Photos: Zahedul I Khan
A wide variety of children's books are on display at the Boi Mela.
Fourteen-year-old Synthia Ireen Ria is seen moving from one bookstall to another looking for the latest Mohammad Jafar Iqbal books. She flips through several pages of new arrivals and asks for science fiction and adventure stories, then moves on to the next stall. Ria, as her friends and family members call her, seems a little nervous. Even though she silently expresses her contentment at the fresh new books she finds of her favourite authors, Ria does not leave her father's side. "We came from Mymensingh just for a day," informs Al-Faruk, Ria's father who is a businessman. Carrying lunch boxes, extra water bottles and lists of books that they wanted to buy, both Ria and her father seemed happy to have finally landed at the Ekushey Book Fair all the way from Mymensingh. "I love books and wait for this time of the year all the time," says Ria. "But it gets a little difficult since we don't live in Dhaka. We can only come in the weekends. In fact, after I get my books, we will be leaving for home and then I am not sure if I will be able to come to the fair this year again."
Video CDs and Audio CDs of children's rhymes are on display at the fair.
Once again this year, the Bangla Academy authorities dedicated the first four hours, from 11 am to 3 pm on February 6, 7 and 27 to children and families. This trend was started last year, which had attracted a lot of attention from families with children, who otherwise found it difficult to fight the crowds after 3 pm on weekdays to buy books for children.
Unfortunately, unlike last year, only a handful of families were seen going through books with their children. To add to it all, many of them were not even aware of the fact that the Academy had declared certain days for children. Families were hanging about with their children merely because it was the first weekend after the commencement of the Book Fair and visiting the bookstalls with children on weekdays is unthinkable. Shantosh Rai from Kishore Bhubon, a publishing house specialising in books for children, says that the Academy authorities did not do enough to spread the word around. Otherwise, he says, the weekend mornings would be filled with children. "Printing a small line in the newspapers will not attract attention," says Rai. "It should be announced every day at least once every two hours at the fair. Only then would the 'children's day' concept become a hit amongst parents."
Three-and-half-year-old Sadib Abdullah follows his older brother around, five-year-old Adib Abdullah, who runs from one stall to another, much to the annoyance of his parents, looking for books with colourful pictures. Sadib, who can hardly read his alphabet, demands to carry books just like his older brother Adib. Ruby and Jamshed Kabir, the parents of these handful boys say that they come to the fair every year with their children. It is never too early, they say, to develop a passion towards books and reading from a young age. "We did not know about the days dedicated to children," says Ruby. "We came today because weekdays are filled with people after 3 pm. In any case, children have school on weekdays and it is not possible to bring them then."
Even though most parents were unaware of the special days allotted for children, February 6 and 7 saw plenty of families with screaming children running all about and young teenagers looking about excitedly for books mostly on science and adventure. Tushi who studies in Grade 8 at the Viqarunnisa Noon School simply loves books. Not only is she passionate about reading, besides her school work of course, Tushi and her cousins Sara (Grade 7) and Sumaiya (Grade 6) who go to the same school attend classes on poetry recitation with Pragya Laboni, drawing classes, dance classes and theatre classes as well. The three girls are seen carrying fresh copies of Humayan Ahmed's latest novels, Mohammad Jafar Iqbal's science fiction for children and Anisul Haque's latest works. Also in their stock of books, they were carrying Shukumar Ray's collection of poetry and Rabindranath Tagore's collection of short stories. "We are here with our families," they inform. "We come here every year and buy books. Sometimes, just sitting somewhere inside the Book Fair and reading the books also give one a nice feeling inside." In fact, many groups of teenagers and young people were seen crowding the staircases of the Book Fair Information Centre - some reading, some simply hanging out with their friends and some trying to organise the books they have just bought, before moving on to buy more.
Last week, plenty of books for children were launched, namely, 'Muktijodhara' by Selina Hussain (cover by Mobasshir Alam Mojumdar) from Pathsutro Publications, 'Piprar Americar Bhromon' (cover by Joutha Monisha and Jukta Monon) from Pathsutro Publications, 'Ek Chokhu Rakhosh' by Maruf Rehman (cover by Ahsan Habib) from Shubhro Publications and many others. Teenagers were seen buying Mohammad Jafar Iqbal's 'Icarus' (cover by Dhrubo Esh), a science fiction novel from Somoy Pubications.
Families and their children throng the bookstalls specialising in children's books.
Many bookstores like Kishore Bhubon, Phulki, Bonolota, Tumtumi and many more were dedicated to children's publications. One such publication house, Patabahar, participated at the Book Fair this year for the very first time. Patabahar was filled with children where they were buying picture books, colouring books, stories based on villages in Bangladesh, talking animals and also translations of famous fairy tales and children's stories like Sindbad's Adventures, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and much more. Starting out officially as a publishing house in 2008, Patabahar has published 70 books in the last one year. The young woman supervising the bookstall mentions that their very first year is an absolute hit with the children and their parents! "I like the idea of dedicating a few days only for children," she says. "But I also think that the Children's Corner that the Ekushey Boi Mela used to flaunt previously should be re-installed. With a corner for children, it is so much safer for them to browse through books on normal weekdays." The bookstalls were not the only ones, which were being thronged by children of all ages. The Bangladesh Computer Samity was playing famous rhymes in Bangla, which were attracting many children and their parents. Many were seen buying Video CDs and Audio CDs of age-old rhymes both in Bangla and English. The stall supervisors at Radio Foorti's stall in the corner were inviting children to recite poetry, which were being broadcast live on the radio station.
13-year-old Sumaiya Rashid is all smiles after she recites 'Lichu Chor' on Radio Footri. Her sisters, 15-year-old Suraiya Rashid and 21-year-old Rokeya Rashid, along with their mother, are seen moving about from one book stall to another as soon as the book fair opened at 11 am that morning. While Suraiya's arms are filled with science fiction books that she bought at the fair that day (Mohammad Jafar Iqbal is her favourite author), her older sister Rokeya prefers translations. "I have always liked the Ekushey Book Fair and am a regular visitor," says Rokeya. "I think it is very thoughtful of the Academy for dedicating a few days to only children. This way, more families will be encouraged to bring their children to the fair. I personally believe that more and more children will actually enjoy reading."
Special days for children at the Boi Mela encourage them to buy and read more books.
Those who have missed out on the special days for children still have a chance to visit the Boi Mela with children on February 27, the last day dedicated to children this year at the Ekushey Book Fair. In any case, the fair opens at 11 am in the morning on weekends, which is a good time to visit the Boi Mela, especially for those who have children tagging along and those who would prefer to avoid crowds.
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February 13, 2009