Saturday, January 14, 2012

What sells at the Chennai Book Fair? Ahem, ...

Back home, I am a huge fan of C-Span's BookTV.  I have spent one too many hours at home watching and listening to authors talk about their books.  I have even spent the mornings of the first Sundays of many months watching the extended three-hour sessions with writers.

A couple of years ago, when I was in Chennai for a few days, I was starved for intellectual activity.  I scanned the paper every single day for any interesting and non-religious talks.  It was so disappointing and frustrating not to have anything to attend.

Then, one day I spotted a book-review, I think, that excited me.  The book was a compilation of selected Tamil poems--from the Sangam period to modern times--that had been translated into English.

One of the authors was a faculty member at IIT Madras.  I emailed her inquiring whether there would be any book-reading like how it is done in the US.

She replied almost right away.  "Thank you so much. We are having a launch for The Rapids on August 21st at 6 (Landmark, Apex Plaza). Please do come if you are around." 

I was excited. But, disappointed too--the event was to be held a couple of days after I was to leave for the US!  An O Henry irony in real life :(

Largely because of that experience, I went to the book fair with zero expectations.  Furthermore, as with all things in India, I have come to learn not to question anything, and not to expect anything.  I just have to take it the way it comes.  India is simply incomprehensible anymore.

At the book fair, it seemed like four kinds of books dominated over everything else: religious/spiritual books, various exams- and competencies-related texts, left of center books, and books from local newspaper/magazine publishers.

The left-of-center books, with Marxist language, looked and felt so old.  Looking at copies of Mao's dictates in Tamil was quite surreal.

The libertarian streak in me scanned for anything that might challenge the role of government.  I did not see anything along those lines.

Oh well!

Of the Tamil books I spotted, if it were 30 years ago, I would have purchased the complete collections of short stories by Pudhumaipithan. I leafed through the table copy, but that was it.  There was once a time and a place for that in my life.  That moment has passed.

After I put that down, a thirty-something woman picked it up and started scanning it.  I was glad.

And then at another booth, she again picked up a book that I put down.  Now, I was not glad.  When I saw her again at a third booth, well, I skipped a couple of booths and continued on without any worries.  Maybe America has made me paranoid about such things!

As I later told mom, the best thing about the book fair's content was this: the two main preoccupations of the people here were missing at the fair.  And the two that were, thankfully, missing?  Cricket and movies.

So, if you are in Chennai and, if not for any other reason but to get a place where nobody bugs you about cricket or movies, at least for a couple of hours, head to the book fair :)

While you are there, pick up tee shirts at a booth that sells wonderfully attractive ones that are unique--they have creatively designed Tamil phrases on them.  They look great.  Want to check them out before you go?

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