January is becoming too hectic for the beginning of the year. And very hard work. Especially for those who dream of a leisurely beginning to a year, getting their finances in order for the next two months and actually get back to publishing only by April. Of course, e-commerce has turned topsy- turvy a ‘traditional’ schedule and now buying and selling is happening all round the year. This is a great equaliser though, big publishers don’t benefit more from this than small ones. What is unsettling though is the number of events crowded into a month. The two big book fairs are the New Delhi World Book Fair and the Chennai Book Fair, each with only 700-800 publishers participating. Immediately follows the Kolkata Book Fair. So where are the other 8,000 odd publishers in the country? Why do these events have to happen in January-February and not say, in September or October? Immediately from these megafairs, one has to rush off to events like the litfests like Jaipur Litfest, The Hindu Litfest, the Crime Writers’ Festival in Delhi and half a dozen litfests around the country. There is thus, a surfeit of intellectual-literary activity in these two months, rest of the year a dryspell.
At a time when the government’s mantra is to ‘promote reading’, an encompassing phrase without any specific targets, at least it is expected of the federations, publishers and organisers to spread out the intellectual fare more evenly across the year, from September to February, if not all through the year. This would help ‘promote reading’ more than when the events are gathered. Especially when India’s Class 6 students can’t read Class 4 text books. We need to ask ourselves what the politics is and acknowledge that politics effects festivals and fairs and their budgets just as much as it effects everything else. One realises with somewhat of trepidation that ‘promoting reading’ or ‘promoting free speech’ is not as simple as it seems nor is it such a ‘do good’ initiative. We don’t ask what was NDWBF budget this year, what was it in 2015-16? Nor how much was JLF budget this year and last. In this age of scream-aloud transparency, these basic data is not public year on year. In retrospect, an overcrowded calendar and a frenzy of events does seem an attempt to obfuscate actually all that ails NDWBF and JLF and many events like this. Finally, it is money that is a hurdle.