The combination of "Amar Ekushey Boi Mela" and the vibrant allure of early spring have always mesmerised the visitors and bookworms. This month-long event that takes place at Bangla Academy and Sohrawardi Uddan is a montage of books, covers, flaps, prologues and a celebration of epoch-defining Bangla Literature.
The tradition of Amar Ekushey Boi Mela goes back a long time and embodies the ideals of February 21, 1952 when blood was shed to protect our mother tongue. Since 1972, this national book fair has been signifying the history of the sacrifice of our language martyrs and encouraging every new generation to assemble under our great cultural identity.
This year, due to the Corona pandemic, the book fair's scheduled time was shifted from traditional February to hot and humid March. The stage of Amar Ekushey was set to be arranged on the historical occasion of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh and the prolonged celebration of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
On 18th March, Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated this year's Amar Ekushey Boi Mela at Bangla academy compound. The grassy fields of Sohrawardy Uddan and Bangla academic are getting crowded each day as the readers and visitors have started to arrive at "Mela prangon" gradually after being initially a bit late.
Publishers all around the country, especially those in Dhaka wait all year for this very occasion. During The book fair season, they cash in the maximum amount of sales. The book and printing industries depend largely on "Ekushey Boi Mela." An early speculation was running around the market and media that this year's book fair might get postponed leaving the industries at stake. No doubt, the recurrence of the event has uplifted both the publishers and writers from a massive downfall.
Like earlier years, 'Ekushey Boi Mela' is held at the Bangla Academy Compound and Sohrawardy Uddan. The road amid the dual-venue stretching from 'Doyel Chattar' to TSC circle is all arranged and decorated for the visitors and pedestrians. Above the road, the quick establishment of Metro Rail infrastructure adds a new picture to the event's traditional ambiance.
As soon as a visitor enters through the gates to the world of literature, words, poetries of Ekushey Boi Mela, he may feel for a while that he has travelled through time and returned back to February. The stalls, giant pavilions, pleasing tunes and a voice reciting from an unseen microphone will greet you like home.
But this year, hygiene and social distancing are maintained rigorously as per the Health Ministry's instructions. Whether you enter from the gate by TSC or the one near Kali Temple, you will find stands of hand sanitizers to ensure your health safety.
The main ambiance of both of the venues is designed and organised taking into consideration the ongoing pandemic. This year, positions have been allocated to 540 publications and institutions. Total 154 stalls and pavilions have been positioned in Bangla Academy compound whereas 680 stalls and pavilions have been set in Sohrawardi Uddan.
On the weekdays, the doors are opened for the visitor at 3 PM and end at 9 PM. On weekends, the fair runs from 11 PM to 9 PM.
Bangladeshi readers have always been a huge appreciator of novellas. For the past five decades, the magician of words Humayun Ahmed kept Bangla readers enchanted with his writings. But it has been almost a decade now since he left us. During this time, many writers have held a strong grip on the arena of writing novels and novellas. Sadat Hossain is one such name who by the time has not only established his distinctive image but also managed to spread the aura of his writings among the mass readers. Following the last few years' bestselling successes, the major best-seller has published three books this year.
"Tomar Naam e Sondha Name", a novel published under the banner of Annoprokash has already created a great hype among Hossain's regular readers. His two other novels "Smritigandha" from Anno Dhara and "Biva o Bibhram" from Prothoma are also receiving similar responses.
According to the publishers, Sadat has been a consistent author providing both profits for the publishing houses and a glimpse of joy for the readers. His notable and sheer cults like "Andarmahal" and "Arshinagar" have earned him immense popularity in his early writing years.
Promising and popular author Ashif Entaz Rabi's "Amare Debo na Bhulite", a biography of national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam is already among the top-selling books by the end of the second week. Publishers of Adarsha and his fans can count on him to reach an unprecedented literary peak this year.
While the promising writers are achieving these feats, veterans like Muhammad Jafar Iqbal and Anisul Haque are also writing relentlessly to fulfill their most obliged readers' appetites. This year, Anupam Publications published Anisul Haque's all-time classic 'Ma's 100th edition.
The forerunner of Bangladeshi science fiction Muhammad Jafor Iqbal has brought "jetuku Tuntuni Setuku Chotacchu", Bonbalika and Operation Nilanjana for his obedient teenage readers.
One of the best features of "Amar Ekushey Boi Mela" is its trend-setting and taste-shifting traits. For the last few years, as a result of social media booming, many social media activists and influencers have chosen the platform of writing to reach their followers. During the last two or three years, people have been more eager to read books from non-fictional genres such as career, educational, tech, start-up, and motivational ones. And social media figures like Ayman Sadiq and Sakib Bin Rashid have availed this opportunity by becoming the best-seller writers of 2020.
This year, Tamralipi Publications has brought in the maiden book of renowned singer and actor Tahsan Khan. His 'Anubhutir Abhidhan' has definitely prompted his viewers and listeners to explore the ambiance of the book fair and buy at least a book.
'Ghore Bose Spoken English' and 'Sobar Jonno Vocabulary' from 10 Minute School's Munzereen Shahid have already ranked top among the thousands of new books published till the second week.
But alongside the traditional fictional features and trending career, skills and motivational publications, another wave of independent writings and publication houses emerged rapidly throughout the passing years. Journeyman, Batighar, university Press limited, Pathak Samabesh, Prothoma are few of the renowned publications that harbor political, experimental and research-based writings and inspire indie writers to engage and write more.
Eminent political writer Mohiuddin Ahmed's 'Lal Santrash', 'Operation Bharotio High Commission 'and 'Protinayak Sirajul Alam Khan' have created a buzz among his politically sensible readers. His historical narratives with storytelling gestures pull back quality readers and conscious youths to keep an eye on our very own political history.
One notable addition in 'Ekushey Boi Mela' is the presence of virtually crafted comic books. Comics are apparently not a new trend among the metropolitan teens, but it has definitely emerged widely in recent times. Comic communities like Cartoon People as well as publications like Dhaka Comics and Panjaree have ushered and promoted this art and literature form in both urban and root levels. As a result, paperback comic books have drawn the attention of teens and youths unprecedentedly. The famous cartoon artist Antik Mahmood's Noman series has successfully kept the comics hype high and loud among comics lovers.
Although Ekushey Boimela 2021 is finally arranged after so many speculations and hustle and bustle, its lasting depends largely on the condition of Covid-19. As the cases are increasing day by day, the government may call it a day any time.
Meantime, the publishers are a bit disappointed with the sales. Sources from different stalls and pavilions have confirmed that the sales are pretty lower than the previous years. Owners are not getting anticipated responses from the readers. No doubt, Covid-19 has confined an enormous number of visitors from roaming the 'Mela Prangon'. But the publishers also believe that in time the response will increase.
Each year thousands of new books from various genres get unveiled under the 'Nazrul Mancha'. Hundreds of new authors publish their first book with an aspiring heart and lots of hopes. The already popular and veteran writers keep their readers waiting all over the year till the book fair.
But it's not only about new books; it's about touching, seeing, and buying the all-time Bangla classics. The venue is a hub where one can find a long-forgotten piece of literature at a glance.
A bookworm always finds solace in exploring the book markets of Aziz Super Market or 38th Banglabazar road. Even the streetside old book shops at Puran Paltan and Nilkhet fill up a book-person's heart with everlasting joy.
But walking spirally from one lane to another, circling around the pavilions, looking for a stall number following the serials while listening to the melodious tune of "Amar Bhai er Rokte Rangano Ekushey February" raise a sense of belonging and patriotism in every other Bangla speaking heart.
This book fair is an epitome of our cultural identity. Each year it gives us a gentle push to slide over some pages of a book. This year, the occasion is right now. So get your booklist ready, observe the health measures and pay a visit.
The author is a student of International Relations at University of Dhaka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org