Urdu book fair sees less footfalls due to location in BKC | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Urdu book fair sees less footfalls due to location in BKC

BySabah Virani, Mumbai
Jan 09, 2024 08:20 AM IST

The 26th National Urdu Book Fair in Mumbai offers a wide range of books, including poetry, literature, philosophy, cookery, and religious texts. However, the fair has seen a lackluster response due to its location, which is far from public transportation. Stall owners hope for better turnout in the remaining days of the fair.

The 26th National Urdu Book Fair, held from January 6 to 14 at the MMRDA grounds in BKC, has something for everyone—among the 300,000 books at the 185 stalls, there are poetry, literature, philosophy, cookery and children’s books along with educational material and a good amount of Islamic religious fare. The spread includes quirks like the Urdu translation of the popular book ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, a translation of the Jewish holy book Talmud, books on English grammar, tote bags, and posters embellished with the ghazals of renowned poets.

Urdu book fair sees less footfalls due to location in BKC
Urdu book fair sees less footfalls due to location in BKC

“I’ve come all the way from Andheri at the insistence of my daughter who is in the first grade,” said Rais Ahmed. “So far, she has bought a joke book, a story book, a cursive writing book, drawing books and some stationery.” His daughter was prancing around at the fair in her uniform, demanding his attention and pointing to her schoolteachers. “She’s not let me look at any books yet,” Ahmed added, laughing.

Another parent, Arisha Aftab, had picked up books for her children as well as some catering to her own interests in literature and religion. “All my four children go to English-medium schools, but we love the Urdu language so their grandfather teaches them,” she said. “There are so many wonderful books here, it’s unfortunate I won’t be able to buy all the ones I want.”

Despite the enthusiasts, however, the response to the fair has been generally lacklustre—this despite the stall-owners maintaining that Maharashtra and Mumbai have a sizable Urdu-reading population. The cause for the poor show, most agreed, was the location.

“The venue is quite far away from the station, and rickshaws are dropping people far from the spot sometimes,” said Qasim Ali Shah, who has a stall with partly religious books and partly motivational ones. “This is also a business district. Plus, not much advertising of the fair has been done. Mumbai has even more Urdu readers than Lucknow, where I’m from. If the fair was held in a place closer to a station or near Byculla or Mumbra, it would have been jam-packed.” Added Ishtizaque Sayyed, a Mumbai-based Urdu writer, editor and publisher: “I was at a book fair in Malegaon in 2020 and one in Mumbra in 2018. There was one held in Aurangabad last month. Flocks of people had come.”

The previous National Urdu Book Fair was held in Mumbai in 2012. This iteration and the previous one was organised by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) and Anjuman E Islam, a charitable organisation with 97 education institutes under it.

“BKC is inaccessible for a lot of people, so we’re meeting BMC reps tomorrow to request BEST buses at Bandra East and Kurla West station,” said Dr Zahir Kazi, a radiologist and president of Anjuman. “But we still managed to get a footfall of 20,000 on the first day.”

The fair has events lined up on all days; some paying ode to Bollywood, to which Dr Kazi said Mumbai owed its Urdu culture; ghazal recitations; a play in the memory of renowned lyricist and poet Sahir Ludhianvi; a science exhibition by school children; and mushairas.

Students from schools and colleges made up for the lesser footfalls. “Around ten school groups turned up each on Saturday and Monday,” said Sayyed. He pointed out that the 750 Urdu-medium schools in the city had ensured that Urdu readers thrived in Mumbai. But, echoing Rais, who teaches math and Urdu in an Urdu-medium BMC school in Irla, he said that the Urdu-reading culture was limited to academics. “Children are being pulled away from literature, as parents think it will not get them any money. But it is literature that brings one closer to life,” he said.

In typical Urdu parlance, however, the stall owners had one thing to say when asked about the remaining days of the fair, scheduled to go on till the coming Sunday: they had “umeed” (hope), they said, that many more buyers would turn up.

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