Finding the ground was not tough even though the city was new to me. I got down the auto and walked under the evening sun towards the ticket counter. “Entry Free” said the usher. “That was different”, I thought. With hands in my pockets and a ‘good-to-be-back-home’ smile on my face, I entered the book exhibition. Year after year I’ve been visiting book fairs in Hyderabad, but, over the last two years, I’ve been visiting the same in Vijayawada. Home to me is where books are, no matter the city, so walking into one in a different city was no different. I walked in alone (’cause even my best friends who tend to come with me once don’t dare to come the next time, citing I hardly speak and simply don’t move quickly) and firmly planted my legs in front of one book stall, opened a book and quietly drifted to a different world.
I jolted back to reality when someone pushed me to reach a book. I realized I already spent a lot of time at this stall, and so made my way to another. I glanced through the names of the stalls ignoring popular names, concentrating on less known and regional publishers. Logic was simple: in cities whose book shops were filled with Penguins, Bantams, Bloomsburys, Rupas, Jaicos and the like, book fairs tend to be the only places ripe enough to discover the forgotten or obscure. Amidst the Tolstoys, Doyles, Dickens, Shakespeare, I searched for books which I never heard of. Who knew what lay in them? What exotic adventure I might embark on, or what new dimension of thought it would evoke in me? After-all, I discovered the sleuth of Baker Street in one such book fair. So with a roving eye, I moved from one stall to another. One good thing about the Vijayawada book fair is it’s focus on Telugu literature. It was contending to see books such as Kireerthanarjuneeyam by Bharavi, Sringaaranaishadam by Srinadha, Amuktyamalyada by Sri Krishna Devaraya, Veyi Padagalu by Viswanatha Satya Narayana, Paakudu raallu by Ravuri Bharadwaja, Vamsi ki nachina kadhalu, Diguva Godavari Kadhalu, Maro Prasthanam by Sri Sri, Midhunam by Sri Ramana being printed and sold in good numbers. But, as Mark Twain said, ”A classic is often a book which everyone praise, but don’t read”; I wished more lesser known books see the light. I’d slowly move from stall to stall comparing editions of books or haggling for best price often wondering where on earth would I find the time to read them all.
After a while I got tired, bought myself a coffee (yes, the fair had eateries), and slumped into a nearby chair. That’s when I actually heard quotes being read out in between announcements & promotions. A lot of them were beautiful – Poetry is the synonym for pain, Books weren’t made for decoration, but there nothing decorates a house better than books, a book worth reading is worth buying, you are never alone when you’re reading a book, my best friend is a man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read, a book must be an ax for the frozen sea within us. But, the one which brought a smile to my face and truly reflected a book lovers passion was: miss a meal if you have to, but don’t miss a book – an adage I’ve lived by, for a long time.
As the day went by, it was heartening to see people trickle in, fathers with their sons bent on picking the best text, grandfathers with grandchildren reading classics, mothers with toddlers reciting rhymes, siblings arguing on which book to pick up. I wish book fairs attracted more such crowd. But, they were never crowd pullers like movies or concerts. If only they did, the world would’ve been a better place. Watching all of them, my face lit up with a smile; I suddenly felt I was a part of this ‘book lovers’ community where everyone walked with each other silently but together. I got up and walked towards the exit. I didn’t buy any books that day not that I didn’t find any but buying was never my primary objective at a book fair. It was what book shops offered in limit and book fairs in spades – browsing pleasure.