Book Fair: When fair isn’t foul
The New Delhi World Book Fair remains a reassuring presence for book lovers
Bibliophiles don’t necessarily make ideal book-fair visitors. The sight of books stretching in every direction, as far as the eye can see, can fill the most ardent book lover with dread as it dawns that a single life isn’t enough to read even a fraction of what the wandering eyes rest on.
The Japanese even have a name for the activity that can breed this dread: tsundoku, the habit of hoarding books without actually reading them. And the world book fair, starting today in Delhi, provides ample opportunity for tsundoku, with its 1,800 stalls and over 1,000 participating publishers from India and abroad.
As visitor numbers go, Indian book fairs punch above their weight. The Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest in the world in terms of number of exhibitors, drew 280,000 visitors last year. In comparison, the Kolkata Book Fair had over two million visitors and the New Delhi World Book Fair, 1.2 million.
Every year, a country serves as “guest of honour" and gets its own pavilion to display its books, organize cultural events and spread national bonhomie. Multiply that 28 times and one can begin to imagine the scope this year: the guest of honour being the colossal European Union, with its 28 member states.
The theme this year is “Environment and Climate Change" and a special pavilion is devoted to displaying books related to it. Following the year in which Delhi saw its pollution levels rise to excruciating levels, the theme aspires to bring in a breath of fresh air, if only metaphorically, into the ongoing discourse. “We hope citizens are made aware of the issues and understand their responsibilities," says Baldeo Bhai Sharma, chairman of the National Book Trust that organizes the fair, on the phone.
Apart from bookselling, there will be events: seminars, storytelling for children, conversations with authors, music concerts. A highlight is a discussion with Balbir Singh Seechewal, the “Eco Baba", known for his crusade against domestic and industrial waste that kills water bodies. The Padma Shri awardee is credited with reviving the 160km-long Kali Bein river in Punjab with his voluntary service of over 16 years.
While the glut of events and traversing hundreds of stalls can be dispiriting, the fair does come with all the reassuring stuff that any book lover’s dreams are made of: the whiff of freshly printed paper; the acrid smell of dust on opening a used book; creased corners of a page much turned; glossy stacks of new titles; the slippery touch on the plastic wrap that covers every book of an overly scrupulous bookseller; and the unmistakable heft of a sturdy hardback in one’s hands.
It’s a romantic biblio-fantasy, no doubt, but one that can be deservedly overplayed as a counterpoint to the impersonal, faceless transactions of the online world. It’s the kind of fantasy that will be remembered when it can no longer be practised, its value becoming apparent only in its absence. What better place then—tsundoku notwithstanding—to continue holding on to it than at an old and reliable book fair?
The New Delhi World Book Fair runs from 6-14 January at Pragati Maidan. For details, visit Newdelhiworldbookfair.gov.in.