This is the latest trend, say organisers of the International book festival at Kochi
By Shevlin Sebastian
In 1997, the members of the Antharashtra Pusthakotsava Samithi decided to hold an international book festival. It was the first of its kind in Kochi. And the Samithi's reasoning was simple. “Kochi is regarded as the commercial capital of Kerala,” says E.N. Nandakumar, festival director. “There was an impression that people were only interested in business and not in reading or literary matters. We wanted to change that.”
What the members felt was that there are many educational institutions, apart from several writers, who lived in Kochi. However, in the first year, they could put up only 30 stalls. But fifteen years later, the festival is a grand success. For the December 1-10 event this year, which is being held at the Ernakulathappan Ground, there are 200 stalls, with 300 state and national-level publishers taking part. During the festival, numerous cultural and children's programmes will take place every day, apart from writing workshops. Among the eminent people taking part are MT Vasudevan Nair, ONV Kurup, Justice K. Sukumaran, M.K. Sanoo, Sugathakumari, K.L. Mohana Varma, Thomas Mathew and Chammanam Chacko.
Other attractions: there is a photo exhibition on the life of Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, as well as a stall highlighting national integration by the Union Government's Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity. The festival will be inaugurated by Shashi Tharoor, the Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development, while the keynote address will be delivered by writer C. Radhakrishnan.
“The festival has become a major event in Kochi,” says Nandakumar. “Around 1 lakh people are expected to come from all over Kerala. Schools make it a point to bring their students during class hours.”
Not surprisingly, the visitors come from all sections of society; they include judges, bureaucrats, bank employees, doctors, advocates, students and members of the working class. What is an eye opener is that many MLAs and MPs are also in attendance. “MI Shanavas [MP from Wayanad], a regular visitor, reads social, historical, and political books,” says T. Satish, a member of the media committee. “C.S. Sujatha, [the former MP from Mavelikara] also likes to read.”
Sujatha says that all politicians should read, to have a better understanding of life. “I like fiction, poetry and politics,” she says. “However, I have to admit that I should read much more.”
In recent times, there have been two significant trends. One is the rise in the participation of women. “The majority of women these days are involved in jobs or small businesses,” says Satish. “So they meet a lot of people, and feel the need to have more knowledge. Hence, they have developed a reading habit. Also, the excitement of watching the multiple channels on television has waned.”
Another development is the rise in the sale of religious books. “One reason could be the increasing stress in daily life,” says Satish. “People want a way out, so they turn to religious books. In the 1950s and 60s, atheism was a fad among the youth. These days youngsters consider it a fashion to go to temples, churches and mosques.”
Adds Nandakumar: “Contrary to what the doomsayers have been saying, the reading habit is definitely going up.”
(The New Indian Express, Kerala)