New Delhi: Amidst rising cross-border tension between India and Pakistan, the presence of only one distributor from the neighbouring country at the ongoing 25th New Delhi World Book Fair, has left book lovers disappointed.
With the Pakistani representation being reduced to a sole distributor this year compared to four last year, it is understandable that Lahore-based Manshurat Publishers at the Foreign Pavilion here, is attracting noticeable footfall with bibliophiles thronging the stall asking for sundry titles in Urdu.
“We are actually based in New Delhi, and act as Manshurat’s distributors here. Unlike in the past, no one has come from the Lahore-based Manshurat this time, so the responsibility to run the stall has fallen on our shoulders,” said Mohammad Shadab, Manshurat’s distributor in India.
Other Pakistani publishing houses which participated in the fair were Children Publications, Al Hasanat Books Private Limited and National Book Foundation.
Visitors looking for books by Pakistani authors on issues like Kashmir and Balochistan, were evidently disappointed with the lack of options. “I wanted to see the Pakistani point of view on these issues. It’s sad I could not find such titles here,” Manavi Ramanathan, a student of political science studying human rights abuses in both Kashmir and Balochistan, said.
Reena Zariwala, a Gujarati housewife who happened to be in Delhi and came to the fair looking for “something interesting,” had a word of advice.
In a political take, she said, “I see these Pakistanis fighting for a SAARC summit or to participate in the Heart of Asia conference. They should realise that book fairs are basically multi-session conferences in which thousands of people participate.”
“They are all delegates of the common people. It is sad that Pakistan is practically missing from such an event, and as happens often, it does not realise it has lost an opportunity,” she said.
National Book Trust (NBT) that has organised the nine-day fair in collaboration with India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) had attributed the scanty representation to a “lack of response from their side”.
“There hasn’t been any response from them to participate in the fair this time. There will be only one distributor from Pakistan,” Baldeo Bhai Sharma from NBT had said at an earlier press conference. .
Despite the absence of any rival companies from Pakistan turning out to be profitable for Shadab, he agreed that more publishers from India’s neighbour should have participated.
“I would have loved to see more Pakistani publishers at the fair. People are asking why they are not here.
Nevertheless, we are expecting more crowd in the coming days,” a busy Shadab told PTI, while drawing vouchers for a pile of books a customer had purchased.
Another visitor, Bhupinder Singh Kolianwali from Punjab, had turned up at the stall owing to his fascination for Pakistani serials that were banned following the terror attack in Uri.
Having picked up a handful of Urdu words, Singh visited the fair hoping to lay his hands on books to learn the language better.
“I used to watch Pakistani serials on television but then they stopped telecasting these after ties soured. I had started picking up a smattering of Urdu words. I am scouring for books to pick up some more Urdu,” he said.
Books in Urdu, like “Jab Zindagi Shuru Hogi” by Abu Yahya – a fictional narrative of life after death, and “Jannat Kay Pattey” by Nimra Ahmed – a socio-romantic novel about courage, reality, struggle and faith, were picked up in large numbers by bibliophiles from Shadab’s stall.
Simi Bansal, who picked up a copy of ‘Jannat Kay Pattey’ said, “I am an LLB student and I am active on social media.
And this novel’s lead protagonist is also a law student forever uploading videos. That’s what attracted me.”
A professor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that reading of books across borders must be encouraged, to diffuse the prevailing “narrative of ignorance and hate”.
“There is a narrative of ignorance and hate in the world.
A world book fair is like a melting pot where you can listen to the other. In fact, visiting a book fair is an act of rebellion against the loud, dominant discourse.
“I wish more Pakistanis read Indian authors and more Indians read Pakistani authors, but for that we need to have more Pakistani book sellers and publishers here. It’s sad their presence is so thin,” he said.
Shadab admitted that he did not have several titles people asked for, but said he was “humbled” by the requests.
“One book we have been selling in big numbers is ‘Peer-e-Kamil’ by Umerra Ahmed. ‘Dreaming of Freedom’, an anthology of stories penned by children in the Gaza strip, is also selling like hot cakes,” he said.
The fair underway at Pragati Maidan here, is set to continue till January 15.