The world's biggest-ever book fair opened on Tuesday with India as the guest of honour. The publishers’ mahakumbh offered enough proof that books are thriving despite stiff competition from the internet, music and other creative competitors.
Indian literary icon Mahasweta Devi, a leading Bengali author and activist, is leading Indian writers at the four-day event where the theme, ‘Today's India’, showcases the country’s rich literary tradition.
“Indian culture is a tapestry of many weaves, many threads. The weaving is endless as are the shades of the pattern … somewhere dark, somewhere light,'' Devi said in her speech at the inauguration. “Somewhere the cloth frays. Somewhere the threads tear. But still it holds. Still. It holds.'' Images from that multi-cultural, multi-religious India lined the corridors of the 1,72,000 square metre exhibition arena in the heart of the city. The flavours of India filled the halls — Indian food pavilions, large black-and-white pictures of Indian authors and Bharatnatyam dancers saying namaste to curious German visitors.
WHAT LIES BETWEEN THE COVERS
Over 7,000 exhibitors are expected this year at the world’s oldest fair.
The fair runs from October 4 to 8 and will attract close to 3 lakh visitors.
Last year, deals worth $760 million were struck on the sidelines of the fair.
India is not only in focus culturally and as a growing market but also as a business partner for publishers. They see a big market here as production and printing costs are about 40 per cent less.
The Rs 7,000 crore industry is the seventh largest producer in the world.
There are around 16,000 publishers in the country producing an estimated 70,000 titles every year
About 40 per cent of the titles are in English, making India the largest producer of books in English after the UK and US.
Exports make up a healthy Rs 460 crore compared to just Rs 33 crore in 1991.
Human Resources Minister Arjun Singh inaugurated the fair along with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
“The books, the authors and the artists we bring here … will ... give you a glimpse into the soul of India as also the new horizons that Indians are seeking to reach out to,'' Singh said in his inaugural speech.
The German minister said, “Contact with unfamiliar India can help us understand our own Europe. We can draw lessons from the difficulties that India has had to face as a state.” The exhibition opens on Wednesday, with talks, book readings and other events planned. Infosys founder N.R. Narayan Murthy joined other leaders at the event's main conference titled, ‘India on the Rise’.
The fair is the biggest in its 58-year history. Around 2,80,000 visitors are expected between October 4 and October 8. The celebrity authors include Gunter Grass, Imre Kertesz, Gao Xingjian, Zadie Smith, Donna Leon and Amitav Ghosh.
According to the International Publishers Association, worldwide revenues from publishing totalled US$88 billion last year. But digital products are encroaching on books' space — they form some 30 per cent of what is on offer at the fair.