The enduring warmth of Boi Mela

Courier Briefing
Thursday, February 8th, 2018


The month-long Amar Ekushey Book Fair began on February 1 on the Bangla Academy premises and at adjoining Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the book fair on the Bangla Academy premises, while poet Agnes Meadows, from UK, Cameroonian poet Dr Joyce Ashuntantang, Ibrahim El Masry, from Egypt, and Orne Johnson, from Sweden, were present as distinguished foreign guests.


She stressed the need for spreading Bangladesh’s art, culture and literature across the world. “If we can’t respect and enrich our own culture, language, art and literature, we can never develop ourselves as a nation in the global arena,” she said.


Hasina said the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela is not only a place to sell and buy books, but also to increase the number of readers and writers, and enhance the study of literature. She said the fair created an opportunity for fresh writers to publish and publicise their books. “It also creates a scope for many readers to explore unknown knowledge. It opens the door to knowledge.”


A precious heritage


Muktodhara Publishing House under the initiative of Chittaranjan Saha had started a little sale in front of Bangla Academy on 21 February 1972. Later, other book publishers joined there. Bangla Academy took over charge of the Fair in 1978. In 1984, it was named Amar Ekushey Book Fair. Apart from book selling, the literary and cultural events are also organized there. The visitors gather at Nazrul Manch, a corner dedicated to Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. Besides, many go to Lekhok Kunjo, a dedicated place for writers. In fact, this book fair is the cultural reunion of Bangladesh which is attended by every person who is related to book publishing and writing. In 2014, the authorities extended the territory of the Fair up to Suhrawardy Udyan to accommodate a huge number of visitors.


Though Bangladesh is the land of fairs and festivals, the importance of Ekushey Fair is tremendous. The Ekushey Boi Mela had started merely as a book fair. But it later evolved into a national cultural festival of the Bengali nation. Undoubtedly, the Fair plays a key role in development of Bengali language and literature. For the decades, this fair has also been working as a dominating factor in advancement of our glorious heritage, culture and intellectual ability.


This year’s attractions


Publishers from across Bangladesh will exhibit huge books on different issues while Bangla Academy will exhibit 141 newly printed and reprinted books. Bangla Academy will organize a two-day International Literature Conference on February 22 and 23 to build a good bonding among the local and foreign writers, poets, novelists as well as to create a platform to exchange their literary works. At least 15 foreign poets from eight different countries will be present at the conference.


A newly launched website and application will provide the information about the fair. Awards will be handed over to the publishing houses on the closing day of the month-long “Ekushey Boi Mela.” The “Chittaranjan Saha Smriti Puraskar” for the publication of a good number of quality books in the fair while “Munier Chowdhury Smriti Puraskar” will be given for the aesthetic design. The “Rokonuzzaman Khan Dadabhai Smriti Puraskar” will be awarded for publishing excellent books for kids while Qayyum Chowdhury Smriti Puraskar will be given for the best interior design of the stalls.


The grounds of Suhrawardy Udyan are already teeming with stalls stacking new books, as publishers gear up for the much anticipated Ekushey Boi Mela 2018. The month- long book fair is every Bangalee’s favourite fixture and to this effect, organisers have decided to extend fair timings till 9 pm every day. On weekends, the fair will open to visitors at 10 am.


Writer Emdadul Haque Milon stated, “I hope this year’s Boi Mela outdoes the previous such events. Every year I look forward to this event with excitement.”


Banglabazaar Publishers informed that a huge number of books is expected to be seen from every single publishing house in the country. Like last year, 3,000 freshly published books are expected to be seen in stalls and pavilions this time. One publisher also added that despite the number of new books from promising and renowned writers, the late eminent writer Humayun Ahmed remains everyone’s favourite, whose reprinted copies fly off the shelves and into the homes of readers.


Popular writer Anisul Haque stated that the annual book fair is integral to the culture of Bangladesh, witnessing the largest congregation of this country’s citizens in a single space.


One of the main attractions of this year is the release of Mohammad Zafar Iqbal’s new books, “Tobou Tuntuni Tobou Chotachcho”, brought out by Pearl Publications; “Pratina” from Somoy Prakashon and “Cyclone” released from Tantralipi Prokash.


Children’s books


The children’s book corner at the Amar Ekushey Book Fair has already attracted huge crowds. Around 60 publishers have come to the fair with new children’s books. “I mostly look for comic book series or adventure and travel books,” said seventh grader Sadia Nusrat Kanchi after buying “Choto Kaku” from the Soptodinga Publication stall.


The book fair also boasts a big collection of audiobooks, said publishers. Bangla Academy has its own stall at the children’s corner called Shishuder Boi and is selling new books by Imdadul Haq Milon  called “Abdullah” and Shamsul Haq’s “Boi Pora Bhari Moja.” Publishers said they were happy with the number of people visiting the fair adding that most of the children’s books are sold on Fridays at Shishu Porhor.


Sisimpur published 10 new books, Dhaka Comics published 10 to 15 new adventures comic books, Shopto Dinga published 20 books, and TunaTuni published 6 new books along with an audio CD in time for the fair.


Gias Uddin Salim, publisher of Jhingeful said: “We are bringing out a lot of interesting books for children this year. This collection we are bringing out by Ali Imam are 10 books about Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales which is a good read for any age.”


Writer Ali Imam said: “We need to cultivate children’s interest in science, technology, and nature and publishers need to bring out more books on diverse subjects.” Children’s book writer Selina Hossain said: “We should allow children to read what they want. Only then will they be able to build a discerning taste in books. This is why a children’s corner at the fair is so important.” She has three new books on offer at the fair, including one on the language movement.


The poets inside us


The area of the Amar Ekushey Book Fair-2018 has extended this year with the increase in the number of stalls compared to the previous years, sources at Bangla Academy said. The land earmarked for the fair has been increased to about 5,50,000 square feet from last year’s 5,13,000 square feet, they added.


The authorities have allotted a total of 719 units – 136 at the Bangla Academy ground to 92 organizations and 583 at the Suhrawardy Udyan to 363 organizations. Last year, the authorities allotted a total of 663 units – 114 at the Bangla Academy ground to 80 organizations and 549 at Suhrawardy Udyan to 329 organizations. Besides, 24 pavilions have been allocated for 24 publishing houses, including Bangla Academy, while last year, 15 pavilions were allocated for 14 publishing houses.


Poetry books are dominating the book fair as 45 new titles hit the month-long Amar Ekushey Book Fair till Feb 3. Visiting the fair and talking to the publishers on Saturday, our sister newsagency UNB found that poetry books outnumbered novels, short-story and essay books but sale proceeds are still very low. They said readers are interested in buying novel and fiction books. There is not much interest in poetry. A total of 174 titles published till the third day of the fair including the new titles on poetry. Some 19 and 26 books on poetry hit on the second day and third day of the fair respectively. Tamal Ahmed, salesman of Somoy Publication said “The sale of poetry books is very low. If other books are sold 100 in number, we may expect selling one poetry book only. Humayun Ahmed, and science fiction writer Muhammad Zafar Iqbal remain readers’ favourite.”


During last year’s Book Fair, a total of 3,444 books were brought out during the fair, as opposed to around 3,700 books in 2016. Dr Jalal Ahmed, director of Bangla Academy and member secretary said that the combined sale stood at around Tk 400 million against last year’s figure of Tk 219.5 million.  He said the turnover in 2014 was Tk 160 million.


For 2017, a total of 3,646 new titles hit the fair. 1122 books on poems led the tally followed by 576 novels, 520 books of short stories, 168 books on essays, 118 juvenile books and 87 research-based books.


Additional report by Wafiur Rahman

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