Sunday, 7 February 2010

World Book Fair 2010

In the photo from left to right, are Brian Mendonca, Goan traveller-poet based in Delhi; Mohammad Aslam, Professor and Head, Department of English, University of Kashmir, Srinagar; Rajkumar Keswani, Hindi poet and investigative journalist, Bhopal
(World Book Fair, New Delhi, Sat, 6 Feb 2010)

[Goanet Archive] Footpath Poet at the World Book Fair, New Delhi 2008
brian mark mendonca
Wed, 13 Feb 2008 05:16:46 -0800

Poets are the soul of a country. Sometimes they can also be treated as pariahs by a country.

As if self-publishing my book of poems 'Last Bus to Vasco: Poems from Goa'(2006)were not enough, I was also warned not to display it at the World Book Fair by the organisors - the marshals of the National Book Trust - who were scouring the various halls. All they needed of me was Rs 38,000 for a weekend - since I work on weekdays. They said they could give me a concession. I had priced my book, inclusive of audio CD, at Rs 150.

The day the World Book Fair opened in New Delhi, was also the opening day of the Carnival in Goa, 2nd February. I put my Goa T shirt in the biting cold and packed some books in my canvas bag. None of the stalls at the 14 Halls had a 5"x 8" space on their racks to display my book. I sold one book to an ex-colleague at one of the stalls.

Having been listed in the India chapter of the international Journal of Commonwealth Literature (December 2007), cut no ice with a prominent distributor who I went to see at Daryaganj. 'See me in April,' he had said, 'We don't take new books in the current financial year. I'll do my best for you.'

So on the following Saturday morning, on the penultimate day of the Book Fair, I decided to brave the odds. If only to prove something to myself. To prove I had some space in this ancient land, however tiny, which would bid me welcome.

The carnival was over. I was also buoyed by the exuberance of the Kolkata book fair, which had artists selling their paintings on the lawns, and where I had once played the guitar. This 'nasha' (spell)was sadly lacking at the World Book Fair.

I packed the foldable wooden minitable I had picked up from Tilonia, the Barefoot University in Rajasthan and decided to display my book on the footpath. As I steadied it on the footpath opposite hall No 1, I covered it with the beautiful off-white crochet doily I had bought at the Mapusa bazaar - a tribute to so many Goan ladies who had spent their lives knitting. On top of that I placed the 16 postcards of Goa done in sepia by Mario Miranda all around the doily. These were a collection made possible by Museums of Goa, Salvador-de-Mundo, Goa. On top of that went 10 books with a stand on which I displayed one book.

At the end of the 3 hours that Saturday from 2 pm to 5 pm I had sold 5 books. After 5 pm the wind grew cold and the sunlight was receding. The exposure was thrilling to say the least. A publisher friend from Agra bounded across to meet me saying he was keen to know what 'junoon'(madness) it was that made me sit there. A bevy of young female journalists thrust their ID cards in my face and said 'Sir we would like to ask you some questions.' They opened with, 'Why are sitting here?' I said, 'To display my book Because they won't let me do that inside.' 'We have been watching you. Many people just walk past. Does it bother you?' they persisted. I replied 'No, I am here to display my book. It is a shame that Goa has no presence here at the Book Fair, at the State Pavilions at Pragati Maidan, nor at DelhiHaat. I am doing what little I can. Besides, these books already have clients abroad in the UK and Canada.'

It was wonderful how the footpath, wiped clean by some dexterous sweepers, began to exert its own energy field once the books were placed there. How its quiet space made the world book fair more egalitarian. A world with a human face where those left out could cock a snook at those ensconced right inside. People who stopped for an ice cream at the stall nearby looked at me curiously. Others, exhausted after doing the rounds just plonked down beside me, for want of a proper space to sit. An elderly gent from Chennai gamely sat on the footpath beside me and shared his nostalgia with me for his hometown and I exchanged notes with him about my recent trip to Coimbatore and Mamallapuram. Suddenly that wee space became a mini-India where I was embraced by the warmth of India and its people.

A teenager came up and browsed through the book very thoughtfully. When he was joined by his friends he said in Hindi, 'He is asking for Rs 150.' It was apparent he could not afford the sum. 'Ask him to lower the price,' his friend suggested. The boy's answer still rings in my ears, 'He is a poet. He is free to quote his price.' He resignedly gave the book back to me. I asked how much he was willing to pay. With great effort he took out a crisp note of Rs 100 and gave it to me. And walked away with the book. What humbled me about my experience was that I could know my readers on a one to one basis, and what my poems meant to them.

It is unfortunate that prominent publishers in India today do not publish fresh new Indian poets writing in English. What you get to see are reprints of an older generation, or in some cases of a generation before the older generation,like Derozio. The only fresh new young poetry being published is by the Sahitya Akademi, Delhi; online poetry blogs like glorioustimes .com from Chennai; online literary journals like from Hyderabad and online Journals like Hudson View published from South Africa. Even recent studies on post-colonial poetry in English have a sense of déjà vu stopping at Kolatkar after paying due obeisance to Mehrotra and Kamala Das. The same names the same quotations. Old wine in new bottles. If you are living you have a slim chance of being published!

Exhibiting at the World Book Fair 2008, in this manner, in the capital of India gave me a rush of adrenaline to realize that with my small table from the Barefoot University at Tilonia, the Footpath Poet was ready to sell his poems anywhere in the world. Perhaps with a hat and a guitar next time. Being the writer, editor,publisher and seller of my book of poems, this served as an inspiration to many. 'You've got guts, man,' drawled one wag from college. The new frontier beckoned.
Published in OHeraldo newspaper in Goa, February 2008 and on Goanet

No comments: