Ekushey Boi Mela, the long-awaited book fair held in the country every February, has been postponed due to the surge in coronavirus cases with the onslaught of the Omicron variant. Social media is rife with all sorts of opinions on when and how to hold the book fair which normally would have started on 1 February. Most writers are in favour of holding the fair in February, though they are not oblivious to the reality of coronavirus. Here are the views of eight writers about how and when to hold the book fair.
The book fair should be in February: Selina Hossain
I joined Bangla Academy on 2 July 1970 as a research assistant. I worked there for 34 years and retired in 2004. I had the opportunity to observe every day of the annual book fair that has long been organised by Bangla Academy. Being a writer myself, this had become a part of the existence. Then I saw it had become an integral part of the lives of all writers and readers alike. This still remains a source of inspiration to me. Where else in the world is such joy generated from a fair centered on book publishing?
I have seen this fair grow steadily. I have seen how the stalls are erected. I have seen it as a small fair in the seventies. It wasn’t so crowded back then nor were there so many stalls.
The eighties brought about a big change. In 1984 it was officially named Amar Ekushey Boi Mela. It expanded in size and duration too, from 7 to 28 February and would be inaugurated by eminent personalities of the country. I really believed that the aura of this fair contributed to developing people’s cultural proclivities.
I still believe so. That is why I feel that this time even if the book fair cannot start from 1 February, it should commence from 15 February at least. But it should be in February.
It will be a challenge, no doubt, to ensure corona-related health guidelines, but life has not come to a standstill. It can be made compulsory to show one’s vaccine card at the fair entrance. Those without the card will be barred from entry. But the fair must go on. After all, this February fair is all about our heritage. It is the pride of our publishing industry.
Boi Mela should be in the Language Month: Syed Manzoorul Islam
If the Ekushey Boi Mela was a book fair like any other, it could have been postponed for a month, two months, or even cancelled altogether. But this book fair is an integral part of February, our historical language movement, which encompasses our language, our cultural identity. This is a task that is yet to be finished. After all, the basic ground of this culture which is liberal, humanitarian and inclusive is shrinking. Communalism and extremism are still active. A book fair may not be able to resolve all that, but the entire essence of the fair centering on 21 February creates the scope for people to stand up and protest. That is why if the book fair is held in February, its relevance remains intact. In any other month, it would be just any other book fair. Of course, such book fairs are needed too. The number of people with reading habits in our country is much less that the number of educated people. There are even less people who will actually spend money to buy books and read. Even then, books are written, printed and published. The publishers wait the year round for the Ekushey Boi Mela. They pour all their investments into the books for this fair. Without this fair, survival would be a struggle.
In the meantime, Covid rages on with the new variant Omicron. An epidemic expert predicted on 25 January that Covid cases would continue to rise for two more weeks and then the curve would turn downwards. In that case, it may be difficult to start the fair on 15 February. But I believe things will be better by 21 February. It will not be too difficult to hold the book fair making vaccine cards and masks compulsory, keeping a check on the crowds and other precautionary measures.
Once the rate of Covid transmission dips below 15 per cent, the fair can commence. Let it start on 21 February. And let this fair teach us another lesson – bearing the discomfort of wearing a mask for others to remain healthy.
Tickets can be sold for entry to the fair: Mohiuddin Ahmad
Ekushey Boi Mela has become a festival. It has become a part of the middle class civic society, not the economic middle class, but the cultural middle class who buy books, read books and who have bookshelves at home. They are the writers, readers and publishers, they are the only stakeholders of the book fair.
Covid has attacked. When there had been a relative dip in Covid transmissions last year, the fair had been postponed. When it was held, the spread of Covid had been high and the fair had to be hurriedly closed down two days early.
The question may arise, books can be bought the year round, so why have a month-long book fair? The fact remains that most publishers do not have any outlet in the city. They sell their books in the other shops and often can’t recover their money. In a fair, they can display their books and attract customers. The readers can browse from the wide array of books. That is why, with the exception of a few, all publishers publish their books with the Ekushey Boi Mela in mind. We must keep in mind, all readers are not the same. Many are not comfortable with buying books online. They buy books from the fair.
Covid isn’t going away any time soon and things haven’t come to a halt. The book fair should go on, maintaining health guidelines as far as possible. There are many people who come to the fair just to hang out, least interested in books. This crowd can be curbed to an extent by selling entry tickets through banks, as in the case of tickets for cricket matches. If a ticket is 100 taka, Bangla Academy will get 10 taka and the remaining 90 taka will be adjusted with any books bought. Children under 12 will not need tickets.
Let the fair be held, even if just for two weeks. Launches, buses, trains and planes are operating, the trade fair is in full swing. Elections are held with thousands of people gathering in rallies and processions. So why not the book fair?
Let the book fair be held another time: Shahaduzzaman
The pandemic for two years had gripped us with a sense of helplessness, making it difficult to take any firm decisions. When we think about the book fair in coronavirus times, we are gripped with indecision and dilemma.
There is a public health aspect to the Boi Mela as well as a commercial aspect. This fair is a matter of survival for the publishers. If the trade fair can be held, thronging with crowds, then it may be questioned why the book fair can’t be held.
The pandemic circumstances are changing by the minute. There is the Omicron wave right now. If the book fair opens, it is uncertain if there will be much gathering. Last year the publishers faced losses at the fair, spending more than they earned.
Then again, as Omicron is not that fatal, all sorts of events and gathering are being held all over the world. But over there vaccine passes and masks are compulsory, there are arrangements for hand sanitizing and so on. Can we ensure this at the book fair here?
If the fair starts in February at this juncture when Omicron is on the rise, there are both health and business risks. The book fair must be held, but perhaps at a later date. If all goes well, it can be held centering 26 March. And to curb financial losses of the publishers, they can be exempt from paying stall charges, be provided with financial stimulus, etc. We must pay attention and protect the lives of those who have devoted their lives to catering to our creativity.
Let there be a 50 taka entry fee: Asif Nazrul
I am in favour of the Boi Mela under any circumstances. The book fair should be started from 15 February with no further delay. Meetings, rallies, the trade fair, packed ‘gono rooms’ at the halls – everything is running in full swing, so why the hesitancy over the book fair? The various measures being taken by the government seem to imply that only the educational institutions and the book fair are at risk of coronavirus. That is very wrong.
I do not dismiss the risk of coronavirus at the book fair, but certain measures can be put in place for the purpose. There can be a 50 taka entry fee as a deterrent to people who just go there to wander around aimlessly. That will reduce the risk of coronavirus transmissions. Everyone will have to wear masks and all stalls must have sanitisers. And the stall charges must be halved for the publishers since sales are less due to coronavirus.
This time Prothoma Prokashon has published my new novel ‘Dosh’ for the book fair. Batighar is publishing a memoir ‘Koyekjon Humayun Ahmed’. Whether there is a fair or not, my books are published. But without a fair, books sales fall by half. This is a big loss for many writers and publishers. Without a fair, very few new writers’ books are published. This is certainly unwarranted.
Books are a manifestation of creativity and intellect. In this country, book publication and sales focus on February. This fair is also an exuberant celebration of our culture. Let it go on.
A pragmatic decision is needed: Shahnaz Munni
Like anyone else, I too want a festive and lively book fair in a corona-free safe environment. Let people get together, let there be celebrations. Let the green expanse of Suhrawardy Udyan throng with the nexus of life and knowledge.
But we are all aware of the reality. Any public gathering at this time is a risk, even though the trade fair is being held and no one is murmuring a word of protest. Nothing has come to a halt, shopping malls, markets, nothing.
What can be done is, 1. Wait patiently for the spread of coronavirus to lessen. It may take a month or two, but the book fair can be held when the situation improves. Or, 2. Hold the fair in February, ensuring health safety. That will be extremely challenging. It will be near impossible to ensure everyone has their vaccine cards and wears masks to the fair. The book fair is held by means of coordination among many quarters. So if the relevant persons put their heads together, they can surely come up with a pragmatic decision.
Ensure that the health guidelines are followed: Mashiul Alam
The Ekushey Boi Mela is our only festival where writers, readers and publishers can enjoy a month of exuberance. A large chunk of our publishing industry is centered on this fair. That is why it is necessary for the Boi Mela to be held. However, given the deterioration of the pandemic situation, it would not be responsible to make decisive statement in this regard.
Omicron is much more contagious than the delta variant. Last year during the peak of the second wave in July and August, there was a 32 per cent rate in infections. Now in this third wave, it is already 31 per cent at the outset. In just a week, the number of patients has gone up by 180 per cent and deaths by 80 per cent. The transmission may continue for the next two weeks. While the death rate is comparatively lower in the case of Omicron, it cannot be overlooked. Each and every life is valuable.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to say whether the book fair should or should not commence from 15 February. But there is no need to despair that there will be no Ekushey Boi Mela this time. It is quite possible to organise the fair and it should be held. After all, other than the enthusiasm of the writers and readers, there is a business side too, something extremely important for our publishing industry.
Last year the book fair couldn’t be held on time because of the pandemic and this was damaging for the publishing industry. So even if late, the book fair must be held. It can be done with efficient management. If according to the experts, the infections start falling from the second week of February, then the fair can commence from 1 March and continue throughout March. Instead of 21 February, 26 March can see peak sales at the fair.
So the book fair must be held with proper management and ensuring the health guidelines, and must be held in March. It will not be right to delay it any further because after that there is the possibility of rains and storms.
The fair must be held in February: Sadat Hossain
I have given much thought to how the book fair can be held and I face a strange dilemma. As a writer and as a reader, I certainly want the book fair to be held. At the same time, we do not want the lackluster, lifeless book fair we saw last year. So what sort of book fair do we want to see in these changed circumstances?
Therein lies the dilemma. We don’t want a makeshift book fair, at the same time we do not want there to be no book fair at all. And there isn’t going to be any miracle that makes everything all right all of a sudden. We just have to adjust with the ‘new normal’. That’s how the entire world is going ahead. Various countries around the world are lifting restrictions. Over here too, the trade fair is on, cinema halls are open, the roads and shopping malls are all open. It is not like the book fair is the only source of the contagion!
The book market in our country is basically centered on the book fair. Everyone depends on this for survival in the industry. That is why I had felt that the book fair would be held on time, considering the pattern of coronavirus over the past two years. And it has already been proven that the February book fair cannot drum up the same appeal at other times of the year. Meanwhile, the last fair also put into question the livelihood the thousands of people involved in creative publishing.
I do not understand what we have gained by postponing the book fair by a month. If we maintained the same health precautions as we are to 15 days later, what difference would it make? And the coronavirus situation isn’t going to magically change overnight after 15 days. All said and done, the book fair should be held in February.