Hidden literary treasures often lie in smaller stalls

Books are going to be celebrated yet again. This time at the New Delhi World Book Fair – from Feb 25 till March 4, following closely on the heels of the Jaipur Lit Fest (JLF) and the Kolkata Book Fair. The biennial book bonanza organised by the National Book Trust at Pragati Maidan promises to be bigger and better than before. My tip to you all: don’t just flock the big stalls.

Literature knows no boundaries and certainly cannot be confined to a few. You will find hundreds of hidden treasures in the smaller stalls. And if you are lucky, you may also run into a knowledgeable and amenable publisher or bookseller there. And if you are still luckier, a meaningful and fulfilling conversation combined with a cup of tea may make your visit to the book fair really special.

When it comes to literary specials, JLF is certainly the top of the pops. Where else would you find globally acclaimed guru Deepak Chopra standing in a half-a-mile-long queue? Where else would you spot India Today group chief Aroon Purie pleading with guards who are blocking the entrance to a hall, “Please let me go in, my daughter is one of the speakers here”? And where else would you see one of India’s most well-known filmmakers, Shekhar Kapoor, just lazing in the sun, may be secretly hoping that the world will take notice while hardly anyone does.

For those of you who remember my last year’s article “Confessions of a Publisher Who Never Visits Jaipur Lit Fest”, you will probably have guessed by now that I stand converted – converted into a JLF participant.

We launched our book, “Whispers in the Classroom, Voices on the Field”, edited by Richa Jha, at the fest. I turned a bit of a lyricist and penned a song inspired by this book, making it the first Indian book to have an independent song made for it. And I got to soak in the literary jamboree.

JLF is a fascinating place, so fascinating that at times you don’t know what you are doing there. Most of the sessions are engaging, but some have age-old lines like ‘Write from your heart’ thrown at you. What next? ‘Write with your pen’? Or better still, ‘Keyboard’? But attending these sessions is an art by itself. If you want to really sit down and participate in any of the popular ones, you’ve got to be an early bird, or maybe even an angry bird. It reminds you of the erstwhile British or American visa queues where you even thought of taking packed aloo paranthas along. That may have been just the right idea for an Oprah session. Or as I overheard an angry bird telling her children, ‘You got to push your way through; otherwise you will never be able to do anything in life.’ Tiger Mom, eh?

Talking about moms, you could actually see them in huge numbers – of all kinds and with all kinds of accompaniments – spouses, kids, parents, friends or just by themselves. In fact, I think almost 65-70 percent of the visitors to JLF were of the fairer sex kinds. Err, I mean the emotionally intellectual kinds.

At first, I felt it was just me noticing only what I am naturally inclined to notice until I stopped and observed and counted and confirmed. I could see three good-looking women for every ordinary looking man. I am sure, after reading this, some changes in the gender ratio are bound to happen at the next JLF!

It is said that whatever you think of India, the reverse is also true. In this case, the paradox was just a stone’s throw away from the Lit Fest. The ‘Dainik Bhaskar Pustak Mela’ happening in its shadows was an intriguing study in contrasts.

With Hari Om Sharan’s bhajans playing in the background, tables full of scattered books, booksellers sitting in the middle and atop the pile of books and posters screaming “Pick any book for Rs.10″ or ” Limited Stock Rs.99″, it was a joy to find book-lovers in reasonably good numbers there too. And when I found some of the books published by us there as well, I knew I had done my job as a publisher.

Carrying forward last year’s tradition, I must make a confession, which is that I was more at home at the Pustak Mela than at the Lit Fest. May be, I have always secretly dreamed to be that bookseller sitting in the middle of the book pile.

At the New Delhi World Book Fair, if you spot somebody sitting in a similar ambience, do stop by. It will be nice to meet you.

(24-02-2012) Shobit Arya is the founder and publisher of Wisdom Tree. He can be contacted at www.wisdomtreeindia.com and [email protected])

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