Thursday, January 15, 2009

You've been booked!

The Chennai Book Fair is an annual event that is now in its 32nd edition. Since 1977, it has been run by the BAPASI - the Booksellers And Publishers Association of South India. In its first year, it was held in December and somewhere down the road, the fair was shifted to the Jan/Feb time frame, because December was almost exclusively given over to the 'music season'. Over the past few years, the number of visitors to the fair has exploded; in 1977, there were 22 stalls - 20 for English and 2 for Tamizh - and about 27,000 people visited them. In its 32nd year, there are about 600 stalls -the majority of them Tamizh publishers - and BAPASI expects about a million visitors during the ten days of the fair.

Maybe it is the effect of the global meltdown and the Satyam imbroglio; the number of computer or IT related titles seems to have dropped drastically. And yet, there are about 500,000 titles on display, not including the non-book stuff like audiobooks, CDs, etc. which are also available. The crowd of course is fairly thick, which means one cannot dart from side to side unlike the chamois of the Alps (to paraphrase Wodehouse), but must be content to go with the flow. But that's something the Chennai book lover has learnt to live with at the book fair over the past three or four years; folks these days do multiple trips - surely no one can browse through 600 stalls in just a day or two.

Seeing all this, the National Book Trust (NBT) must be chafing at its lack of staying power. The NBT does run the largest book fair in the country, the New Delhi World Book Fair (last year's show had 23 countries, over 2500 stalls and over 1.5 million titles on display), but they must be miffed at not having stayed the course at Chennai, after organizing the first ever Book Fair in Madras as early as 1970!

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