by Randima Attygalle
“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” -Ernest Hemingway
Colombo International Book Fair 2012, Sri Lanka’s premier and best attended consumer fair marked its 14th milestone last week, with crowds flocking to BMICH.
Spearheaded by Sri Lanka Book Publisher’s Association in 1999, the Fair has grown into a much sought after national event, attracting local and international publishers alike.
This year’s Fair comprising over 400 stalls, among them 40 international publishers from India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and UK, offer a wide range of reading material to book lovers of all ages and collectors. The refreshing experience of ‘Guru Gedera’ fashioned akin to the abode of gurus where golayas received their lessons, provide a platform for mutual dialogue between the writer and the reader. With refreshments on offer for the visitors, ranging from traditional sweetmeats to contemporary delicacies, the Book Fair radiates a carnival flavour, enticing the visitor to roam in the magical world of books…
Dedicated to children
This year’s Fair dedicated to young readers is a gesture of endorsing the imperatives of the Sri Lanka Book Publisher’s Association- ‘touching the young of the land in a profound way’. In his welcome address, President, Sri Lanka Book Publisher’s Association, Ranjith Samaranayake further justified this vision, “the written word has power… let that power be exerted towards learning, toward creating new world in the imagination, towards entertaining young hearts, towards inspiring the pursuit of knowledge and with it insight.”
Speaking to this writer Samaranayake said, “from its humble beginnings consisting of only around 30 stalls in 1999, Colombo International Book Fair has taken giant strides. So much so, today it has succeeded in evolving a sub-culture in the country and the objective of this ambitious venture is to go beyond being a commercial exercise and making it a literary experience.”
As he opines, as a professional forum engaged in making of and trading in books, Sri Lanka Book Publisher’s Association has recognized the role it has to play in supporting the future generations. “It’s with this objective that this year’s Book Fair is dedicated to children,” he said. Young people visiting the fair are assured of a delightful experience.
Beyond a commercial venture
Despite limitations, the Book Fair has proved to be a progressive venture creating a platform for mutual dialogue between publishers and writers and readers and writers. “All elements found in globally acclaimed book fairs are difficult to be adopted in a local context. Nevertheless, in time to come, we hope to incorporate elements such as special forums dedicated to book signing, editing, publishing etc,” Samaranayake explained. He saw Guru Gedera as one such innovative features of this year’s Fair.
Emphasizing on the need for more international exposure in the publishing industry, Samaranayake concluded, “this will no doubt boost the local publishing industry and at the same time, there is a dearth of translations of academic content. Hence, academia should also be encouraged to engage in more literary pursuits for the benefit of those pursuing studies in local languages.”
Sharing his views on the Book Fair from a publisher’s perspective, H.D. Premasiri, Treasurer, Sri Lanka Book Publisher’s Association and Chairman, Sarasavi Publishers said, “especially for the upcoming publishers in the country, Colombo International Book Fair provides many opportunities. They will be exposed to international publishers and the Fair becomes a facilitator in the process.”
He also perceives this venture of the Sri Lanka Book Publisher’s Association as a source of immense self satisfaction. “This is much more than a commercial exercise, it’s a platform which stimulates the love and admiration for books,” explained Premasiri citing other related arms of the Book Fair such as Swarna Pusthaka which acclaims literary labours of local writers.
For Gevindu Kumaratunga, Managing Director of Visidunu Publications and a descendant of feted literary giant Munidasa Kumaratunga, the annual Book Fair is a rejuvenating experience of meeting a new cross segment of readers. “The readership a book store draws is quite different to the segment which patronizes the Book Fair. While the former is quite restricted to the operative locality, the latter is wide, hailing from all corners of the island and the publisher gets a rare opportunity of directly meeting the readers and obtaining their feedback,” he explained.
A pathway to a magical world
Expressing her views on the fair, celebrated writer of children’s literature, Sybil Wettasinghe said, “for writers this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase their work to a wider spectrum of readers, while making the experience of purchasing books at the Book Fair, a different experience for the reader unlike at a book store.”
Sybil with a wealth of experience reaped at globally acclaimed book fairs such as Bologna Children’s Book Fair, New Delhi Book Fair and Frankfurt Book Fair, views the local venture as a national necessity.
“It is also an opportunity of meeting writers,” says Sybil who was privileged to have met internationally reputed publishers at various international book fairs who eventually came forward to publish many of her work overseas.
All fans of Sybil nenda as she’s fondly referred to, can look forward to taking a copy of the second part of her much-loved work Sooththara Puncha (published by Visidunu Publishers) which will be launched at the Book Fair today!
Current Gratiaen Prize Winner and Head, English Language Teaching Unit, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Madhubhashini Ratnayake finds the Colombo International Book Fair to be quite significant since it reflects that love of books and the love of reading is still very much alive and kicking in the country.
“A writer can only be thrilled that crowds turn up for it because it is very easy to feel isolated and unread, especially if writing is something serious and sacred to you. Also it’s good to see so many others sharing that passion in some way and to see parents bringing in their young children, some just toddlers, which is a sign of hope,” says Madhubhashini.
For someone as much in love with books as Madhubhashini is, the Book Fair is a great opportunity of buying a variety of books within a matter of few hours.
“It’s great to have all types of book sellers represented in one place, and there seem to be books for everyone – children, science-lovers, literature addicts and even rare second-hand books,” she adds. For her, accessibility is the best part of the experience as almost anyone can visit the Book Fair for a price of just 10 rupees and wonder in the magical world of books.
“There is also a great variety of food thrown in for good measure. It’s very carnival-like and there are other activities going on. For instance, the session ‘Meet the Authors’ every day from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. The creation of a meeting point like this for all sorts – writers and readers, sellers and buyers, businesses and clients- the energy and passion that seem to characterize it all-bodes very well for all those connected with books,” Madhubhashini concluded.
Colombo International Book Fair held at BMICH will be open to public until September 26th from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m courtesy: The Island