Boosting Book Reading in the Digital Age

Truly speaking book fairs can save the world from digital menace and encourage the habit of book reading among millions.
Boosting Book Reading in the Digital Age

In this digital age a book reading habit needs a constant booster. Finally, Kolkata International Book Fair got back its lost glory in 2023 with ground participants including publishers from all over the world. It is just wonderful to know that Assam was the first focal theme of the Kolkata Book Fair organised in 1997.

Truly speaking book fairs can save the world from digital menace and encourage the habit of book reading among millions. Moreover, Kolkata Book Fair is a global platform where book lovers greet and meet each other and express their views openly and freely.

Since 2008 the Kolkata Book Fair was shifted from Maidan to Milan Mela near Science City, and dignitaries like Dominique Lapierre were present in the fair, the overall turnover being over 17 crores that year. In 2014 a new event Kolkata Literature Festival was organised in the model of Jaipur Literary Festival. The Heart of the Mayan World Guatemala was the theme country in 2019 and ‘Buy one book and win a Library’ campaign started. In 2021 there was no fair due to the pandemic situation but in 2022 Bangladesh was the focal theme that celebrated the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But this time the fair was shifted to Central Park Bidhannagar and in 2023 too we have the Kolkata International Book Fair at the same place. The 46th edition of the International Kolkata Book Fair recorded sales worth more than Rs 25 crore, two crores more than last year

The average daily footfall — around 2 lakhs — was more than twice than what was recorded in the last pre-Covid fair in 2020. The “encouraging” sales figures indicated that book lovers are still loyal to the printed format, instead of opting to read the content on devices such as e-book readers or smart phones. The fair is a testimony to the fact that the printed form of books, magazines and newsletters are still the number one choice for readers. It is true that the digital format has secured a foothold, but the number of visitors to the fair and the sales clearly indicate that the printed word is here to stay. The fairground — Central Park in northeast Kolkata’s Salt Lake — was a sea of heads on Sunday. Snaking queues were spotted outside most stalls. For its 46th edition this year, the theme is Spain and the book fair was inaugurated by Mamata Banerjee along with Mara José Gálvez Salvador, from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The wonderful idea is the Mukta Mancha where every day every hour book lovers organise Book Launches and Poetry Reading sessions along with various cultural performances. People from North East especially from Assam also were among the audience. The brilliant programme by Udar Akash under the mentorship of Professor Prabir Ghosh Roy and eminent poet Subrata Ghosh Roy won the hearts of the book lovers on the last day of the book fair.

The programme began with the folk song of Rajarshi Bhattacharya. Poems were recited by Watch Tower editor Siddarth Basu and eminent writer Mainul Hassan, Chief of Bhasha and Chetana Imanul Haque, trilingual poet and senior academician Dr Ratan Bhattacharjee, who recited his poems in three languages Assamese, Bengali and English, Professor Prabir Ghosh Roy, whose two books one an ever memorable poetic volume, ‘Ashombhov (Impossible) from Chinta publication and the other a novel Ashad Sesher Bela (The Fag End of an Ashar Day) from Desh Prakashan, were released in the Book Fair earlier, Poet Subrata Ghosh Roy whose story collection Madhavilatar Gan (Songs of Madhabilata) was earlier released from Desh Prakashan, two books of eminent columnist Mainul Hassan were launched in this programme along with one book of a writer of Bangladesh Sonia Tasnim. Mr Faruk Ahmed the man behind this great literary event and CEO of Udar Akash with the assistance of Dr Kamal Sarkar along with Rajarshi Bhattacharya Samarjit Dutta and Subhayu Sarkar gave their best efforts to make the programme successful In fact these programmes of Mukta Mancha added colours to the Kolkata Book Fair this year. Some books need special mention such as Subrata Ghosh Roy’s book Madhavilatar Gaan where we get seven wonderful short stories on human relationships and the titular story is a novella where she uses poetic lines for intensifying the narrative. It is a new genre of writing altogether and basically a poet trying fiction here has given the readers flavours of Tagore’s Sesher Kobita. Poet Subrata Ghosh Roy surprised the readers by her deeper delving into psychological complexities of the character and the mingling of the past and the present point towards the stream of conscious technique. Prof Prabir Ghosh Roy is also wonderful in his poetic lines. He can crack satire on any aberration in society and can be called a modern Pope of Bengali literature. But his Ashad Sesher Bela has a profound serenity and the poetic observation is nicely encapsulated in choicest diction. His poetic style is simply wonderful, touching the deeper chord of every poetic heart. These writers inspire people to read books even in this digital world.

Today we look back to 1974 when some young publishers of Kolkata sat in the College Street Coffee House to discuss how to start a rendezvous of book lovers to give a boost to their publishing trade. They had in mind the example of the Frankfurt Book Fair . It was a commercial book fair they were envisaging and the idealistic senior publishers were opposed to any such idea of commercialising books in the fair. But the young publishers stuck to their demand. Finally, the dream came true with the formation of Publishers and Book Sellers Guild in 1976. Sushil Mukherjee became its founder president and Jayant Manaktala became the first general secretary. On March 5, 1976, 56 stalls of 34 publishers joined the First Kolkata Book Fair at a ground opposite to Academy of Fine Arts near Victoria Memorial. This was the year when the Guild participated in the Frankfurt Book Fair and World Book Fair. In 1983 Peter Withers, the Secretary of Frankfurt Book Fair, visited Kolkata Book Fair. Since 1991 Kolkata Book Fair started having a focal theme every year. Assam was the first focal theme of the Kolkata Book Fair. In 1997 Kolkata Book Fair became the International Book Fair in the true sense when a foreign country France was chosen as the Focal theme for the Fair. In 1998 Richard Dawkins inaugurated the Fair with Britain as the focal theme. In 1999 Sheikh Hasina came to Kolkata International Book Fair to inaugurate the Fair. In 2006 the fair occurred for the last time in the Maidan with Spain as the focal theme. In 2008 America was the theme and the fair was unfortunately involved in litigation . This grand event not just welcomes writers from Kolkata, but also opens its arms to greet writers and book lovers from all across the world. Mr Tridib Chatterjee Secretary of the Publishers’ Guild justified the reason for choosing Spain as the theme country and said, "There are some countries which have a similarity in their literature, culture, and tradition with that of Bengal and are thus chosen as theme countries. For the same reason, Spain has been chosen as the theme country this year and it was the theme country in 2006 as well.

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee a Senior Academician and trilingual poet is International Visiting Professor, USA.

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