A year without Ekushey Book Fair

Shihab Sarkar | Saturday, 16 January 2021

Putting all speculations to rest, the Bangla Academy authorities have unambiguously announced that the Amor Ekushey Book Fair will not be held this February. Although rumours have been rife that the much-awaited fair might take place on February 18-March 18 as part of the 'Mujib Year', the birth centennial of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Academy authorities said on January 11 that no book fair would be organised this year due to the Covid-19 outbreak. According to a news agency, Bangla Academy Director General HabibullahSirajee quoted the cultural ministry's decision on the day that the fair cannot be held in February despite the publishers' insistence.

Apart from the publishers, thousands of habitual visitors to the month-long fair had to put up with their disappointment over the fair's cancellation. A group of publishers had suggested early this month that the book fair be held in March, if not possible in February. When the Bangla Academy Director General was reminded of this demand, he said the fair had been postponed for the time being. As he put it, a decision could be made in the context of the present situation after talks with the publishers.

According to the corona-time health guideline-abiding fair goers, when dozens of cultural events worldwide had been cancelled, put off or went online, the Ekushey Book Fair also followed suit.It's because at stake here is the health safety of the book lovers and the common visitors. Many went further saying keeping away from books for mere one year will not detract from the love for books, or from the fair's importance. To a genuine reader, there is little difference between an old book dealing with a universal subject and a freshly published one focused on later topics, they added. In fact, it's true. In a country like Bangladesh, which has started watching people buying books standing on queues only 2/3 decades ago, books have yet to be completely merged with the national culture. Signs are upbeat no doubt, since the participation of publishers continues to be on the increase. So does the number of new-generation readers. Hundreds of them have taken to the habit of reading, even in this age of myriad online amusements.

Against this encouraging backdrop, the fear of a drop in the number of book fair visitors next year doesn't appear to be reasonable. Since its makeshift and shaky start by publisher ChittaranjanSaha on the Bangla Academy premises on 21st February in 1972, its continuity remained unhindered. Seeing the unabated increase in the book enthusiasts and publishers, the Bangla Academy authorities, especially it's Director General Ashraf Siddiquee, felt eager to help the fair get an institutional shape. The Director General of the Academy in 1983 --- Manzoor-i- Mowla,played an active role in arranging the fair on a wider scale. Based on his decision and planning, the fair in 1984 assumed a formal shape. From that year, the Ekushey Book Fair began to be organised on a spacious ground, with the derelict pond in the middle, reaching up to its northern boundary.

With years wearing on, the participation of enthusiastic publishers increased spectacularly. So did the readers of different social classes and professions. As the event was an extraordinary one in Bangladesh, especially in Dhaka, readers of all ages started thronging the fair. The duration of the fair eventually extended from seven to fifteen days, then, finally to one full month. In order to accommodate thousands of overenthusiastic book lovers, the radius of the Ekushey Book Fair included a large chunk of the SuhrawardyUdyan's western part. The Ekushey Book Fair is, undoubtedly, a major cultural achievement for a developing country like Bangladesh. A one-year gap can in no way detract from the event's shine.

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