The situation raises the question of who is benefitting from keeping the fair open during the lockdown
On Monday, the first day of the week-long lockdown to contain the recent surge in Covid-19, the Amar Ekushey Book Fair opened at 12pm and closed at 5pm as scheduled. The sweltering afternoon heat and fear of coronavirus meant there were so few visitors that many stalls stayed shut, and those that opened hardly sold any books.
The situation raises the question of who is benefitting from keeping the fair open during the lockdown.
Some book fair organizers claim they were reluctant to hold the fair at all during the pandemic but did so under pressure from publishers. However, others said the decision to hold the fair was taken unilaterally by the government.
Habibullah Siraji, director general of Bangla Academy, the organiser of the book fair, told Dhaka Tribune: “We are not forcing anyone to come to the fair. We did not want to hold the fair in a pandemic, but publishers forced our hand. If they sing a different tune now, then it cannot be helped.”
When asked about the potential for a virtual book fair, the Bangla Academy DG said: “When I first brought up the issue of a virtual book fair, the media wrote against me and publishers criticized me. The media should appreciate that Bangla Academy is doing everything it can to keep the fair open.”
Dhaka University (DU) English department Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury also believes the book fair is continuing due to pressure from publishers, although visiting times are not ideal for sales.
On the other hand, Bangla Academy Director (Public Relations, IT and Training) Aparesh Kumar Banerjee said the government had instructed that the fair remain open during the lockdown and that there was no pressure from publishers.
Ahmed Shiplu, editor of Little Magazine, and Osman Goni, publisher of Agami Publication, claimed the government had decided to keep the fair going in order to avoid compensating publishers and to stop them from rebelling over losing money.
“We are ashamed that our government would take such a decision over a little money,” Goni said.
“I am one of the members of the book fair committee and I am telling you that Bangla Academy did not ask us whether we wanted to continue the fair. This decision came from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The big question is whether it has the right to make this decision without informing us,” he added.
Syed Iftekhar Amin, publisher of Shobdo Shoilee, said he had no problems with keeping the fair open, but the designated visiting hours were ridiculous.
“Who is going to visit the fair under a scorching sun?” he said.
Visitors had mixed reactions to keeping the fair open, with some saying it should be closed for health safety reasons while others wanted it to remain open during the lockdown so they could visit it in smaller crowds.