Agartala Book Fair 2024 : A Flaneur’s Perspective

By Saibal Debbarma

March 4, 2024

The entrance to the Agartala Book Fair,2024, at Agartala International Fair Ground, Hapania, is shaped as a torana , an arched gateway welcoming devotees and disciples inside a stupa. The torana is further ornate with the archetypal Indian chakras seen famously in the Konark Temple and the figures of the Ashoka Lions. This elaborate imitation of the elements of ancient Indian architectural marvels signifies Tripura’s desire to pursue a quest for knowledge to attain peace and prosperity and make a mark on India’s history. Books have been integral to India’s pursuit for becoming a global resource for knowledge and education. The Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas have been inscribed on barks, stones, and leaves by ancient scholars and the scripts have been passed on from guru to disciple since the inception of the Ancient Indian Literary traditions. The Book Fair held at Agartala every year is an opportunity for us to inculcate the awareness of our own rich intellectual heritage and also, to appreciate the literary traditions of the other parts of the world. The Books stores at the Book Fair serve a society with the required intellectual force for the creation of its own sense of cultural and philosophical identity. Booksellers are the people behind the disbursement of the noble asset we call books.

            Tapas Kumar Das, a bookseller who is in charge of the Harper Collins Publications’ Outlet of Kolkata has been bringing his invaluable wares in every Book Fair for the past 25 years. Not only Agartala Book Fair but he has visited Udaipur, Dharmanagar and Ambassa also. He remarked that unlike last years this year’s book sales have dropped considerably because of the absence of youth and students who are engaged in Madhyamik and Secondary school examinations. I asked him which genre sells the most and he answered that fiction still holds the mark for the highest selling genre and the author Holly Jackson’s books are selling like cheap cakes.

             There is a boom in the development of the regional literature of Tripura, and Kokborok literature is entering a new phase of neo-modern sensibility. The youths had taken up the street a few days before the beginning of the Agartala Book fair demanding  a standardised Roman script for Kokborok Language. In this new shifting terrain of the language a question arose in my mind – what will be the fate of the Kokborok books written in Bengali script (which includes some of the classics of Kokborok literature such as ‘Hachuk Khurio’ by Sudhanya Debbarma and ‘Haping Garingo Chibuksa Ringo’ by Chandrakanta Murasingh )?  Dhanuraj Noatia who was in charge of the book stall of Kokborok Tei Hukumu Mission assured me that transcription of the major texts of Kokborok literature from Bengali to Roman script is in process. But books written in Bengali script are also in sale and have not been totally swept away by the tide of the new revolution in the language. He says that poetry is the most selling genre in his book stall as young authors find it easy to compose poetry. He remarked that books authored by Dr.Bijoy Debbarma , the author of  ‘Longtrai ni Eklobyo’ , and that of Binoy Debbarma, are the best-selling authors. According to him essays will be the new uprising genre in Kokborok Literature

            Niharika Publications has become a beacon of stability in the risky business of Publications industry. A small household publishing company – Niharika – has made long strides in the field of Publications in the recent few years. Niharika published mostly authors who are writing from Tripura. No matter the language, genre or the stature of the author Niharika is a haven for the burgeoning literary traditions of Tripura. Tirthankar Das, the proprietor of Niharika Publications is a warm companion and deft manager who has been able to market the homegrown literature of Tripura to gain national stature.

Bookline, a bookstore situated in Kolkata, has perhaps the richest and most varied collection of World Literature and Books of critical theory and non-fiction available in their stall. I bought a copy of Romila Thapar’s book length essay ‘Voices of Dissent’ from Bookline. The additional factor which draws me to Bookline is the fact that the owner knows almost all the books in his store and can point out the critically-judged books which have got the best reviews and will fit the persona of the man who has entered his bookshop.

Eastern Book House is a reservoir of the best scholarly research books published mainly in North-East India. Lincoln Reang’s ‘A History of the Reangs’ is a seminal work of comprehensive research about the indigenous community – the Reangs. Ramachandra Guha’s collections are also available in Eastern Book house.

            Agartala Book Fair-2024 has surely created an aura of merging the national and the global aspects of literature, culture and community by creating a space for the creation, discussion and sale of literature. The Sahitya Akademi store also offers readers the classical and the apocryphal works of Indian Literature. Dr.Kshetrimayum Premchand’s ‘Adrift : An Anthology of Post-Independence Manipuri Poems’ is an excellent rendition of a collection of poems translated from Manipuri by Dr. Premchand. The woes and forbearance of our sister state Manipur is etched in the pages of ‘Adrift’ which Dr.Premchand has meticulously rendered into English without losing the nuance and mood of the original. It is a masterpiece of Indian English Literatures in Translation.

            I exited the Book Fair carrying bags heavy with books through the same torana with which I had entered. The book fair has been a quest for finding the source of knowledge which will satisfy my query to know humanity and myself better than before. Each Book Fair is therefore, an opportunity to get closer to knowing the true values of human existence. The citizens of Agartala will surely wake up to the awareness for the necessity of forming a distinct cultural and philosophical idea about humanity without which no literature can survive in a community.

The entrance of the Agartala Book Fair, 2024 shaped as ‘Torana’.

Saibal Debbarma is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Government Degree College, Gondatwisa (Gandacherra), Dhalai District, Tripura.

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