The overcast winter sky roared intimidatingly, as people clutched their sweaters and ambled their way inside one of the many stalls of New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, where the annual World Book Fair is currently being held. Inside, a boy, all of eight, or maybe nine, shifted his weight from one leg to another, waiting for the book-keeper to furnish a copy of one of the Harry Potter books. Then, he changed his mind: “Should I go for Enid Blyton, instead?” His mother, meanwhile, oblivious to his question, dug out a book for herself. “Whatever you want, but hurry. We have more to cover.” Outside, the sky rumbled some more.
The book fair is serious business for bibliophiles, who turn up year after year in the quest to find great books. They brave the weather, like they did Tuesday — the fourth day of the fair — just so they can pore over some great finds. This is refreshingly beautiful, given that technology has permeated our lives, and now all we yearn for are some mindlessly silly hours in front of the television, streaming our favourite shows after some mind-numbing and strenuously long hours at work. That people are still reading, even in the era of Netflix, is something worth celebrating.
This enduring love for books — the actual, physical, tangible products, and not e-versions — has kept book fairs relevant.
When 26-year-old Diksha Yadav (named changed on request) first subscribed to a streaming platform, she worried it might kill her love for reading. “But, it did not. If you appreciate books, you will find your way back to them, regardless,” she told indianexpress.com at the fair. “So, when I am not working, and am travelling somewhere, I carry a book with me. It gives me great joy knowing I can always flip some pages when I am bored,” she said. An office-goer, Yadav had journeyed all the way from Noida, to participate in the fair.
The feeling is indistinguishable across age groups. You would think children are all about gadgets and gizmos these days. And while it is not quite the hyperbole, some are genuine bookworms who would love nothing but to bite into a book, any book. “If parents are educated and interested in books, their children automatically will find the inclination. Personally, I have devoured thousands of books, and now my children have found the appeal, too,” Delhi-based Santosh Thakur said, while his children — a boy and a girl aged 10 and 11, respectively — nodded in unison. Then, they scrambled back to the bookshelves.
“We restrict the screen time for our kids, so when they are thoroughly bored and have nothing to do, they go and read books. Also, we have always been reading to them, so they have picked it up from us. There is always a book in our bag, every time, irrespective of whether I read it or not. I think that is how, fortunately, the kids have taken to reading. And book fairs continue to be relevant because we all find it fascinating to come to a place and see so many books stacked together,” Shivani, a Gurugram-based parent, who attended the fair with her friend Smita, said.
“Books are not going anywhere. For as long people write, there will always be someone to read them. When you come to these fairs, you get to see a plethora of books out there in the market, something that you do not quite gauge online,” first-time attendee Anindita Banerjee, said. Her thoughts were echoed by many other attendees, and Kanchan Wanchoo Sharma, Assistant Director Public Relations and Exhibitions for the National Book Trust, India, put it into perspective.
“The pleasure of holding a physical book in our hand is unparalleled, and technology cannot beat it. We continue to visit bookshops despite having Google at our fingertips. It is like online shopping, wherein people still go and physically try out clothes. The feel and smell of books have got a very different appeal, something only book lovers will understand. And when you see a person buying a book, you feel like doing it, too. Besides, the way the books are exhibited also plays a huge part. It is not just a book fair, it is a festival of reading,” she said.
Outside, it had started to rain, finally. Inside, an oceanic wave of books had consumed participants; it was raining wisdom that day, and Mahatama Gandhi — around whom this year’s theme has been based — couldn’t have been happier.
The fair is currently underway, and you can read up everything about it here.