Belying the apprehensions of cynics as well as well-meaning sociologists that printed books have no future, book fairs are alive and kicking. At a time when businesspeople do not make a single step if there is any doubt about return on their investment, successful arrangement of book fairs means the commodity sells -and sells quite well. Whether it is Frankfurt Book Fair or Ekushey Book Fair, business and enthusiasm of readers over browsing and buying books are not in the least on the wane. Publishers of books in Bangladesh do business in February more than they do for the rest of the year. And they do stay in business.
Those who fear that the selfie generation is growing in number to turn their back to books, surely have reasons for such an apprehension. The digital gadgets have the advantage of providing information instantly. But when an easy source of information is at hand, a person becomes habituated not to taking the trouble of storing facts and figures in his/her brain. What proves more damaging is developing interest in cheap and instant happenings with temporary entertainment value. Once one becomes addicted to such things, one simply loses the ability to analysis events and academic subjects and thus fails to delve deep into life.
Well, this is happening but at the same time the fad has not overwhelmed a sizeable portion of youths thanks to their devotion to a sense of purpose in life. Printed words are more powerful and colourful to them than the allurement of digital devices. They are not satisfied with the pleasing and graphic scenes brought to them courtesy of the digital screens, rather in their mind's eye they see a wonderful world through books. Fired by the words and sentences in a most engrossing manner, their imagination takes them on a fantastic journey to realms of which John Keats mentions through the metaphor of chambers of poesy.
With the expansion of the venue of the Ekushey Book Fair and participation of an increasing number of publishers -not just book stalls -there is reason to be optimistic that book business is profitable enough. Or, else the new publishing houses would not at least come into the business. However, this impression may be misleading on some counts. That book business is profitable is good news. But what kind of titles come to the book fair now? Poetry, story books and so-called fictions dominate the scene. As long as Humayun Ahmed was there, his new arrivals used to sell like hot cake. A few other popular story tellers like Jafar Iqbal, Humayun's brother, also have enjoyed unrivalled popularity among the teenage readers. Their contribution to bringing young readers back to reading books is immense.
Then what about books with universal appeal with range, scope and depth of classical literature? A fiction of unique quality of the level of Chilekothar Sepai or Khoabnama has not come to the fair in decades. But thousands of novels and detective stories have flooded the fair over the years. Let publishers make profit, or the industry will fall through. But then what comes to the market for readers matters. Technology of the publishing industry has improved beyond imagination. But the contents and quality of writing have not matched this at all.
No wonder Biswa Sahitya Kendra has gone for translation of world classics into Bangla. Most probably it has been compelled to do so because of the paucity of high standard of fictions and essays. Modern poetry has failed to reach a large audience. It is short stories and novels that stand the chance of creating mass appeal. The area where some quality works have been done is in theatre. Some of the plays written here are world class. But it must be admitted that those are not everyone's cup of tea.
Do consumerism and commercialism stand in the way of creation of great fictions or short stories? Why the land now fails to produce writers like Syed Waliullah and Akhteruzzaman Elias should set others in the trade to thinking. If the predecessors could make their marks, why can't today's novelists and storytellers chart their special course in a manner that makes them immortal? Leave probing and analytical works alone, lucid and gripping writings on people's lives and living in a particular area, as is done by Samaresh Majumder, are hardly seen. Hasan Azizul Huq has done it creditably and some of his books of essays also stand apart. Aprokasher Bhar is one such book.
This country of 160 million certainly should have a large readership, provided that books are interesting. Biswa Sahitya Kendra has taken up a most appreciable programme of creating among school children interest in reading books. This is unique in nature. Once children become accustomed to reading books, they will never allow this habit to leave them. Now there is need for creating among them an eagerness to be creative writers. Compulsive readers know how to see things in a completely different way from the rest of the ordinary viewers. This is the first criterion to be a writer. Let not quantity but quality decide the creativity of writers here and the future of book fairs.