Hooked on books

Today’s the last day of the 13th Colombo International Book Fair that has seen endless crowds flocking to the BMICH. Shalomi Daniel speaks to die-hard fans, publishers and organizers

As in previous years, Yusra Farzan is at the Colombo International Book Fair this year too, a load of books in one hand, and a shopping bag bulging with more books in the other, while her eyes scan the stalls looking for…what else? Yet more books!!

Book lovers browse through a wilderness of books

“The Book Fair is good and the prices are reasonable,” enthused Yusra, who said that she visited the Book Fair not once, but twice during the week, along with her friends. Yusra and her friends are part of the seemingly endless crowds that flocked to the 13th Colombo International Book Fair that ends today at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH).

Entrance tickets are priced at Rs. 10 and proceeds go to the ‘Daru Diriya Trust’ administered by the Sri Lanka Book Publishers Association, BMICH and Sampath Bank. Every cent is put into the trust and even the cost of printing the tickets is not deducted.

“Using the interest from the fund, scholarships are awarded to students who excel in their studies but due to financial constraints are unable to further their education,” said Shan Rajaguru, Director of the Sri Lanka Book Publishers Association, organizers of the Book Fair. The scholarships have been awarded since 2007.

Athula Jayakody of Sooriya Publishers

The inaugural Book Fair held in 1999 at the National Art Gallery under the name ‘Kolamba Poth Salpila’ had just 37 stalls. “This year, there are 400 stalls of which 40 are international stalls from countries such as India, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, UK and USA,” said Mr. Rajaguru.

The BMICH has been the co-organizer of the event for the past decade. “It is a service that we are rendering to the book loving public and it is our duty to the nation,” said Director General/CEO of the BMICH Bandula Ekanayake, adding that much preparation and thought go into organizing the Book Fair.
This is evident; even the Red Cross and Fire brigade are at hand in case of an emergency.
Nuwan Jayantha from the Vijitha Yapa Bookshop who is very happy with the facilities provided for the book stall holders however feels that a certain fraction of the crowd are not really book lovers. “Those who are not actually interested in books add to the large crowds and hinder the genuine book lovers,” he said.

However, book lovers continue to blissfully browse through a wilderness of books despite the cramped conditions. Sayuri Ginthotavidana though jostled by people on either side, calmly continues looking for the books she wants. “I come here every year and I think it is better than previous years,” she says with a smile.

It is indeed a huge collection of books on history, culture, adventure, commerce, romance and many more, all under one roof. “More people go for ‘opa doopa’ books and not educational books,” observes Athula Jayakody of Sooriya Publishers regretfully.

Yusra Farzan: armful of books

The Book Fair coincides with the National Literary month and hence sees the burst of publication. “Four hundred books, both Sri Lankan and foreign are being launched during the course of the Book Fair,” said Mr. Rajaguru.

The Sri Lanka Book Publishers Association also takes the opportunity to promote Sinhala Literature in the country. The ‘Swarna Pusthaka’ (Golden Book) award is given to the best Sinhala Original Novel by a Sri Lankan author. “The cash award is given so that the author can take time off from other work and write,” explains Mr. Rajaguru adding that the other four short listed authors also receive a cash award.
This year, the fifth ‘Swarna Pusthaka’ award was given to Sunethra Rajakarunanayake for her book ‘Kavi Kandura’.

Meanwhile, amateur artists also add colour to the event with street dramas, musical performances and art competitions being part of the action.

The Sunday Times was a media sponsor of the Book Fair.

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