Photos: Zahedul I Khan
It was the beginning of yet another month-long Ekushey Boi Mela last Sunday, when scores of people with their friends and families had gathered outside the Bangla Academy gates. Security was beefed up on the very first day of the fair, which was officially launched by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Quite a number of students, after-work professionals and visitors were waiting to get inside the Boi Mela. The inauguration ceremony also attracted plenty of visitors who were crowding up outside the Bangla Academy premises to catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged to publish good quality books at a low price so that people could make a habit of buying and reading books.
At the ceremony, Hasina said that her government would ensure a congenial atmosphere in all the educational institutions across the country and reduce session jams at any cost. This came at a time when a number of different public universities and colleges in the country have witnessed a series of violent activities. "No country can develop without education," she said. She added that her government will soon be making education free up to the bachelor degree / undergraduate level. She also urged the young generation to develop a habit of reading books. Hasina asked the Bangla Academy authorities to take appropriate measures so that the people of other countries can learn about Bangladesh's culture and literature. Moreover, she asked them to take steps to preserve digitally the historical documents and books of Bangla literature and culture, including the language movement and the war of liberation. To the publishers at the fair, Hasina urged to publish good quality books at a low price so that people could make a habit of buying and reading books.
However, because the ceremony started off an hour later than the scheduled time, the crowd waiting to get inside the fair for more than two hours at a stretch, became bigger and impatient. "I come every year with my cousins and friends," says 17-year-old Reba, a student of a government higher secondary institution in Kalabagan. Dressed in school uniforms, Reba and her friends soon became tired of waiting for the gates to open and began to go through the books at the stalls lined up outside the Bangla Academy. This year, as many as 100 or more stalls have been located outside the Bangla Academy grounds. According to the Academy's Director General Dr. Syed Mohammad Shahed, this move has been taken because of the lack of space inside the premises.
Shahjuddin, a businessman in his early-50s was seen going through books and chatting with the stall keeper at Proshika's. Located outside the Academy grounds this year, Proshika, along with a few other stalls had plenty of visitors buying books already, thanks to the crowds stuck outside the gates. "I had come to the Ekushey Boi Mela for the first time in 1972," informed the enthusiastic businessman. "I was only in class 4 and my teacher had brought me and a few others to the fair. Since then, it is practically my 'duty' to come here every other day and visit every stall." The first Ekushey Boi Mela was, in fact, organised on February 21, 1972 by Chittaranjan Saha of Muktodhara publishing house, which started a little sale in front of the Bangla Academy. As other publishers joined in, the fair gradually became official and one of the most popular book fairs in Bangladesh. In 1978, the Bangla Academy finally took over the organisation of the Boi Mela.
Finally, a little before six in the evening, the crowd stepped inside the Ekushey Boi Mela and began to line up at different stalls to grab their favourite books by famous authors. Moving through the winter dust, a small crowd was seen hurrying towards Annya Prakash, a popular publishing house, that attracts scores of book lovers, especially because of their Humayan Ahmed 'Himu' bestsellers. However, even though Annya Prakash does have books and novels by popular writers namely Mohammad Zafar Iqbal and Humayan Ahmed, this year the 'Himu' set of books - 'Himur Babar Kothamala' and 'Himur Modhyodupur' - has been published by Annesha, yet another popular publisher.
The month of the 'Ekushey Boi Mela' is filled with celebrations and reunions of old friends, not to mention writers, poets and artists, both contemporary and senior.
This year, a total number of 436 stalls have been allocated to 297 institutions and publishing houses. The fair will remain open for all from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm on working days and from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm on weekends. On February 21, on the occasion of International Mother Language Day, the fair will remain open from 8:00 in the morning to 10:00 pm. On February 6, 7 and 27, the fair will remain open for families, women and children only, a trend that was begun by the Academy last year, from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm, after which the fair opens to all till 9:00 pm. Even though this has been subject to criticism by some, many appreciate these special days because it gives the children an opportunity to move about freely from one bookstall to another. This way, their reading habits can be encouraged.
The month of the 'Ekushey Boi Mela' is filled with celebrations and reunions of old friends, not to mention writers, poets and artists, both contemporary and senior. One only hopes that the fair marks the beginning of an era where young people will give importance to learning and gathering knowledge and resort to solving problems through education and research instead of violence and corruption.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009
February 6, 2009