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Bibliophiles unite at Pongal book fair

The Pongal book fair, which has been extended till January 26, reminds us of the pleasures of holding a book, turning the pages and smelling its newness. How can the charm of that fade?

Bibliophiles unite at Pongal book fair
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Chennai

The stalls at the Chennai Pongal Book Festival at Royapettah YMCA ground seemed busy on a Monday evening, but the sellers, who have been in the business for years say that they have seen busier days. With more books being available online and readers moving to Kindle, is the charm of book fairs fading?

R S Shanmugam, managing trustee of the Tamil Book Publishers and Tamil Book Sellers Development Committee that organised this fair, has no reason to complain or endorse the naysayers. “Usually, book fairs in the city happen in December and April. The dates had to be changed due to the floods. This fair is part of the Pongal celebration and we got a good response during the holidays. But it’s true, there are those who prefer going to a picnic spot with their families during the Pongal holidays,” he says. 

The book fair has around 250 stalls and has now been extended till January 26, an extension of two days. “We want to celebrate the Republic. Since it is a holiday, we expect school and college students to attend the fair. During the Pongal weekend, we had at least 5 lakh footfalls, which reduced during the week. We have also given away free tickets to attract more people,” says Mr Shanmugam. He grants that e-books and online shopping have affected the charm of book fairs, complete with crowds and dust and sprawl, but book lovers still continue to come, impelled by the romantic notion of being surrounded by books and exploring new reads. 

Mr Shanmugam says that the fair is also designed to promote Tamil books and authors, with several stalls specialising in fiction and non-fiction in the language. “I have come all the way from the suburbs to attend the book fair,” says 65-year-old Natraj, who has his grandson in tow. He adds,“I don’t want the younger generation to forget the joys of reading a book – not on a screen, but a real book.” A representative from Muthu Comics agrees, “People have an emotional attachment to comics, and at least some of us would like to read books.

We are doing decent business,” he says. Stalls at the fair are also offering discounts on purchases. A stall by Dream Books World was offering every book for Rs 99. “It is a stock clearance sale,” says S. Thamaraj Manalan. Their outlet on Mount Road was badly affected during the flood. “We incurred a loss of Rs 10 lakh, and the books here are all that we could retrieve. From cookery books for Rs 600 to dictionaries for Rs 1,000 and more, everything is available at Rs 99.”

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