O P I N I O N – N A T I O N A L A F F A I R S
Mehnaaz Pervin Tuli
How much more are there to be sacrificed due to cataclysm through the invisible microbe? How many days, months the cheerfulness of festivity would have to remain blight for ensuring breath? The entire world went into a depressed state after film festivals, international summits, Olympics, concerts, carnivals, and celebrations involving public gathering were cancelled. However, things were different in one country – Bangladesh.
We have enjoyed all kinds of events and gatherings, including the ones that include interaction with mass people, travelling to tourist places, shopping in the crowdy lanes of New Market — all amongst the fretful pandemic threats. While personal events have not been affected, lawmakers and authorities have stepped back to ponder over the fact that real death rates in arranging a fair at any level cannot be decided in a jiffy.
The Ekushey Boi Mela is more than just a book fair and a place for merry gathering. This book fair signifies the literary month February along with the patriotic sense of sacrifice for one’s own language. It reminds us of scary and zealous incidents of language movement in 1952. It has been 69 years since some great courageous hearts marched on in protest for making Bangla the official Language of the then East-Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Now, we lighten up our heart and soul by speaking in Bangla, writing in Bangla without any consternation and no other books other than in Bangla language can give us the easy comfort after a tiring day. I myself search for classic Bangla poems and essays to read when I get tired of English novels and theories.
Ekushey Boi Mela has always been organised in the Bangla Academy premises and Suhrawardy Udyan to commemorate our valiant heroes, carry on our heritage and literature, and cater to the enlightenment of new generation through the pathway of knowledge and wisdom.
There have been speculations on the launching of the book fair this year amongst pandemic. While many voted for the usual arrangement, some chose the virtual medium to keep up with the fight against the virus. Previously, the fair was planned to go virtual in order to tackle the second wave of coronavirus, but several publishers and prominent writers raised objections demanding the fair to be conducted as usual. They even proposed a plan ensuring all cautionary measures to stop any sort of spreads in the gathering. The latest decision was made on the basis of the true essence of book fair to be achieved only by placing book stores in the field. Not everything can be exhibited intangibly and out of reach depending on digital web hence the publishers and some literature lovers pointed out that a virtual fair can never be an alternative to our historic tradition.
Considering all pits and falls, the proposal has been sent to the Ministry to launch the book fair physically bearing up its true essence but the initiation might take time. This delayed marshalling is due to the present rampant crisis and giving the world and our country little more time to settle down with casualties and transmission. Nothing is definitive, as fair may go virtual if the pandemic situation worsens.
I talked to some people about this hesitation and fluctuation and asked for their thoughts on the ongoing issues of book fair launching amidst a pandemic. These conversations took place on a digital platform through the help of Google forms consisting of questionnaires, asking people whether they were prioritising the virtual fair this year or not, the consequences of setting up the fair as usual, and about their feelings towards the tradition of Boi Mela.
Syed Nazmus Sakib is an ardent book lover and a teacher by profession. He expressed his clear views on the necessity of making all sorts of arrangements for a traditional Boi Mela instead of a virtual alternative. He suggests that the venue can remain unmoved ensuring uncompromising security measures by police and volunteers.
“As everything else is going smoothly in the present crisis, why cannot the most important event take place in its true nature? This fair connects people with love, knowledge, and wisdom. There should be strict sanitary and proximity rules that can make the fair take place,” he added.
Sakib himself is a published author who wrote about the cinema techniques and stories covering both national and international films. His favourite authors include Mohammad Nazim Uddin, Obayed Haque, Abdullah A Imran, and Robin Zaman. Apart from being a perceptive cinephile, he is also driven towards history, novels, non-fiction and would love to rummage through the book fair in person.
Rumu*, another university teacher by profession, suggested that the fair could be shifted to Purbachal so there could be ample space between the stalls. This would palliate the possibility of frantic gesticulation of people thus making it less challenging for the planners to safeguard pandemic policy or measures.
“Boi Mela is more than a book fair. It is something close to my heart and rejuvenates my mind. February would feel desiccated without Amar Ekhushey Grantha Mela,” she further said.
Only three respondents amongst eight, were aligned with the suggestion of arranging a virtual fair considering the importance of control during the pandemic. They were definitive in their thoughts where safety and prevention from haphazard maneuver seems sporadic in the process of contriving a fair. With abundance of cultural and social significance, Boi Mela is also an opportunity for people to get together and roam around thereby undermining the ongoing commotion.
Mila*, an MBA graduate and a fan of detective stories and comics, illustrated upon the essence of Boi Mela that is transcendental and cannot be weighed up to anything else. She added value to the virtual fair by suggesting how there are chances for small publishing houses or novice writers, poets this time to showcase themselves in the virtual field, something which is regarded to be a gritty task amongst the competitive fad.
While sharing her thoughts, Shejuti* referred to the popular literary figure Anisul Hoque, who commented on the ambivalent situation regarding the launching of the book fair.
“The Boi Mela should be arranged physically, but only after the situation gets better. It could be placed somewhere after 20 February with strict security and sanitary measures,” she asserted.
Lastly, Mahtab* cited the news of various international book fairs that were launched virtually but did not do well and failed to meet up expectations.
“It will be wiser to wait for a while, inspect the overall situation, and then prepare for a traditional Boi Mela. The planning of security measures could include keeping stalls of masks and sanitisers by the gates and strictly abiding by the manifesto – no mask, no book fair,” he concluded.
Boi Mela, or no Boi Mela, our love for books and literature shall always reign. While this remains to be the most looked upon event of the year, the question about safety amidst a pandemic still remains unanswered. For the time being, what we can do is enjoy the beauty of books by reading at home and hope for a swift vaccination drive so we could get back on the fields, to enjoy the various shades of Bangali culture.
*Names have been slightly altered due to privacy concerns.
Tuli likes to have small talks with people of various cultures, religions, and races. She can’t sit at home and would prefer living out of a suitcase at any time.