befitting tribute. While a total of 23 countries including Germany, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Vietnam participated in the fair, the Guest of Honour this year was Russia. Separate panel discussions, literary programmes, and special activities related to Russia and its book culture were all part of the agenda.
If you thought ‘Unity in Diversity’ was a mere cache phrase of the Indian Tourism Ministry, the Book Fair is a good place to get a rethink. The phrase, ‘everything under the sun’ aptly describes the range of topics on which books were available here. From Urdu poetry to Chetan Bhagat to Metallurgical Sciences to Mills and Boons, there was a place for everything. If there was no dearth of books, there certainly was no dearth of visitors either. Almost 2.5 lac people came down, and from what I saw there was a great deal of heterogeneity among the visitors too. Not surprisingly the National Book Trust which organized the event recorded the highest sales till date.
The Book Fair is a celebration of books; it’s an opportunity to browse aimlessly to familiarize yourself with the entire generations and genres of books. People from all walks of life, all ages, and with all sorts of tastes turned up. It was gratifying to observe the enthusiasm that books still garner after the many run down libraries I have seen. As I said a Book Fair is a Book Fair is a Book Fair!
[image by Hi Pandian]