Amar Ekushey Book Fair 2020
Festive atmosphere and overwhelming participation of people can be termed as the attribute of ‘Amar Ekushey Book Fair 2020’. Thousands of people are rushing everyday to this fair irrespective of their intention of buying books. This year the historical book fair has received new vigour with the participation of innumerable kids.
The timing of this fair is very significant in 2020 as we are standing very close to the 100th birth anniversary celebration of the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and this fair has also been dedicated to that historic moment. Though the perimeter of the fair was increased and the participation from the people is historic, there are several things which could have been improved to make the event more effective. Though the chance is almost gone for this year’s program, hopefully the authority will look into these matters as we mention in the upcoming years.
Amar Ekushey Book Fair is one of the greatest yearly events of Bangladesh and will be open for all throughout the month of February. This fair has been a significant platform to bring the publishers, writers and readers together for years. This is all about books and booklovers. Every year the publishers and writers wait for this event and thousands of new books are published targeting this event. It has become endemic to our culture while holding the ideal of our language movement of 1952. This month-long book fair is not only intended to interest people on books rather it is to familiarize the young generations of Bangladesh with the ideals of Bengali language movement which brought back our rights to speak in Bengali in exchange of rivers of blood. Moreover, the birth centenary of the founder of this nation this year as we are approaching the beginning of ‘Mujib Year’ has added additional significance to this year’s book fair.
Though Bangla Academy has dedicated this year’s ‘Amar Ekushey Book Fair’ to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman marking his 100th birth anniversary, unfortunately there is no way to know about it until we read it in the newspapers or see it in the television news. There is no sign or display declaring this dedication even in the Bangla Academy arena, let alone Suhrawardy Udyan. We are seeing thousands of representatives of the future generation of Bangladesh rushing to the book fair every day and such a display could have helped in making them curious to know about Bangabandhu.
This is painful considering the commitment of the authority in promoting nationalistic feelings to the huge visitors of the fair. An attractive and unique display should be installed by the authority immediately for the rest of the fair as we always find higher number of visitors in the last phase of the fair. Additionally, the authority should place multiple temporary display at several corners of the fair at both Bangla Academy arena and Suhrawardy Udyan.
The Dhaka citizens have received two new city mayors just the day before the beginning of this year’s book fair. Considering their mammoth promises before the election, we could have expected them to start their works with utmost priority. Though the fair arena especially inside Bangla Academy is comparatively cleaner than previous years, which is completely the credit of the organizers, the outside remains dirty and dusty.
The roads alongside are very dirty with even open dustbin like areas. Moreover, the footpath is occupied at multiple places with the hawkers. There is no sign of city corporation workers throughout the day. There was huge opportunity of beautification works, even if temporary, marking this traditional event of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The first impression of a visitor is not going to be very pleasant if we consider the outside look of the fair.
Moreover, tremendous dust, especially due to openly dug roads for metro rail project, is making the visitors’ lives hell. Recently Dhaka was ranked second worst in Air Quality Index (AQI). As the fair has extended outside the boundary of the Bangla Academy to a much wider open space the Suhrawardy Udyan, the visitors are facing a lot of trouble from the dust generated from the plants-less land. No visible measures were seen to control this problem though few small steps of the organizers and the city corporation could have easily offset this challenge.
We suggested last year to water the fair arena and adjacent roads everyday. It is the responsibility of the city corporation. Though we have seen city corporation truck to water the adjacent area on few occasions, it was totally inadequate. Moreover we suggested the former mayor to plant grass at Suhrawardy Udyan in a planned way last year and to nurture them for required periods. If they had done so, by the beginning of this book fair the barren areas of the fair would have turned totally green and soothing for the visitors.
There is no clear mapping of different bookstalls or publishers visible for the visitors. If a visitor is looking to go to the stall of a particular publisher, there is no easy way out to trace out its location. The information centre is also not very efficient as many visitors complained that they were not properly guided by the assigned personnel. Proper training of the officials at the information centre prior to the fair was required to serve the visitors with utmost precision. Moreover, an indicator with the names of book stalls of an alley should be placed at the starting corner of every lane so that the visitors can easily trace out their favorite book stalls.
The children and teenagers should be the main focus of the book fair now as it is our responsibility to embed our culture and heritage among the next generations of this country. Though there is a special zone for children at the fair arena, it is inadequate. It becomes very hard for the parents to accommodate themselves along with their kids in that little zone especially on the weekends. Hence, many children lose the opportunity to enjoy at the zone assigned for them.
To cover the full book fair premise, it takes around three to four hours and hence requires some time to relax in between. But there is no arrangement of food counters inside the fair counters. There should have been a proper food zone inside the fair arena, where visitors could have relaxed and take some refreshments. But we have seen many visitors, especially the children and their parents, leaving the fair early because they got hungry or thirsty. We hope the fair management authority will consider a food zone next year onwards.
At the book fair, books should get the highest priority and at the main focused areas, there should be prominent book stalls. But just like the previous years, the organizers placed a huge stall of BKash at immediately after the entry point. It feels BKash is getting higher priority than the publishers and many publishers actually complained on that. Moreover, there are many stalls, especially at the Bangla Academy premise, which are not in any way related to books or publications. There are many stalls of government affiliated organizations and different wings of the government. They actually do not relate with the book fair and allocating so many stalls to them actually deters the quality and vandalizes the motto of the fair.
A visitor has to walk for around ten minutes after getting off the transport from the allowed nearest point to the entrance of the fair. Moreover, the venue of the fair became highly widespread when it was extended to the Suhrawardy Udyan and requires a lot of physical effort to cover fully. There is no support for the physically weak people to enjoy the fair. It becomes impossible to physically handicapped persons to participate in this fair. There should be facilities like; wheelchairs, auto-carts for the disabled people. There is also no assigned parking space and visitors have to keep their cars on adjacent roads where the traffic police often files cases or orders to remove vehicles. If any car is self-driven, there is no way the car owner can come to visit the fair with his own car. We should not bar anyone from coming to fair with lack of facilities. We can learn from different international events.
It is highly required to ensure security at this event but that should not appear fierce to the visitors. As we reach the entrance of the fair premise, there are so many police standing to welcome us. Despite having electronic security check machines, the police are checking every visitor individually. It is sometimes disturbing as the visitors come to book fair holding the cultural. The fair authority should use scout members for this purpose. Of course, the police are required but they should play a supporting role in this matter. Moreover, the security should not be limited to checking visitors only. The content of the books at the fair should be checked also. We should not allow any books which promotes fundamentalism, abuse of women and children, harassment of minorities etc. Bangla Academy authority should have an effective cell to monitor the published books at the fair.
Not only the books but also the authors of the books must be monitored. A person of questionable character like; addicted to drugs or alcohol, with history of abuse of women or children and fundamentalist ideology should be banned to come with their books at the fair. We must promote healthy books for the future generation of Bangladesh.
Standing only 27 days away from the start of ‘Mujib Year’, the welfare and comfort of the people should be the greatest priority for the government, authority and administration. The authority of the ‘Amar Ekushey Book Fair’ should also uphold that idea in their works. We must admire that the overall scenario and atmosphere of the fair has improved a lot from the last year. But we must focus more on comfortable experience of the visitors as it is not just a fair that we want to experience, we want to adore a culture and tradition which requires peace. Without ensuring a pleasant experience, it will be hard to keep enthusiasm among the visitors in the upcoming years and hence, this culture is going to face certain difficulties.
We hope the authority will ensure that for the remaining period of this fair and people orientation, the core of Bangabandhu’s ideology, will be upheld and that will be the beginning of the success of the ‘Mujib Year’.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)