Though she is hardly able to crane her neck enough to read all the titles of the books stacked up at a stall at the Delhi Book Fair, seven-year-old Trishani manages to get her hands on one of the pop-up books. She pores over it as her mother looks for “educational short stories”. After much discussion, they walk out with both books.
The 20th Delhi Book Fair 2014 organised by the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) has something for anyone who even remotely relates to the pleasures of the written word.
Tomes both old and new welcome you from the stalls. Each of the 169 exhibitors at the Fair boast of having something unique for bookworms and the two main entry halls (11 and 12) house publishers who offer fact and fiction and everything in between.
A special exhibit on this year’s theme, Literature in Cinema displays the works of master filmmakers and writers like Satyajit Ray, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and UR Ananthamurthy, who died earlier this week.
At the Fair, admirers of these masters mingle with 50 shades of faces wondering if they should buy EL James’ bestseller at Rs 200, patient page-turners and impatient ones, who judge books by their covers.
The shelves are heaving with Enid Blytons, Chetan Bhagats, Sidney Sheldons, Stephen Frys, 19th century classics, Tolkiens, Rowlings and Hemingways along with coffeetable books on Lady Diana.
Unlike the excited kids eyeing colourful story books and old couples looking for books on the arts and sciences and for reading suitable for their grand kids, the teenagers and the 20-somethings are caught between clicking selfies, mulling over a good deal for a Dan Brown, picking up The Fault in Our Stars that they came for, and choosing between titles by Arundhati Roy and JD Salinger.
Despite the enthusiastic crowd, there is a sense that things aren't fantastic for the books trade. “The response to the Fair has dipped in the last couple of years as the availability and interest in books in general has varied because of online stores and eBooks. But none of those platforms can offer as vast a variety as is available here right now,” says Ramesh Ojha of Mukta Book Agency, who has been participating in the Fair for the last eight years.
Arti Jain of Friends of Books, an online store selling second-hand books says, “Despite events like book fairs and book swaps, reading as a habit doesn’t come easy in our society. There is a dearth of public libraries and free spaces where kids and adults can enjoy reading.”
Still, a book fair like this one has its immense pleasures. Where else can you spot that volume you’ve always wanted but didn’t know where to find? But remember to pick up books as soon as you find them. Some of the rarer ones won’t wait until you return.
This is also a great place for bargains with stalls offering three-books-in-Rs 100 deals. Publishers like HarperCollins (this is their first stint at the Delhi Book Fair), National Book Trust, Om Books, Diamond and Raj Comics all have great offers. Comic book aficionados can pick up old Chacha Chaudhary titles priced between Rs 15 and Rs 50 or Campfire Comics’ graphic novel on Steve Jobs (Rs 200).
With the last few hours to go, the discounts are likely to be pushed aggressively.