Saturday, February 26, 2000

A feast for the mind
By Harbans Singh Virdi

THE 14th World Book Fair, which was held in Delhi from February 5 to 13 attracted lakhs of book lovers during the nine-day event. Since India is the largest publisher of books after the USA and the UK, it draws participants connected with the book trade and publishing industry not only from all over India but also from several countries of Asia, Africa and the Far East.

The 14th World Book Fair, held recently in Delhi, was a feast for book loversThe National Book Trust which organises the show every alternate year claims the Indian version draws publishing professionals from all over the world. But it is fair enough to say at the same time that, though, the fair in India has not acquired the same status and prestige as the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs, yet the first book fair of the new millennium was a roaring success, going by the diversity and number of participants from abroad and the unending stream of visitors it attracted to the hundreds of stalls at thePragati Maidan, the venue of the book fair.

  Throughout the event, National Book Trust and the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation, which is the nodal government agency for spreading the library movement in the country, organise various seminars with star speakers from India and abroad. This year the topics of seminars varied from the ‘Publishing and a learning society’ and "How and which of our books to sell abroad" to "Growing up with books: Children Literature in Developing Countries" etc etc.

The seminars attracted noted authors such as Ruskin Bond, Manoj Das, Radhika Menon and Varsha Das from India while star speakers from abroad included Rosa Maria Barboza De Araujo of Brazil, Nilli Cohen of Israel, Meta Offoson of Sweden, Moses Samkange of Zimbabwe, Porn-anong Niyonmka Horikawa of Thailand, Sybill Wettasinghe of Sri Lanka, Shinji Tajima of Japan and Caroline Feller Bauer of the USA.

Penguin (India) which had invited noted author and columnist and author of the controversial book The Company of Women Khushwant Singh on February 12, the penultimate day of the book fair. It could not be confirmed whether other noted writers like Shobha De, Arundhati Roy or Vikram Seth showed any interest in the event. Nevertheless, foreign participants and the names like Ruskin Bond and Khushwant Singh lent a touch of dignity and class to the New Delhi fair.

The theme of the 14th book fair was children in general and children’s literature in particular. Alot of discussion centred round this subject. At a seminar on "Growing up with books: Children’s literature in developing countries", speaker after speaker emphasised the need for producing cost-effective quality books, translation of children’s literature in regional languages and inculcating creativity and reading habits among children.

Some speakers were of the view that the book industry should publish books by children for children. They also asked authors of children’s literature to keep in view the special needs of children. Some participants said that the corporate world should come forward to support the publication of children’s literature.

The fair also focused on the menace of book piracy. In the international seminar on the "Anti-piracy of Books" held at the Conference Hall of the Pragati Maidan, and organised by the Federation of Publishers and Booksellers Association of India, speakers called book piracy a menace which had to be treated on par with other criminal offences. Whereas the original book carries a price tag of Rs 500, its pirated version is available for only Rs 150. To curb the practice, associations of publishers in the USA, the UK, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region have initiated anti-piracy steps involving legal action through civil and criminal courts. India has also started taking this problem seriously.

The 14th World Book Fair, undoubtedly, showcased the best in the publishing world. For instance, the German stall had exhibited books by 1999 Nobel Prize winner Guenter Grass. This stall had various other sections like religion, history, vocational education and CDs — all neatly arranged.

While established book publishers like UBS Publishers, and Distributors, Penguin (India), and Rupa may have done good business, others in the field had a poor sale during the fair. Network (India)Book Distributors, New Delhi, and Orpheus Publishers (P) Limited, Mumbai, fell in this category. Kishore of the Network (India) which specialises in computer books, said on-line buying had affected the business. He agreed that the intense competition had also reduced the chances of bulk sale.

For Chand Rangwani of Orpheus Publishing (P) Limited, it was a frustrating experience. When Rangawani failed to promote the sale of books through all possible means, he wound up his business and left for home mid-way. Admitedly, Saturdays and Sundays drew large crowds of visitors, though, very few of them turned out to be actual buyers. Most browsed through the pages and put the books back on the shelf.

Well, now hold your breath. Ever heard of a book costing Rs 75,000? This book with 183 pages contained a collection of 125 paintings by Md Farshchian, one of Iran’s finest contemporaries artists. No wonder, the book held the attention of all book lovers.