Walking from the Golf Course at Kumara Park, a friend and I were both clueless about which way to head to land at Palace Grounds. That rainy Sunday being the last day of this year’s Bangalore Book Festival (BBF), we promptly asked a traffic policemen for help. The gentleman was kind in his advice:
“Illinda nadkond hodre, kaal murdhogatte”, (Going on foot from here will ensure broken legs) he said.
On learning from us that we were going to the Bangalore Book Festival, he snorted sardonically. “Ivatt hogtidiraa?” he exclaimed, incredulous at our nonchalance. “Last day, ivattu. Shuru aadaagle hogbekittu. 25 laksha books ide” (Today’s the last day. There are about 25 lakh books on sale. You would have done well to visit earlier) he said, his face bearing awe.
“Naanu hogidde nenne, nalakku books thogonde. Aadre time irlilla. Duty nodi!” he enunciated, wringing his hands to illustrate the deep regret he felt. (I was there yesterday. I could buy only four books as I didn’t have time off duty). As we blinked at his expressive monologue, he suddenly felt pity for us obviously dull children (for what we’d missed out on, perhaps) and offered to ‘stop an auto or a bus’ (sic) for us.
With that interesting encounter behind us, we reached Palace Grounds, by then, quenched by spells of rain but still buzzing with activity. An artist was crooning a Carnatic classical tune on an adjoining stage.
The indoor exhibition area wasn’t different from the regular exhibitions at Palace Grounds. Clinical white stalls were decked up with colorful posters and makeshift bookshelves. Some attendants looked on, bored, while some others looked to gain maximum spoils on the last day. A few beckoned us to visit and browse their collections with an explanatory “Medam, English books kooda ide,” (We also have English books).
If the sub-continent were a woman, she would have blushed at the attention showered on her by way of stocking titles about her every nuance at the Oxford University Press’s stall. The John Wiley and Sons stall, on the other hand, wore a streak of red, thanks to the covers of their standard low-priced editions of academic books. Country bred ‘technical’ books too made their presence felt in the stalls. Weeklies of all languages too were represented.
The usual suspects from the Bengaluru book scene were all there – Blossoms and its energetic attendants; The darling of most Bangalorean book-worms, Murthy and the diverse collection at Select; Bookworm; Sankars; magazines; even the austere National Book Trust besides many other popular and not-so-popular book-sellers from the city. Books on spirituality and in regional languages seemed to be the distinguishing feature of BBF 2008.
For every bookstore selling near-worthless titles, second-hand for an audacious Rs.100, there was always that nondescript, unassuming bookstore, quietly stocking old favorites for Rs.50 and thereabouts. We chanced upon copies of a very beautiful hardcover of Pride and Prejudice and a musty old out-of-print copy of Krishna Menon’s speeches from the Nehru era, besides half a dozen others, all for comfortably low prices.
One can’t admit there weren’t consumerist coercers, thrusting really ordinary discounts in people’s faces as they were momentarily dazed by the larger-than-lifeness of the setup. But there were the gentlemanly bookstores too, welcoming those that wandered in while not spiting the ones that didn’t.
It is tough to slot the visitors at the book fair and force labels on them. There were the loners – listening to their Ipods and immersed in book-browsing. There were the little groups, looking eagerly for books of common interest – comics and collectors’ editions. Families were the jolly majority, and why not? BBF was a delightful outing.
It is with this diffuse profile of the average visitor that it all falls into place. The collections at BBF 2008 were splendid and the vastness remarkable. But with due respect, the Bangalore Book Festival was not about the books. It was, instead, about Bangalore. It catered to not just snooty bookworms, but spirited denizens with awe and curiosity and a natural flair for thronging exhibitions (of all kinds). Not just for people looking for good reads, but also those looking for a good time.
Be it friendly policemen taking time off dreary duties or librarians asking for ‘one copy of everything’, BBF 2008 had something in it for everyone. ⊕