Not quite fair

Delhi Book Fair returned to the Capital after three years but without the news-making Booker-winning two titles as stall owners lamented the low sales and turnout post pandemic

LUKEWARM RESPONSE - According to stall owners, the crowd was less this time than in the pre-pandemic period

The Delhi Book Fair returned to Capital after a three-year hiatus this winter just like events relating to music, food, poetry and culture.

The 26th edition of the event, that also comprised the 22nd Stationary Fair, was held from December 22 to 26 in Halls 3 and 4 of Pragati Maidan, and unsurprisingly attracted a crowd of students and book-lovers.

However, visitors to the fair were disappointed by the absence of the year’s biggest titles – Booker winner The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida and International Booker winner Tomb of Sand.

These two, written by south Asian writers including an Indian, can easily be found in a number of bookstores but were missing from the fair.

The two south Asian writers — Shehan Karunatilaka of Sri Lanka and Geetanjali Shree of India — taking home two of the biggest prizes in the literary world, is a landmark.

In October, Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida won the 2022 Booker prize, while Geetanjali and her translator Daisy Rockwell bagged the International Booker prize for Tomb of Sand (Ret Samadhi).

Geetanjali’s achievement has fascinated the Indian literary circles and readers, leading to widespread celebration.

While writers in English like Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie and Kiran Desai have already made their place in the literary world, winning prizes, the International Booker victory this year was significant since it recognised the translation of a Hindi book Ret Samadhi (Tomb of Sand).

But the absence of her book and that of Karunatilaka irked the visitors a bit.

“Although I can buy it from other places, it is a bit surprising that I could not find the Hindi original edition of Tomb Of Sand (Ret Samadhi),” said a visitor who had decided to read all the Booker winners.

Some readers were also disappointed by the lack of non-fiction titles in the collection.

“Almost all the book stalls are subject-specific. So, one does not have much choice. It’s a little bit disappointing that there are not many new non-fiction books. The ones that I found are old and have been in circulation for years now. I was looking forward to buying new non-fiction titles but could only buy fiction books — although I must say that fiction titles were interesting and rare,” said 28-year-old Hina, who left the fair with three bags of books.

While there were subject-specific stalls like NCERT, Osho Book Collection, spiritual books, the crowd seemed to be drawn to the stores that sold miscellaneous book titles.

CROWD-PULLER: A stall of rare fiction books attracted the crowd in large numbers

One such stall belonged to Madaan Book Collection. It was perhaps the most visited book stall in the fair. The stall did not just have common titles by British writers such as Elliott sisters, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens which we can see on every bookstore in the Capital, but also the ones that are sought by modern booklovers, including Russian, Latin American, Polish, German, French and Irish literature.

“This has been the situation here for almost all the five days. The first day was a bit lazy, but then people showed up in large numbers. However, the crowd is almost half of what it used to be before the pandemic,” said the owner of Madaan Book Collection.

A couple of stalls sold second-hand books at cheap prices.

Publications such as Rupa, which have a loyal readership, were also crowded. However, international titles from these stalls were deliberately removed.

“International books are not our direct publications. That is why we don’t keep them here. We only keep books directly belonging to Rupa Publications. This is the main reason why you don’t see many international titles here,” explained the caretaker of the stalls.

In the stationery section, visitors were mostly children and their parents. The section contained regular school supplies, imported pens, customised books and attractive stationery products.

“We know what our audience would be, so we decided to display most of our colourful products. The sales have been good, but there were less people on Saturday,” said a cashier at Staedtler stall.

Almost all the stall owners Patriot interacted with said that the sales have been almost half of what they used to be before the pandemic.

There were several conferences and seminars, buyer-seller meets, book releases, book discussions, literary activities for children and even meet-the-author sessions during this fair.

The organisation also presented the Awards for Excellence to the participants at this five-day event.

The Awards were mainly presented in different categories comprising government sector and private sector. In the government category, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt of India bagged the Gold trophy, National Council of Educational Research and Training the Silver and Sahitya Akademi won the Bronze trophy while Indira Gandhi National Open University and Urdu Akademi were honoured with special appreciation.

In the Private category, Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd won the Gold, Prints Publications Pvt. Ltd Silver and APC Books Bronze trophies. Kohli Book Distributors received special appreciation.

Awards were also given away for the excellence in display in the Stationery & Office Automation Fair. Doms Industries Pvt. Ltd, Filex Systems Pvt. Ltd and Hobby Craft were honoured with the Gold, Silver and Bronze trophies respectively. Venus File Products was felicitated for excellence in display.

Complimenting the award winners in her keynote address, Hema Maity, General Manager, India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), indicated that although the organisation of the fair was a bit delayed, it was a great success. She also assured that the fair might be organised on a larger scale next year following the response this year.

Rajesh Mittal, president of Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP), suggested the theme for the next event as “G-20” so that books of the G-20 countries could be displayed in the theme area.

He mentioned that FIP, which has been associated with ITPO for the last 28 years, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2023.

The stalls, he added, would be allotted at a subsidised rate next year to increase participation as the event may be held under Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

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Shehwaaz covers community, sexuality, gender, and other social issues for Patriot.