Vishnu H Prasad : An Accidental Civil Servant

Delhi Diary: Delhi Book Fair 2016 @ Pragati Maidan

I happened to come across an email that notified me of the upcoming New Delhi Book Fair happening at Pragati Maidan. I have loved going to book fairs right from when I was a kid. The feeling of being amidst all those books excites me. It also helps to keep me close to the ground, knowing how less I have read in my life. I made up my mind to go to the book fair right after I received the mail.

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Reaching there

Pragati Maidan, located in Central Delhi, is an exhibition venue ( and a very large one at that ) that is owned and operated by the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation which inturn is under the Ministry of commerce. It can be reached by the blue line metro by alighting at the Supreme Court metro station and then walking for 10 minutes.

Since I am still an outsider to New Delhi, I decided to look up more on Pragati Maidan. It is located in a 750 acre sprawling campus with dedicated air conditioned halls, theatres, cafeterias etc. which is befitting a national capital. It was built in 1972 during Ms. Gandhi’s tenure. If you reach the location early, then you can cover the Purana Qila which is right opposite Gate No. 1 of Pragati Maidan.

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Ubering there!

We (Lekshmy and I ) opted to uber there instead of taking the metro. This, even though would cost more, meant that we could take in more of Delhi and Gurgaon than what the drab, underground ride in the metro could offer. We went through Chanakyapuri/diplomatic enclave and Akbar Road etc. to finally reach gate no. 1. All the while we could see the different embassies that decorate both sides of the road, nameplates of people in power who you hear about only in the news and TV ( some of which included PJ Kurien, Justice Kuryan Joseph, Sumitra Mahajan, houses of Air Marshall and other high officials of airforce, other politicians etc). It sort of makes you feel puny and proud at the same time. You feel puny for the fact that you don’t matter there. You feel proud that ultimately, it is only you that matter in a democracy.

There were some CISF Guards outside the venue who were very helpful in guiding us through. I felt so bad that even with so many good officers, the security forces of our country, almost always, find themselves doing a thankless job. There was an officer from the North East who was very nice in pointing us in the right direction.

There are shuttle services that criss cross the campus so that people can reach their destination easily. It would have been very difficult to walk through the large campus without it.  Again we were told about this by another man in uniform. We reached Hall No 9 where the exhibition was happening in no time.

The Fair

I had expected to see a book fair that would dwarf the book exhibitions that happen in Kozhikode. However, that was not the case. This was in no way larger than the book fairs I have attended at the Palace grounds in Bangalore or the Kandamkulam Auditorium in Kozhikode. Both of them had fairly larger and varied collection of books than this fair (and more relevant to me because of the regional collection). This is not to say that the collection represented here was bad. I am just pointing to the fact that my expectations for a book fair in the National Capital were not met.

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In the first book stall I found the complete set of books by Charles Dickens and was tempted to buy some of them. I was particularly attracted to A Child’s History of England written by Dickens. A quick look inside felt like it was a book Dicken’s wrote for his son (?). Anyway, I decided to do a little googling and found that most of Dicken’s works were out of copyright and found the exact same book on archives.org. I have often found this to be the case with classic books and hence have for long shied away from buying them. This is because I love electronic books almost the same as hard copies.

Digressing a bit from the topic, the encounter with the title of this book reminded me of our very own Glimpses of World History and Discovery of India. There must be a fair chance that Nehru was inspired by Dicken’s work to write these history books which were also meant as light reading for children ( written as letters to Indira)

There were a lot of stalls which were selling books for 100 Rupees. Some of them were offering mass deals like “Sou ka theen” (3 books for 100). We walked from store to store buying almost everything we found would be useful.

Some observations

I was particularly attracted to the Exhibition stall of National Book Trust. They had a very good collection of books and most of them very informative. The print was good and the books were fairly cheap. I decided to buy some of them which I really liked.

The exhibition also had a stall of Sahitya Academy. This presented the exact opposite scenario to NBT. There were hardly any books of value. I don’t know whether it was because they did not care to choose the books wisely or because they don’t publish good books. In the Malayalam section, most of the books that I found were shoddy translations. In the English section there were some books which were Okay, but the hall was mostly filled with books from different Indian languages.

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There were also stalls giving out free bibles and Qurans. There were also people who were canvassing you into these stores. I did not find any that gave out Bhagavad Gita for free.

The Pragati Maidan Experience

Overall, the Delhi Book Fair was a good experience. We ended up buying 19 books in total. We soon booked an uber back and was racing back home to open our new friends and enjoy their smell.

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The next time you are in New Delhi, I recommend visiting Pragati Maidan. It houses some permanent stalls and there is some exhibition or the other that would interest you going on everyday. It also has places like Raj Ghat, Purana Qila etc. nearby.



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