Books old and new --- and the Ekushey Book Fair  

| Updated: February 16, 2023 21:29:47

Books old and new --- and the Ekushey Book Fair   

There is no dearth of festivities surrounding this year's month-long Bangla Academy Ekushey Book Fair. It's nothing unusual, as it defines the normal ambience of the annual festival. But this year marked a shift as the publishers had already said before the fair that they wouldn't bring out many new books this year. In the past years 'new books' remained a crowd- puller. It has been occurring since the early days of the Ekushey Grontho Mela (Book Fair). The reason the publishers had cited for not bringing out new books was the exorbitant rise in the price of paper and the print-related items. New books are indeed remarkably less in number this year. Most of the pavilions, small and medium stalls are found displaying and selling previously published books. Surprisingly, those are selling at the publishers' satisfaction. To the common readers, the earlier edition books differ much from those of the current edition. These readers belong to the amateur class. They dominate the crowds of book lovers moving about the fair ground at the sprawling Suhrawardy Uddyan in a jovial mood.

Normally, the events like the Ekushey Book Fair are not the right occasions to tell a passionate reader from a casual one. The fairs are mass events where everyone buying new books is a reader. But to genuine readers, all kinds of books carry the similar value. Thus a book first published twenty years ago carries the same importance as one published recently. In fact many readers are always on the hunt for old and out-of-print books. They search for them as if those were treasure troves. The appeal of old books is so irresistible that their readers are prepared to spend a lot to collect them. Institutional book pavilions like that of Bangla Academy keep books of earlier editions on sale. Interested readers tirelessly enquire about them. If fortunate, they might get all the books of their choice at some obscure stalls.

The appeal of old books --- meaning those of earlier editions, eludes most of the younger readers. To them going to the fair is synonymous with collecting new books. However, the Ekushey Book Fair presents many a new and promising writer. Their maiden books are also new. Many would like to see them as being in the mainstream of Dhaka literature. A lot of readers will differ. According to them, there is no criterion to judge whether a fresh writer is eligible for belonging to the mainstream. It all depends on the young author's ability to stay in the writing world. If he or she can survive the odds and stay on, the mainstream literature will welcome him or her. But there are new writers without any literary ambition in life. But a writer should be authorship-hopeful. In fact, all budding writers are grown on dreams and ambition. Those without dream do not belong even to the generation of serious young poets and prose-writers. As the different literary generations gain distinctive shape in decades, they emerge as voices of one or another discipline. In course of time they grow old, so their books. Many of them remain ever new. Their works do not grow old in the conventional sense. This phenomenon remains behind the old books' ever increasing value among the pure book lovers.

A seemingly fresh-looking book fair is not the right place for old books. But the irony is books cannot get old. Likewise, an ineptly written but dazzling book gets old in a couple of years after its publication. The latter are considered a part-book, and part-consumer item. The Ekushey Book Fair's average sales points do their best to attire themselves in tasteful decoration. To the aesthetically bent people they appear to be irresistible. Whether the stalls can finally remain true to their look is debatable. Many raise the question about the number of visitors to the fair. Many find the fair-goers' number satisfying every year. The last two years were an exception. Those years witnessed a decline in the visitors' turnout thanks to the corona restrictions. This year sees a normal crowd browsing through books on display at the stall fronts or on the racks.

As seen at the previous normal fairs, book browsers comprise a large segment of the visitors. But there are genuine buyers, who come to the fair at lean period, especially shortly after the fair opens. For frenzied crowds do not go with books. The Ekushey Book Fair has seen enough of it, when the popular writer Humayun Ahmed used to visit the fair often to give autographs on his books. The craze for late Humayun's books is now on decline. It's only a handful of publishers-book sellers who still keep the writer's popular books at their stalls. In spite of this general decline, the Humayun books still occupy an enviable place among the best-selling ones. According to the book fair watchers, it will take some more years, even a decade, for the readers to shake off the spell of Humayun Ahmed.

Meanwhile, few writers are emerging with the hypnotic potential found in the Humayun fictions. Some come up every year, but they have a pretension to emerge as either 'serious' or 'popular' writers. Traditional book lovers do not show much interest in them. In fact, they are a different clientele. In small groups or alone, they visit the large and small stalls and pick the books of their choice. Although, a large section of the fair-goers want to see the fair as being in a festive mood, the discerning ones disagree. They visit the book-related event to satiate their hunger for better books. As it is natural, there are not too many of them in the fair ground in the evening. They enter the fairground at odd hours, try to find out the stalls of their choice, go straight there and procure their books of choice. After completing their main task, they engage in 'addas' with their friends and acquaintances. Before they come out of the fair venue, they make a finishing round of the stalls and pavilions. At times, they discover a long forgotten but favourite book lying neglected at the corner of the display board. It's also old and out of print for a long time. Few could be more serendipitous. Thus alongside the dazzling and fresh-from-the-press books, the book fair also yields valuable old books.

The fans of old books are frequently encountered in Kolkata Pustak Mela (Book Fair). This is nothing unusual. It has to be admitted that the tradition of reading as a hobby or scholarly pursuit in West Bengal capital is older than that of Dhaka. Moreover, their style of visiting the book fair is also different. The very concept of festivity or festive mood during a book fair is unknown to them. After all, the joy of reading cannot be shared. This is consummately private.

There are a lot of imposing and aesthetically built book pavilions at the Ekushey Book Fair this year. They belong to the relatively lesser known publishers. But few are acquainted with their publication ventures. Upon an in-depth look at their books, their sheer number and variety, however, seem astonishing. These publishers do not have outlets in any well-known area of Dhaka. This very fact makes them   unknown and obscure to the general readers. Alongside the enthusiasm and the euphoric mood pervading the fair, a feeling of depression also creeps into the pageant-filled event. Readers of both new and old books aside, the fair lacks a major feature: After the end of the fair, many of the participating publishers will be difficult to locate. In Kolkata, they have College Street, the largest book corner in Asia. In the Bangladesh capital, there are large isolated book shops; but no dedicated areas for such outlets. It doesn't go with a city which organises a month-long book fair every year.


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