Ekushey book fair today

What does the young generation perceive of the Ekushey Book Fair? Asks Riasat Raihan.

coverFor the bookworms of Bangladesh, February is a much awaited month. The Bangla Academy is back with the most anticipated event of the year — ‘Ekushey Boi Mela’ or Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela. The Ekushey Book Fair is a signature festival of our country. The month long event is the gathering, to which, avid readers of our country look forward to. This book fair upholds the essence of the language movement with the goal to develop Bengali and Bangladeshi culture.

In a country like Bangladesh which has seen gems of writers like Munier Chowdhury, Mufazzal Haider Chowdhury, Kamal Pasha, Shamsur Rahman, Syed Mujtaba Ali, Syed Shamsul Haque, Zahir Raihan, Abdullah Abu Sayeed, Sufia Kamal, Shahidullah Kaiser and so many others, who actively contributed in enriching the world of literature and language of Bangladesh, a book fair is only but a required platform where new writers who may flourish, continuing the legacy of intellectual and literary writings. But have we come far from what was original and true to its purpose, have we given into the allure of gloablised-capitalist motif that rules us everywhere else too? Young generation has varied standpoints on this question, the appeal of the book fair ranges from a genuine love for new books to visiting a public gathering full of colourful stalls, nice ambience and a lot of food stalls.

For what it’s worth, the book fair attracts a huge number of crowds every year, most of them are bookworms, we may hope! The line for entrance has never been a short one, one has to combat their way into the fair around the afternoon when people gets done with their work for the day and decides to pay a visit here. This year the book fair has been set into two premises, along with the age-old Bangla Academy, the premises has been extended to Suhrawardy Udyan. This might be a positive sign if more people are interested in writing and publishing their works, demanding more publishing houses and thus more space in the book fair. Around 450 book stalls have been set this year. On the first day of the book fair, almost 200 new titles came to stalls. With increasing number of books, do we have readers on the rise too?

It is said that today’s youth do not know the power of books. They greatly underestimate the habit of reading books. But considering the scenario of the Ekushey Book Fair, youths generate the major crowd there. It looks like they have been waiting for this event like a hawk. The fair presents the youth, who are usually not into books, with a mind-refreshing gigantic yet diverse collection, which may potentially bring out the readers in them.

According to Bangla Academy, in this year’s book fair, over 3700 books have been showcased in stalls and pavilions, which is about 20 per cent more than last year. Publishers say that there are almost 500 writers who are getting published this year. Another new addition to this year’s book fair is that publishers have started E-books facility. To speed up the process, they have set up e-reader base this year.

But all this effort, all this arrangement, all the on-going busyness and business revolving around book fair, are those resulting in a positive note? The young generation holds the biggest share of the population in the country, is the book fair catering to their service? The Ekushey Book Fair, by default, holds responsible for providing a platform for the young generation to intellectually grow, and elevate the culture through and in them. What does the young generation think of that, how do they perceive the book fair?

A student of Dhaka University, affiliated with Huch Litlle Magazine, says, ‘The story of book fair that we have heard from our parents, that charm is certainly lost now. It is well decorated and colourful, but the quality of books has taken a downfall. Spelling mistakes can be found on every page! A huge gathering of words put together inside two covers does not make a book! A book is knowledge, it is history. A book is the effort into opening new and unfound windows to knowledge. I do not find such books in the book fair anymore.’

If  the tradition  of book fair has changed thus, not for the better but for the worse, what reasons might the young generation who, safely to say, knows not much about the history and culture, would have to visit the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela?

28336448_1908757319165971_4562222247729521542_oEven then, the book fair is not all waste, it still caters to the religious readers, to young ones who are finding out their relationship with books despite living in a world full of technology. In a time which is run by visual and virtual allures, books are still to be felt with hands and hearts. A theatre activist sadly comments on this, ‘Some of my friends say that there is no difference between the international trade fair and book fair now. And yet, I love to visit this fair, I like the new books all around. Destruction and injustice have taken over, in this circumstance, this place still presents new hopes.’

28165160_1908757165832653_2242276247250165490_oNeedless to say, young writers are getting published, young generation is at least making their presence known in the fair, only if the quality and environment could be maintained as that of a gathering of readers and writers together, could Ekushey Book Fair bounce back to its distinction for a knowledge gathering? The answer lies with the young writers.

Among the young writers, many poets published their books. Two particular collected works edited by a group of young scholars, translators and film critiques under the banner of Madhupok (Beedited) gained a lot of attention among the historically oriented, serious readers. The first is the collection of Buddha’s verse, titled ‘ বুদ্ধের হৃদয় `(The Heart of Buddha)Õ. The first edition of the book came out in 2017; however, the second edition came out in this year. Buddha’s philosophical words, thoughts and worldview is collected and edited by Akm Atikuzzaman Russell with an epilogue by political commentator and critical thinker Salimullah Khan. Many readers found it as a wonderful, easy yet thought provoking read, particularly at a time when Buddhism came under scrutiny in the context of atrocities against Rohingyas of Myanmar. The second book also edited by the Madhupok collective is the first volume of the film maker Alamgir Kabir’s writings, titled ‘চলচ্চিত্র ও জাতীয় মুক্তি: আলমগীর কবির রচনা সংগ্রহ প্রথম খন্ড’ (Film and National Emancipation: Collected Works of Alamgir Kabir Volume 1). In the film history of Bangladesh, Alamgir Kabir is an influential figure, but the editors of this collection rightfully asserted that for Kabir, film movement was integral to national struggle. In this time, when film industry in Bangladesh is largely making movies to garner profiteering interest, the writings of Kabir would definitely make readers to pause and think. Both Madhupok and Agami Prakashoni deserve accolades for bringing these two books to this year’s book fair.

28337359_1910115875696782_4478400917758644784_oTalking about history and national struggle of Bangladesh, another important publication deserves our attention.  Udisa Islam, young writer and tested journalist, published a collection of interviews of women warriors of 1971 — women we know as birangana. For long, the dominant history of 1971 was undecided about its representation of women who participated in the liberation war, women who were raped by the Pakistani army. There was prolonged silence, but the movement to prosecute war criminal since 1990s has broken the silence. However, as Udisa writes, silence was broken, but they are mentioned as victims of war violence with no voice of their own. Udisa’s work is a bold attempt to break this stereotypical image of women warriors as ‘just victims’. Not just young feminist readers, but people interested in learning about an inclusive history of 1971 would be very excited to get a copy of this book published by Srabon Prokashoni.

26904362_10156014408774085_6708319289008859742_n (1)Interviews and conversations as a form of writing is becoming a popular genre in this year’s book fair. Among the books of this genre, one that today’s sport enthusiast youth would treasure is the work of sports journalist, Noman Mohammad. In his work titled, কিংবদন্তী কথা: ক্রীড়াজগতের তারকাদের সাক্ষাৎকার’ (Life of the Legends: Interviews with the Stars of Sports World),’ Noman spoke with successful players from the world of cricket, hockey, football, chess, judo, and athletes. Reading these interviews will open the world of stars struggle in the field as well as their personal journey into the world of sport. For sports lovers of Bangladesh, this is an interesting work also brought by Agami Prokashoni.

Considering that young committed writers, editors and publishers are taking up the responsibility of producing knowledge and writing history in Bengali, taking up the challenging task of creating their niche in the hustle-bustle of market oriented, politically motivated publications, the Ekushey Book Fair still holds a significant place in the cultural scenario of Bangladesh.


Riasat Raihan is a member of the New Age Youth team.


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