The World Book FAIR? (An Indian Visitor’s Perspective)

As most of you who read my posts regularly would know, I’ve been at the World Book Fair in New Delhi for the past week. I was fortunate enough to have been asked by the European Union (EU), the Guest of Honour at the Book Fair this year, to Conduct & Moderate several of their Literary Panel Discussions and Events. That has been a most enriching and rewarding experience, resulting in, among other things, some good friendships especially with a few Cypriot writers – in particular with Jeanie Keogh, JL Morin and Evridiki Pericleous. But that is not why I feel compelled to write this post. That reason, is altogether different, and I’m afraid, not too positive.

You see the World Book Fair in New Delhi is a headline event. It presents India to the world, and the world witnesses India, on show. It also happens to attract a staggering, in actual fact, the largest visitor footfall of any Book Fair in all of Asia. To say then that it is an important event, would be grossly understating its importance and stature.

Given this background, I have been, and now I speak purely as a patriotic Indian visitor, rather appalled at the state of affairs throughout the event. I don’t, I assure you, point out the subsequent negatives in a flippant manner. I am extremely conscious of the time, effort and hard work that must obviously go into mounting a mega-event such as this. Having said that, during the course of 2018’s Book Fair, I’m ashamed to share that several aspects of this literary extravaganza, leave a lot to be desired.

At the very entrance, there is just ONE window where tickets/passes were being sold. I don’t need to spell out the chaos that ensued, given the event’s popularity that I spoke to earlier. Then, Pragati Maidan, as a venue, half of which seems to be under siege due to various parts of it under-repair (which in itself is a good thing), makes navigating this vast campus, extremely time and effort-consuming. Particularly for children and elderly people, to have to walk from the entry point upwards of 15 minutes to reach the various halls, is no joke, compounded by very poor, or in most instances, NO signage that clearly spells out where the various venues are located!

The bus service that would allegedly ferry visitors was haphazard, ill-planned, and a bus standing and waiting would invariably refuse to go, its driver explaining that it will either ONLY go to a certain Hall and not to another one (adjacent to it even), or ONLY go when it is absolutely full-up! As a result, the bus service, to my mind, became redundant, particularly for people who had finite time to be at the Fair, or wanted to make it to a specific Session within the event.

Then there was the entirely farcical ‘security check’, where the two ‘officials’ behind the luggage-screening monitor were constantly chatting with one another, not for a split second even, actually looking at the monitor, in order to ‘monitor’ the contents of the bags that were being put through the damn machine. The result, an unsafe environment, and the entire exercise, only adding to the pandemonium and waste of time!

Then there were the bathroom/facilities. Leaky, unkempt, uncleaned, messes of disease and defecation that were completely unusable.

Lastly, and in my view perhaps the most annoying aspect of this entire travesty – the INCREDIBLY LOUD & INCESSANT Public Announcements. We’d invariably, mid-panel-discussion, with an Author reading from his/her works, be interrupted by the single loudest, most inane, and repetitive public announcements inside the hall. So loud in fact, that we’d have to stall our Panel Discussion for the entire length of this ‘service’ announcement, which could range from a minute to five, breaking the rhythm of the session, diluting the atmosphere and mood, and robbing precious time from the allotted one hour that most Panels would last.

Mostly, I try to end my posts on a positive, hopeful note, with a possible solution. In this case, I’m regretfully just ashamed and embarrassed. As an Indian, if this is the show we put on for our own, and for visiting countries, I just don’t know what to say! It isn’t FAIR!

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