Art of Possibilities in a Market-oriented World: A Walk Through the Recent World Book Fair, Delhi
The World Book Fair (7-15 January, 2017) was held in New Delhi. The New Leam research team observed diverse colours of the fair and has come forward with some keen observations on the state of contemporary educational scenario- the culture of reading, the nature of publication industry and the choices of people.
By Editorial Team
- The reality of books
Books are not just collections of words; rather a book is also a product of love. The creation of a book is no less than an art form where a writer, a designer, an editor, a proof reader, a publisher and a distributor- everybody’s labour gives a concrete shape to the book that we touch, see, feel, experience and read. Even though these days because of the massive technological revolution and the twin phenomenon called Google and the internet many of us tend to devalue the tangible reality of hard copies of books. However the fact is that when we touch a book or see diverse brands of books, look at the pages, and flip through the contents we also pass through an experience of catharsis. A book has its soul and fragrance and when a festival like the Book fair is held it gives book lovers an opportunity to experience this reality of books , inviting them to diverse modes of writing ,publication, designing. No wonder a book fair has its immense significance even in an age characterised by online shopping and reading. It was therefore a refreshing sight when in the recent World Book fair held in Delhi (7-15 January) we saw a diverse group of people ranging from small children and their parents to young learners and old book lovers exploring and experiencing the world of books.
However as we moved around the book fair from counter to counter, observed carefully and evolved a sharp ethnographic gaze we saw a changing reality manifesting itself in people’s choices and the packaging of publication houses. To begin with one thing that struck us is the massive crowd at the children’s pavilion. At one level it indicates the dynamism of an aspiring society in which parents, particularly middle class parents are deeply bothered about their children’s education, career and social mobility and then a deeper look suggests something problematic about the very practice of education that seems to have guided many of these parents in choosing the books, educational toys and gadgets for their children. In a hyper competitive society characterised by an unimaginative, non-reflexive, exam centric, grade oriented learning- education tends to be equated with measured success. Not surprisingly, publishers come forward with diverse packages of success, be it success in Board examinations or medical-engineering entrance tests .One can see the crowd approaching the counters that publish guide books , audio visual education tools for competitive exams . One also sees hired sales persons with apparent smartness trying to convince the parents about their products. Long back one of the leading English poets of the century TS Elitot said that our education system is preparing people only for technical manpower and it manufactures a crowd , and as Eliot said a crowd even if well fed and well clothed remains a crowd and is dissociated with all that is deep, profound and civilizational . No wonder while we saw the over flow of crowds at such counters we noticed empty book shops that had come forward with truly innovative books and educational material.
Another striking thing was the choice of a significant section of youngsters primarily under-graduate students. There were book counters that have almost reduced books particularly ‘bestsellers’ into gross commodities which can be purchased by weight. The way that these books were kept indicated that there was no love for ideas and the distinction between a book shop and a grocery shop was quite easily blurred. This way of looking at books does not generate a positive attitude that cares, values and longs for great ideas and good writing another important aspect worth our attention the growing presence of international academic publications which with their spectacular counters attracted university academics, scholars and others. At times one wonders whether the space these publication houses occupy is also a demonstration of the enormous hold that they have on the world of academic publishing- what ought to be published, how and from whom.
- Religion on Sale
A careful observer would notice the presence of multiple shops and counters selling ‘religious books’ at times one feels that in a secular world religiosity does not die it manifests itself in fulfilling an important human urge to make sense of and understand the meaning of existence in a world that is otherwise becoming increasingly alienating with its own psychology of stress, anxiety, broken human-relationships and purposelessness of existence. Not surprisingly a blend of spiritual- self-help books has its own significance and there are buyers of it. The clients at such counters range from professionals, seekers, young and old people and many others trying to see through a perplexed world. However one also notices some crude commodification in the form of religious packaging. The growth of multiple ‘babas’ is noticeable. In those counters one could notice the constant telecast of their speeches, their close disciples quite often English speaking trying to persuade the crowd and inviting them to their counter. The more one observes it carefully the more one realises how difficult it is to renounce when one sees a baba advertising himself by reminding that after all he too is an IIT alumni or that he made a sacrifice by selling his Porsche (an ultra-expensive car). We do realise that the world around us is full of these packages and Spectacles and the meaning of critical education is the ability to cultivate the art of filtering and to separate the meaningful from the trivial.
- The Glimpses of Possibilities
Even in a market oriented media induced world what keeps ones hope alive is the refusal of human creativity and dissent to die. That is why when one moves around the World Book fair it is not difficult to notice the presence of some truly beautiful and innovative projects- a small counter arousing our imagination in the art of reading books through the creation of beautiful gifts like mugs , bags filled with innovative quotes , a counter full of innovative educational texts and learning material for children and educators , a counter of a beautifully designed literary magazine from the South and also a couple of youngsters with absolute care and alertness managing to find the great classics like Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex, Sophie’s world, Sigmund Freud’s Introductory Lectures On Psychoanalysis from a under a pile of ‘second-hand bestsellers’ and some deeply contemplative minds choosing a poster showing Albert Camus , Castro and Che, Tagore and Satyajit Ray -all these indicate that the search is till going on and we believe that if there is any deeper meaning of education it is precisely this- to enable the learner to walk with a lamp even in a dark world.
This article is published in The New Leam, FEBRUARY 2017 Issue( Vol .3 No.20) and available in print version. To buy contact us or write at email@example.com
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