The Chennai Book Fair has become a meeting point for the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora yearning for a literary and cultural space not available in their homeland – native or adoptive.
“It is not possible for me to publish my book on the French Revolution in Tamil in Sri Lanka in the present circumstances. So, I chose to print and publish the book in Chennai,” said K. Vasudevan, a poet and translator working in Paris.
Mr. Vasudevan, settled in Paris 28 years ago, is working as a translator of legal documents. He is visiting the book fair for the first time and he has used the occasion to publish his translation of some 19 century French poetry too. The poetry work will be out on January 18.
Sri Lankan Tamils visit the book fair to buy books for their personal collection and also for book shops they run in their adoptive countries.
M. Sivathasan buys books for Rs. 20 lakh every year for his bookstall Arivalayam in Paris.
“I have been visiting the book fair for the last 10 years and I will buy books for Rs 10 lakh. My purchases will not stop with the book fair and I will buy throughout the year for another Rs 10 lakh,” said Mr. Sivathasan.
Similarly, A. Selvam, editor of the Canada-based serious literary magazine Kalam, comes to Chennai quite often as his magazine is being printed here.
“I am printing it in Chennai because it is easy for me to send copies to Sri Lanka from here,” said Mr. Selvam, who purchases books from the book fair for his personal collection and also for sale. But he confines himself to serious literature.
For Kandeeban, now living in the United Kingdom, and his father Arasarathinam, a retired postmaster from Sri Lanka, the fair that coincides with Pongal offers a chance to be with his relatives here. Besides, of course, it is an opportunity to buy books.
“We can meet and celebrate Pongal with our relatives, which is not possible in the UK,” said Mr Kandeeban. He and his father together buy books for Rs 40,000 at the book fair and find it difficult to transport them to their place.
S. Kannan of Kalachuvadu Pathipagam said many Sri Lankan MPs and Ministers from the provinces regularly visit his stall to buy books. “I have published most of the works of the Sri Lankan Muslim writers and others such as Cheran, Uma Varadarajan and Deepachelvan,” he said.
Manushyaputhiran of Uyirmai Pathipagam, however, explained that it was a myth that Sri Lankan Tamils read only serious literature. “As in Tamil Nadu, only a small section of people there read serious literature. Of course there was a demand for political literature so long as the war continued. But the sale came down once the war was over,” he said.
Mr. Sivathasan confirmed Manushyaputhiran’s view, saying many of his customers settled in countries like Germany, the UK and Sweden and other countries were readers of pulp fiction and serious literature attracted not many.
“Many prefer self-improvement books and an author like Robin Sharma is a big hit. Political literature is also preferred by many Sri Lankan Tamils,” he said.