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Internet is a knowledge tool, can never replace books: NBT director

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Promoting book reading: National Book Trust director Nuzhat Hassan at the 19th New Delhi World Book Fair.
Promoting book reading: National Book Trust director Nuzhat Hassan at the 19th New Delhi World Book Fair.

Staff Reporter

Nuzhat Hassan feels that once the New Delhi World Book Fair becomes a ‘self-sustaining project’, subsidies given to the publishers can be done away with

NEW DELHI: National Book Trust-India director Nuzhat Hassan wants to see the biennial New Delhi World Book Fair becoming a “self-sustaining project” so that the system of doling out subsidies to publishers can be done away with.

“Like at our earlier book fairs, in the 19th edition of the book fair now under way at Pragati Maidan, we are also giving subsidies to Hindi and regional language publishers to enable them to open their stalls and stands at half the rates. We are also offering a small subsidy to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries. Once we become a self-sustaining project then we can do away with subsidies. That would be an ideal situation but when we can actually do it is something I cannot say,” he adds.

A big turnout

Ms. Hassan, who took over as director of NBT-India in 2005, says the book fair is seeing a big turnout of bibliophiles. “The feedback I am getting from our employees is heartening. The fair is certainly making people think and talk about books. Whether this translates into purchase of books I cannot be sure. Selling of books depends on multiple factors like content and price. Our mandate is very clear that we want to promote book reading habit among the public. We want to focus only on books and create an atmosphere where people like to read and buy books. We don’t decide on how much discount exhibitors can have and don’t do policing but only give advice.”

Asserting that the book-reading habit among children and grown-ups hasn’t decreased, the NBT director says: “When I was a student of Mass Communication at Jamia Millia Islamia, there was talk that radio would die a sudden death because of the increasing popularity of television. But this didn’t happen. In fact, so many radio stations have come up and people are listening more. Internet is more of a knowledge tool rather than a replacement for books. To assess whether our youngsters are reading books or not, we have commissioned a national readership survey. It is being done by the National Council for Applied Economic Research.”

The book fair has grown by leaps and bounds and is now on the international calendar. “It is a fact that the book fair organised by us has become the biggest Afro-Asian book fair. I don’t want to compare it with the Frankfurt, Beijing or Tokyo book fairs because ours is a unique one. We get visiting delegates from various countries and there are a lot of trade enquiries. Last year we got delegates from Ghana, Europe and China. This year we are getting trade enquiries from the United Kingdom. Even though we didn’t invite them over, they came on their own. Trade elements are catching up like copyrights and trading rights,” she says.

Another unique selling point of the book fair is that all regional language publishers transact business under the same roof. “Not only leading publishers from Delhi but also a wide range of books from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu that we usually don’t get in the Capital’s market are vying for attention. Many libraries like from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh come to purchase books in bulk. NBT is also in the purchasing exercise for its own library. The ongoing fair will be an interface among authors, publishers, booksellers and readers as well as facilitator of copyright trade, translations and co-publication arrangements.”

In keeping with the rich tradition and long history of sports in India and with New Delhi playing host to the Commonwealth Games come October, a special exhibit of books on sports is the main focus at the book fair. “We have collected 700 books on various genres of sports in all Indian languages including English.”

Special exhibit

Then there is a special exhibit of books on and by Jawaharlal Nehru. “It has some of the finest writings and assessments of Pandit Nehru by scholars from India and abroad. In fact, the total number of books is 400,” says Ms. Hassan. Another major attraction is the exclusive children’s pavilion in which workshops, competitions, calendar making, sessions on book review, creative writing, illustration and story-telling are being organised.

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