It is a lazy, winter Sunday afternoon. Book lovers, inquisitive young minds and languid strollers could all be seen walking about stalls on the second day of World Book Fair 2018 at Pragati Maidan.
Into its 45th year, the theme of the fair this time is environment. Located right next to the information desk is a green-walled hall – number 7E – lined with bamboo sticks. ‘Go green’ is its loud and clear message.
“The entire world is concerned about climate change. The Delhi smog made us realise it was particularly important for the city to become aware of environmental issues. We wanted to use the book fair as a platform to promote awareness on environment,” says Baldeo Bhai Sharma, chairman of the organising body, the National Book Trust.
Five hundred books in various languages, all focusing on environment, have been put on display in the hall. “If you see the decorations inside, they have all been done in a way to inspire people to protect water, air, flora and fauna. It is necessary to save environment in order to save mankind,” Sharma reminds.
Visitors to the fair are equally excited about the theme. Online content producer Pooja Rao was there with her nine-year-old daughter Priyamvada. “My daughter is doing a project on climate change at school. We came here primarily because the theme of the fair is environment and it would be useful for her,” says Rao.
She added that “in our everyday lives we do not always talk about things like rivers, clouds, rain and their importance. At a platform like this, children can understand these things are all integrated and very important to preserve.”
A researcher on environmental issues, Dr Debdutta Pal has come all the way from Lucknow with his family.
An impressed Pal says “they (organisers) have done quite a good job. It is a way to make people aware that unless we protect environment, it will ruin us. Being a researcher in the environmental domain, I am glad the ministry is promoting such a critical issue through a book fair.”
Speaking about the collection of books on environmental issues, Pal says “I have visited the Kolkata and Lucknow book fairs and also the Jaipur Literature Festival. I feel the collection here is unparalleled.”
At the theme pavilion, it is the children’s books on environment that seems to have caught the attention of almost every visitor, with or without a child companion. “I am quite impressed with the number of children’s books on environment. People most affected by environmental decline are children and it is necessary to make them aware of these battles with nature right from an early age,” said Devanshu Gour. The pavilion has on display titles in several languages apart from English and Hindi.
The fair also boasts of a number of academic works on environment. ‘Media construction of environment and sustainability in India’ by Prithi Nambiar, ‘Climate change and the future of Himalayan farming’ by Tor H Aase, ‘Alluring Kashmir: The inner spirit’ by Irfan Nabi and Nilosree Biswas are some of the titles that have been showcased.
For publishers’ stalls, environment theme not a priority
Even as organisers and hall number 7E are going all out to spread the message of environmental sustainability, the publishers’ stalls are largely oblivious.
“We knew about the theme but are not really concerned about it. We are here to sell our books and are not exactly focusing on environment,” a representative of the sales team at Penguin shrugged.
Bookchor.com, a three-year-old startup, is a regular exhibitor at the fair. Their concept is to put on sale old books after putting it through a quality check. “The use of recycled books cuts down the use of paper by at least three-fourth,” explains co-founder of the organisation, Bhavesh Sharma.
Interestingly, Sharma is unaware that their startup is in-sync with the book fair’s theme.
There are a few, however, who are making an effort to align with the theme in some manner. The business head of exports at Om Bookstore, Mohinder Sohni said they were making it a point to publicise their upcoming series of children’s books called ‘Go green’. Books such ‘Earth our big home,’ ‘3Rs’, ‘Eco-friendly,’ are some of the titles to look out for from the publishing house in the coming months. However, the shelves on display at the fair remain fairly general, with no specific attention on environment.
Justifying the decision to restrict the theme of the fair to a single hall, Baldeo Bhai Sharma says that “the theme of the fair is for book lovers, not for the publishers. The publishers have to take care of the stalls and make sales. They are not the ones exploring the fair. The book lovers are the ones who need to be made aware of the importance of environment preservation.”