well read - The 19th New Delhi Book
Written by Prodeepta Das
The 19th New Delhi Book fair takes place at Pragati Maidan, the city’s premier exhibition site, from January 30 to February 7. Many of India’s 20,000 publishers will be represented alongside overseas publishers. Some one million visitors are expected to attend this must-see for all book-lovers.
The New Delhi Book Fair, India’s oldest, is held every two years. Started in 1972 by the National Book Trust, the Fair has become the largest in the Afro-Asian region.
Delhi is an apt location for the Book Fair, as a capital city that is both ancient and modern, steeped in history, a former seat of empires, and home to people speaking a multitude of languages and practising many religions. Indeed, in 2004 UNESCO declared Delhi the World Book Capital.
The National Book Trust (NBT), an autonomous body under the Ministry of Human Resources Development and prin-cipal organiser of the Book Fair, was established in 1957 with the aim of promoting books and inculcating a book culture in the country. The Trust has since become a valuable interface between authors, publishers, booksellers, and readers.
Currently, India publishes books in 37 languages and ranks third in the publication of books in English after the USA and UK. Last year over 100,000 new titles were published, a third of this quantity in English. India’s vast and still-rising middle class is the principal buyer of English language books. In the recent past, authors of Indian origin who have written in English to wide acclaim include Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Amit Chaudhuri, Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, and V.S. Naipaul. Drawn by India’s creativity and its peoples’ insatiable reading appetite, several international publishers have set up branches in major Indian cities.
To mark the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October 2010, the theme of the 19th Book Fair is ‘Reading for Com-mon Wealth’. This year, foreign delegates will include publishers of theology and Sufi movement from Iran, Urdu poe-try and mediaeval history from Pakistan, and western philosophies and culinary titles from France.
Pragati Maidan’s 46,000 square metres will become a hive of activity encompassing book trade, copyright trade, exhibitions, cultural activities, information exchange, and much more. The Fair promises an excellent opportunity to look at publishers’ new offerings while enjoying the festive atmosphere. Another temptation is the generous discounts on books throughout the Fair and, especially, on closing day.
Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States: The Story of My Marriage has taken Indian readers by storm. Born in 1974 in New Delhi, Bhagat studied mechanical engineering. But after 11 years as an investment banker, he started writing full-time.
All his books have a number in the title – e.g. One Night @ The Call Center; The 3 Mistakes of My Life – and some autobiographical elements. Chetan’s first book, Five Point Someone: What Not to Do at IIT!, drawing on his personal experiences as a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, inspired the Bollywood movie 3 Idiots. His later books, including 2 States…, have also made the transition to the cinema screen. Bhagat’s books speak to the masses, many of whom would otherwise probably not pick up a book.
By Ian McDonald
Set in the future, like McDonald’s last novel River of God, the seven stories in this collection are about India in the 2040s, mapping the impact of rapid technological changes on a developing nation. With believable characterisation McDonald guides the reader through such social issues as relationships with robots, urban violence, bio-engineering, gender imbalance, religious belief, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering.
THE IDEA OF JUSTICE
By Amartya Sen
Economics Nobel Laureate Sen offers an alternative to the existing model of justice. He asserts that justice is an overarching concept that is non-parochial, inclusive, and humane. Distinct from the will of the majority, it is guided by reasoning and seeks to remove inequalities. Referring to Leviathan and Great Expectations, Sen claims that “there are clearly remediable injustices…which we want to eliminate” by reasoned allocation of resources.
SEA OF POPPIES
By Amitav Ghosh
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008, this is the first volume of what will be the ‘Ibis Trilogy’. Set in Calcutta (Kolkata) before the 19th century Opium Wars, and aboard the schooner Ibis, the tale features a vast panoply of cosmopolitan characters who are compared to poppy seeds sprouting in large numbers to form a sea in which every seed is uncertain about its future.
THE DIFFICULTY OF BEING GOOD
By Gurcharan Das
In refreshingly clear prose,
Das deals with the eternal conundrum of ‘dharma’. The book looks at contemporary issues through the lens of Mahabharat, the ‘mother of all epics’, whose stories help us to look at ourselves and everyday occurrences critically to understand the play of greed, envy, and self-deception. Das asserts that instead of killing capitalism, individual corrupt capitalists should be brought to justice.
Translated by Sudeep Sen
Aria is an anthology of work by 17 South Asian poets, and ten from farther afield, translated from such languages as Bengali, Hebrew, Hindi, Icelandic, Macedonian, Persian, Polish, and Urdu. Along with old favourites like Gulzar, Ta-gore, and Jibanananda Das, the book contains verse by contemporary poets in India, East and West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Sen, himself an accomplished poet, has rendered the poems in resonating English.
By Subroto Bagchi
Containing pearls of wisdom distilled from Bagchi’s lifelong experience as a respected entrepreneur and educator, this is a timely read in the context of recent high-magnitude corporate failures. Following in the footsteps of the author’s previous blockbuster Go Kiss the World, the book posits clear codes of conduct and boundaries that a true professional must adhere to.
By Nandan Nilekani
Offering readable prescriptions for India’s present ills, this book is in four parts. The first is about ideas on which there is broad consensus, that entrepreneurship is essential to development; the second is about areas that need a lot to be done, like literacy, urbanisation, and a common market; the third deals with higher education; and the final part addresses environment, social security, and energy needs.
THE 3 MISTAKES OF MY LIFE
By Chetan Bhagat
In this novel about three average students, Bhagat’s characters are young, ambitious, and passionate, facing the same moral and social problems that most of today’s young Indians do. Set in Ahmedabad, the story’s good mix of cricket, religion, business, love, and friendship – all for the price of a cup of coffee – is a sure recipe for anchoring young minds.
Coffee table book
LIVING JEWELS FROM THE INDIAN JUNGLE
Edited by Boman F. Chhapgar & Ashok S. Kothari
Beautifully illustrated, this 205-page book is ideal for ornithologists, botanists, and nature lovers. It contains rare and fascinating information: for example, in Madurai and Nagercoil people collected insects during rainy months and ate them in leaner times, roasted with salt and pepper. The third in a series from the Bombay Natural History Society, which also includes the beautiful Treasure of Indian Wildlife (2005) has a wealth of invaluable, detailed descriptions and humorous anecdotes. Diligently edited, it reads like a collection of fascinating travelogues and will delight all who love nature.
BNHS INDIA & OUP