The St George’s Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School on Poonamalle High Road is Chennai’s oldest school tracing its origins to the St Mary’s Church Charity School established in 1715. The red-brick buildings on campus are an unmistakable sign of heritage. The playgrounds are simply huge, occupying most of the 21-acre space. The school has played host to the annual Chennai Book Fair the past few years, after the fair moved from St Ebbas in Royapettah.
Despite the huge space available, the book fair itself is confined to smaller space and there is no doubt that the venue may be ideal if only its sprawling grounds are put to better use. For example, instead of the huge area outside the stalls being used for hoardings, posters and welcome arches, it can serve as space for stalls. And that would result in roomier stalls, perhaps even individual stalls for the bigger publishers and, most importantly, enough space for visitors to walk around freely and spend more time with books without being pushed and elbowed around.
This is something the organisers, the Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India (BAPASI), should seriously consider if they want visitors to enjoy the going-to-the-book-fair experience. It is one thing having 600-odd stalls, issuing 500,000 free tickets to school students in Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kanjeepuram and talking about numbers or quantity, and quite another providing a top-quality feel to a book fair in southern India’s largest metropolis.
Most of BAPASI members are made up of small publishers and a couple of those-in-the-know IPP spoke to said that the publishers want equal space for everybody and are not in favour of bigger publishers (read English language publishers such as Penguin or Harper Collins) hogging the limelight with larger space.
“The space in St George’s School is relatively limited but they can use the available space better. The fact that the school operates during the day also provides some constraints. The other option is to have it at the Chennai Trade Centre but the feeling is that the venue in Manapakkam would not draw crowds,” is what K Satyanarayan, director, New Horizon Media Pvt Ltd, a top Tamil publisher told me when I asked him whether the space allotted to stalls was adequate. Satyanarayan went on to say that there is a general feeling among smaller publishers that if bigger publishers are given more space they will attract proportionately larger crowds. Since there are a lot of small publishers in the association who have a single stall at the fair, their words are likely to carry weight.
A strange thing I noticed was that although there were several make-shift ticket counters, most of them had the ‘closed’ sign and only one counter operated despite a steady stream of visitors.