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End of pandemic, return of fairs

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By Sidharth Mishra

In the midst of all the hullabaloo over the election of the mayor and now the standing committee members of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, people in the city doesn’t seem to be really missing their civic councillors. The return of the fairs to the national Capital and its satellite cities are for sure an indicator that pandemic is over and people are coming out in large numbers to enjoy spring, though weather has somewhat played a spoilsport.

For decades, starting with the India International Trade Fair in November, Delhi from autumn to spring would hold a plethora of jamborees which had people participating in large numbers. Come Covid in 2020 March followed by the spell of lockdowns, there were no fairs in 2021 and 2022. 

However, this year we have witnessed successful organisation of two real big fairs, first being the handicraft mela at Surajkund in Faridabad district of Haryana and now the World Book Fair at Pragati Maidan. There are smaller fairs happening all around, the Saras Melas, the Gandhi Shilp Melas, the tribal craft melas and not to forget the food fairs. In fact the famous street food festival organised by the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) too returned this winter to the colossal Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

This has brought much relief especially to the crafts men and women, who have returned from different parts of the country to showcase their wares and also share stories of penury they suffered during the Covid years. On the personal level, it’s the Delhi World Book Fair which is favourite. Oldest after Calcutta Book Fair, the spectacle has been around now for half a century, starting in 1972.

This year we are witnessing the 31st edition, as earlier the fair was used to be a biennial affair. When it started in 1972, 200 publishers participated. The number of participating publishers went up to anything between 12000 to15000 with the number of visitors exceeding one million mark before the pandemic forced lockdown.

This year about 1000 publishers are participating and about 2000 stalls are being put up. This somewhere shows a grim picture of the publishing industry which is trying to recoup from the pandemic forced economic hardships. It’s somewhere very important for the publishing industry that the book fair in Pragati Maidan succeeds and give confidence to the stakeholders. 

The sheer numbers make the Book Fair very different from the surfeit of Literary Festivals which are organised around the same autumn to spring period. While at these festivals the sale of books is not the focus, if at all some take place as ancillary to the talks, discussions, flea market sales and grub street displays.

On the other hand, the book fair pushes sale of books. Though technology spurs our reading habit nowadays, the sales at the book fair reiterates that the number of people who read printed books has not really reduced. This not to suggest that visitors are not treated to book discussions, talks, workshops, seminars, launches,  and meet-the-author sessions. In addition there are theatre performances along with other cultural programs.

What has added to the grandeur is that the fair being organised at the newly constructed halls of the completely revamped Pragati Maidan complex. It would probably be the first opportunity for the common people to revisit their most sought after exhibition ground after two years of lockup.

So the politicians may continue with their fisticuffs, forgetting to rub shoulders with people in fairs like these. There may be chaos in Delhi’s polity but the life in the national Capital for sure is getting back to the normal.   

(The writer is Author and President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice) 


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