The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH), located in the fashionable Colombo 7 locality is the city’s answer to New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan.
It is usually reserved for diplomatic exchanges between dour faced heads of states or staid trade exhibitions under the stern eyes of the military.
But for nine days since September 20, the many halls and manicured lawns of BMICH bloomed into a crowded paradise for book lovers hunting for bargains and for families out on clammy Colombo evenings looking for candy-floss, cups full of instant noodles and cultural performances.
For once, in spite of sniffer dogs and the bomb squad personnel on the standby, the exuberance of the people had taken over the starched premises.
Last week, people from all parts of the island poured into BMICH to attend the Colombo International Book Fair (CIBF).
Families came with picnic baskets packed in their reconditioned Japanese cars and with children lunging at ice cream carts; the academic came alone, taking hours to browse through hard-cover books on Ceylon under the Dutch and Ceylon and the Sinhala; lovers spared a look at the nearest stall and then looked for a furtive corner to sit and hold hands; college students came in groups, students from schools with their harried teachers; the studious came with a list and left with happy bespectacled faces; author Carl Muller was spotted and so were a few ministers and foreign diplomats with their retinue scurrying behind to catch up.
Like any book fair worth its salt, came the thieves of books, furtively tucking a paperback under the shirt, and giving up easily when caught. This was the tenth CIBF and at the end, according to the oragnisers, it had turned out to be the biggest in all aspects.
The first edition of the fair in 1999 had 32 stalls; this year the number had gone up to 478.
“There were 330 publishers and booksellers participating this year, of which about 20 are either Indian or MNC publishers based in India,” the fair director, Shan Rajaguru, said, adding that at least seven-to-eight lakh people turned up at the book fair. “The fair is one huge book shop, a celebration of books,'” Rajaguru said.
A celebration no doubt, but it did help that the book fair, according to sources whose names cannot be published, did business running into millions of rupees. Fare enough, one would say.