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A time for books

  • Published at 11:58 pm February 20th, 2020
Amar Ekushey Book fair boi mela february books stall reading
Photo: MEHEDI HASAN

Our relationship with books is not what it used to be

Today’s reticent generation, unwilling to talk to seniors, is being reprimanded every day for being obsessed with technology -- to be specific, with smartphones. Alternatively, our senior citizens are in serious trouble for not being accustomed to using smartphones. 

Regardless, be it the young or old generation, they are going to suffer in the long run, for senior citizens are now either seriously occupied with responsibilities, or are retired and not versed in technology, and conversely, young generations are either involved with academic pressure or are engrossed with smartphones, not interested in books. Yes, this problem of not reading or wanting books might lead to a serious fall.

Before we castigate our young generations, have we ever thought of our book markets? Where the entire city is offering fast food, gadgets, garments, and shoes at sales of up to 70%, who will think of buying some books? No wonder, even in the big shopping malls in our country, there is almost no room for book stalls.

Furthermore, the place which was once famous for its collections, with around 60 book shops, filled with poets and writers, has been subsumed by the rapid growth of clothing stores and fast food stalls, with now only a handful of bookstores remaining. 

Yes, I am talking about Aziz Super Market. It could once be compared to Kolkata’s College Street, but, sadly, now, it is nowhere close.

In College Street in Kolkata, literally both sides of this road’s walls are taken by books -- one of the largest second-hand book markets in the world where scholars, intellectuals, academics, poets, and  book lovers feel at home, and the size of this literary crowd is no less than our fast food consumers. 

In one of the articles published in The Indian Express, it was said: “The air around College Street is thick with jaded persuasions -- some found between the pages of second-hand books, others uttered by the booksellers. And though their generic, ‘Ki boi chai, bolun, shob achey’ (‘What book do you want? We have everything’) might seem like a tall claim, it is often not the case.” 

But, it is first of all a pleasure to know that they are at least trying to offer varieties, and they have a very rare collection of books, photocopies of original books, even original books at comparatively cheaper rates than our country, easily purchasable for students too. 

To be frank, this is how a country grows bigger, and the scarcity of this type of market in our country may make us suffer in the near future. 

Our Nilkhet book market may come to mind, but when it comes to the collection, the difference is night and day. 

In Nilkhet, all the books are career-oriented, and the decorum of the sellers are quite different. To get original books, some readers gather at Pathak Shamabesh or Batighar, but for a student, most of the foreign books are not affordable. In this case, the role of parents is questionable too, for they act as obstacles, standing in the way of non-academic reading. 

Recently, though, online shopping is standing as a new option. This is, surely, a good sign. But compared to other e-commerce platforms, these online bookstores are not getting the same hype. And yet, we all know, bookstores are not just about books -- they come with fragrances, memories, buyer-seller relationships, book analyses, discussions, and much more. 

February provides that chance to roam around in the month-long book fair with opportunities to meet and greet with authors. The media plays an excellent role every year covering the fair. And every year, the selling rate increases, along with increases in the number of publication houses and organizations.

So, it’s very clear that there is a demand, but we are failing to provide the suitable atmosphere. But this year’s book fair is special, for its theme is the birth centenary of Bangabandhu. We must continue to re-imagine the ways we can expand the reach of books across the country, not just this month, but throughout the year. 

Maruf Rahman is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Noakhali Science and Technology University.