The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Books bind while culture cries
- Buddha rues MNC-fuelled ‘decadence’ in values

Books that bind, books that battle de-unifying forces, books that combat cultural decadence. As far as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is concerned, the role of the 28th Kolkata Book Fair reaches far beyond the Maidan, where it was inaugurated on Tuesday evening.

It is part of the effort to combat the “atmosphere of decadence” and bring society back to its “roots of culture”, said Bhattacharjee. Stressing the role of multinational corporations (MNCs) in “breeding the wrong attitude”, he added: “There could be a war in Iraq, and people could be dying of starvation every day, but that doesn’t matter. The MNCs want you to forget it all, open a bottle of Pepsi and say ‘dil maange more’.”

From corrupt culture to divisive politics. “When Gujarat bleeds, the whole nation bleeds with it… We are a multicultural country, but there are a lot of de-unifying forces, determined to tear us apart. We need more public events like this to unite us. Books are something that everyone can relate to, and something that no amount of websites, Internet surfing, computers or CDs can replace. Literature is the basis of culture.”

Bhattacharjee’s boost for books set the tone for 600 sellers and publishers to showcase their best, in all Indian languages, at the 10-day Fair. “It is the largest book fair in the world, in terms of retail and cash-revenue generated,” said Jayanta Manaktala, president of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild.

Sukumar Das, president of the Federation of Publishers and Booksellers in India (FPBA), pointed out that the book industry is at a critical crossroad, with technology as its friend and enemy. “Printing, distribution and promotion are better now because of technological advances, but piracy is equally helped by it. Printing unauthorised copies, photocopying and plagiarism account for about 25 per cent of the Rs 7,000-crore Indian book industry.”

Increase in paper prices, added Das, is responsible for hiked charges. “But professionalism is the main area we need to work on. The FPBA is starting a course to develop skills to deal with the global challenges of a growing industry,” he concluded.

The winner, however, was national award-winning Cuban author Luis Toledo Sande, who inaugurated the Fair (Cuba being the theme this year). He talked about the values advocated by Rabindranath Tagore and Mother Teresa, and ended with “Dhanyabad, bhai aar bonera”.

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