I have not been a regular book fair visitor for the past many years. Chennai Book Fair 2014 was the one that broke the jinx. My expectations were in control with my senses and the coverage in regional languages i.e Tamil made it all the more difficult to discover the main essence behind the whole fair. But curiosity always gets better of a book reader and hoarder. So I trudged along to uncover the whole book fair idea in India's one of the most known literate cities.
The 777 stalls, a grand ground and a huge parking increased my nervousness and excitement as I tried to curb it down but it got the better of me. The entry tickets of Rs. 10/- was no deterrent. As I entered the grand make shift rooftop pavilion it only smelt books all around. The stalls lined up in six rows and it was one gigantic affair for the book lovers. The scenes were not that bustling on the first day but the crowd present was no less than an excited child in a toy store.
As I started looking from stall number 1 I had company of a good friend Heena Ahuja. She and I had decided to tear down the shelves and bring the best back home. But our idea couldn't culminate into happiness as the first stalls only gave Tamil Literature a fair bit of coverage over their English & Hindi counterparts. It was difficult to spot English literature at first but gradually we heaved a sigh of relief as the some known authors and books could be spotted in the a stall.
We moved on and tried to find the best bargains but there weren't any in the first 200 stalls. We were getting restless as we couldn't lay hands on anything. The discounts ranged from a meager 5% to 25% on new books which could have left a huge hole in our pockets. Interestingly Tamil literature didn't find quite a lot of takers but English & Hindi were scarce throughout.
We found some second hand book stalls and that woke up our numb senses again. They came as a savior in an otherwise dull affair. We hoarded as much as we could and felt content. In all 21 books were procured over three visits to these stalls. There was severe lack of big publishing houses from New Delhi and other places. Only a handful made it to the 700+ stall extravaganza. It was a feel of snub by big names like Srishti,Rupa etc. whose stalls were not at all there. Only seasoned authors found their way to the shelves as new comer books were completely ignored in wake of popularity.
Unlike Delhi book fair which got wrapped a few days back where loads of authors and publishers personally excited the readers, seminars were held, book launches, large gatherings, literature world together there was no such sight in Chennai as it looked like a completely ignorant phenomenon. None of the authors made it to the Chennai Book Fair which left a lot of people high and dry.
Lack of knowledge of stall owners and books present in very few numbers was also another big issue. Most of the names were missing and only few old and new ones were being repeated at most of the stalls which again highlighted the dependency of stall people on known names and snatching away the limelight from the new and deserving ones.
The most surprising aspect of the whole affair was there was a literature festival being organized in the city for book lovers but none of authors from that eminent panel made it to the book fair in the end. Distances were hardly a priority there presence would have acted as a booster for the book fair but sadly it was not to be so in this case.
All in all it was a sweet but more of a bitter experience as after reading about Delhi Book Fair Chennai standards were far away from satisfactory. Lack of known faces and poor promotions too should be accounted for. It deserved more than what we saw this time. Our own books were not there in any of the stalls as online dependency has killed the offline distribution to a very large extent.
Nonetheless we expect to see a lot of publishers and authors coming down south next year to make it a grand affair. Out best wishes go to them for their future endeavors. I and Heena were left satisfied by our book hoarding experience but would have felt a lot better if we would have met and shared our experiences with a few renowned and newbie authors making buzz in the literary world.
With hopes to see a lot more next time I end this article.