I belong to a generation for whom entertainment meant Doordarshan, a few movies with parental control and a lot of books. I couldn't develop likings for Doordarshan, but books have always been a weakness for me. I can even kill (not only beg, borrow and steal)for books(pardon me for the exaggeration). More than two decade ago, when the first ever Book Fair was held (1984)in Guwahati, Assam, it was an euphoria. A never-before experience which can only be paralleled to the first-ever adolescence innocent kiss. I had not much money then; so buying was a secondary consideration, the primary being to take in a lung full of the smell of thousands of books along with the ambiance.
Initially, there was only one book fair held annually in Guwahati under the aegis of Publication Board of Assam - a government body. Later, book sellers and publishers decided to hold another book fair (Northeast Book Fair) annually mainly because of revenue sharing disagreement with the government organizers. It was a double treat for us. As long as the gain was in our favour, we had nothing to bother about the tussles going on.
Over the years, both the book fairs gradually lost their grandeur as the number of participants and their sales steadily came down. However, revenue to the organisers did not decrease considerably as book stalls were replaced by fast-food and coffee stalls. The venue also kept on changing to accommodate government dictates and other fairs that has outnumbered book fairs.
This years, for more than last four weeks, a seemingly simple issue like deciding on the venue of the Northeast Book Fair (the younger of the siblings), hyped up beyond proportion, has been gobbling up media space in Assam. While the government wanted the book fair to be held in a new state-of-the-art fair venue called Maniram Dewan Trade Centre, slightly outside the heart of the city for security reasons (?), the organisers had somewhat made it a prestige issue not to shift the planned venue of Sonaram field. The governments contention was that Maniram Dewan Trade Centre had been constructed spending a lot of money to specifically hold fairs so that the traffic congestion, security issues and pollution in the city can be reduced and shifted to outskirt of the city. On the other hand, the organisers argued that the trade centre is way outside the city and people will have difficulty reaching it. They also argued that if all other types of fairs can be permitted to be held inside the city why not the book fair? A lot of people including editors of newspapers staged protest demonstration and the media lapped up all of it. Finally the government gave up with a subtle snub in the form of the decision to hold the government-sponsored book fair (Guwahati Book Fair) at the Maniram Dewan Trade Centre. Now it has been decided to hold the Northeast Book Fair at Chandmari. However, a new twist to the tale had been added by the book sellers and publishers association (which also take part in Guwahati Book Fair) to boycott even the Guwahati Book Fair if it is held at the trade centre. Why such an adamant position against Maniram Dewan Trade Centre?
The venue proposed is not exactly outskirt, considering the fact that a lot of high and mighty people with bundles of money in their pocket are hankering over each other to buy piece of land nearby the Maniram Dewan Trade Centre or even within three-kilometre radius of it. Take with it the fact that the Interstate Bus Terminal, a bank, two schools (one of them is DPS), government offices, lots of industries, a temple (fast becoming a tourist spot)and a private eduactional institute are operating nearby the trade centre, without anyone raising any voice against inaccessibility of these or anyone shunning them altogether. So, inaccessibility is ostensibly not an issue.
The concocted logic that other fairs are being allowed to be held inside the city is again one that needs closer scrutiny. If fairs pollutes the city, creates nightmarish traffic snarl and pose security threat, we must oppose it. But, not only when our own fair is being denied a chance. The so called conscious citizens and the media should show the same earnestness to build up a movement against such holding of fairs inside the city - including the book fairs. Such movements should have been built up even before the book fair was denied permission to be hold inside city, and should continue to be built up even now when the book fair has been permitted to be held inside the city.
The media campaign in favour of holding the book fair inside the city (or was it against holding it at the Maniram Dewan Trade Centre?) was so intense that my wife was totally convinced. She said, how can one take their children to the government-proposed venue if they do not have their own conveyance unlike us. She had totally forgotten about the hundreds of people who do not have their vehicles but go to work in the nearby factories, Interstate bus terminal, shops, government offices; people who go for transactions in the banks; hundreds of students who go to nearby schools everyday and how she herself traveled to work everyday for almost two years on the road bypassing the Maniram Dewan Trade Centre not by her own vehicle but by public transport. So why Maniram Dewan Trade Centre is not suitable for holding book fairs?
A fair is a large public event where goods are sold often accompanied by entertainments. Over the years, entertainment have shadowed books in the city book fairs. Barring a small minority, people go to book fairs just like they go to any other fairs. The business in the book fair is good, only that books sale is not enough. A venue, where people will have to exercise their will power to reach, is not exactly a place where one can do business. I do not think anybody will disagree with me that book lovers will definitely turn up at the fair venue even if it is held at Sonapur. Only that the number of such species is fast declining and I cannot vouch for people who go to book fairs to have chowmein and coffee.
Kolkata book fair, for example, had been shifted outside the city. But, that was another story where judiciary had stepped in and a spineless, appeasing and partisan government was not at play. There had been a lot of resistance in West Bengal too. It is true that in the first time, when it was held in the new venue, number of people visiting Kolkata Book Fair decreased. But, now as the area has attained improved accessibility and the venue has got acceptability, the Kolkata book fair has started attracting people. It is true with any new idea, people needs time to subscribe and pick it up. Maniram Dewan Trade Centre needs to be given a chance. We, who love books, are people who like new ideas. That's what books are all about, isn't it? If we do not be the first people to give Maniram Dewan Trade Centre a chance, who else will.
Ultimately, it is pure economics that is making the "businessmen" so adamant against Maniram Dewan Trade Centre, not what they want us to believe. For us, the book lovers, they should once - just for once - forget business and hold the fair at the trade centre. If they can not be so magnanimous, they can hold theirs inside the city and let government hold its at the trade centre. But, it is plain blackmail to threaten to boycott it. The government, on its part should arrange all that is lacking (proper, efficient public transport) for the trade centre and hold it there. Not only book fair, but all fairs.