Boi-mela, book fair... is there any booklover out there who does not immediately do a quick account check to verify the balance as soon as the dates are announced? It conjures up rows of stalls, jostling crowds, stacks of books piled everywhere, readers tucked away here and there engrossed in reading the book they have bought, because, really, who can wait when you have that brand new book with all those untarnished crispy pages in your hands.
Once upon a time, boi-mela was the place to spend one’s yearly budget for book-buying. The other day I looked aghast as the little one at home casually opened up my well-thumbed copy of Tintin in Tibet and proceeded to read it while eating! Now, while I am all for children developing a reading habit and all that kind of noble thought, but… that was my book! Bought at the 1987 boi-mela. A whole stack of Tintins each one for the princely sum of Rs 76. The price is still marked on the first page in pencil. I remember staring at them longingly, piled up, bright, colourful, oh so inviting. I had of course read them over and over again already, but all tattered copies borrowed from the local Pick ‘n Choose Library. Imagine owning these! Perhaps my father noticed my hungry looks, so that year Santa Claus took a backseat because Baba decided to splurge and how... He bought the entire set—something unheard of in those times. Did the person at the counter look at him critically for spoiling his girls and spending nearly a thousand rupees in one go on books? Who knows? My sister and I reverently carried home the stack, letting it nestle between us in the car, peeking inside the cover to make sure it had not all been a dream. When I finally left home years later, at the first chance I got, I brought those Tintins back with me. Technically, I share them with my sibling. Generously, she has never mentioned me spiriting them away from under her nose.
That was book-buying then. Now, it is the convenience of a click and entering your credit card details on the online portal and then waiting for the books to come to you. Publishers and retailers press offers and discounts and box sets and whatnot on the buyer. Yet, I come away from large chain stores feeling disconsolate. The person at the counter was so polite and really tried to help, but after the third time I had spelt out M-U-R-K-A-M-I I gave up and ordered it online. The shop looked so large from the outside but the shelves were strangely bereft of any book I wanted. I got a DVD set yes, some stationery yes, even cups and plates and perfumes and toys and furniture and bazookas. Oh well, maybe not the last, but who knows that too perhaps one day. But the satisfaction of having spent a pile of cash on a pile of books is still reserved for the boi-mela.
And not for nothing is it a mela! Walking into the grounds is like entering a kingdom of books. The big publishers with their plush multiple stalls, dazzling displays, delicious merchandises are the kings (and queens). Everyone wants to queue up there. The entire office staff has perhaps been requisitioned to handle the rush. Rows of cash counters are being manned, the IT staff is going crazy getting everything to work, the sales force is out there making sure the superleads are well-displayed, the designer is quietly having hysterics as the company logo has been strung up upside down, the editors are all at hand sneaking up on bookbuyers and offering mostly well-received advice on what to buy.
Outside the court of these kings are the smaller publishers, with perhaps two people doing the work of ten. They, too, are looking harried, but there is a strange gleam in every eye. Yes, the boi-mela is also about hard commerce for those in the book industry. Yet, for those few days, books are not a luxury, they are the holy grails, the currency - the currency that everyone is trading in, for fun, for knowledge, for happiness, for memories.
Long live the boi-mela!
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