Vignettes from the Delhi Book Fair

With heavy discounts and a mobile phone app to guide visitors, the 20th edition of the Delhi Book Fair, kicked off last week. Organised by the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) and the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP), the Fair houses around 169 stalls, spread over halls 8 to 12 of the Pragati Maidan.

This writer, walks down the Fair to find out what’s trending and what’s not at the nine-day long fair that winds up on Sunday.

Best-sellers at Rs. 100 for three
Apart from the opportunity of browsing across a vast collection, the most tempting feature of a book fair is the heavy discount rates. The 20th Delhi book Fair is filled with stalls, selling ‘best-sellers’ (which basically includes an eclectic collection of thrillers, teenage romance, and ‘how to boost your self-confidence’ kind of books) at ‘Rs 100 for 3’.

It’s easily observable that these stalls attract the largest crowds. Books are picked up, thumbed through, and then, either purchased or mercilessly flung back to the same heap from which they were picked up. At some stores, this section of ‘bestsellers at discounted price’, completely resemble the Daryaganj book market instead of a book fair.
So, what’s selling, like hot cakes?

“A number of new titles are doing well. But if you talk of what’s doing the best it’s the Fifty Shades of Grey in fiction. Young boys and girls are lapping it up,” says Sumit Sharma of the Jain Book Variety stall.

The erotic novel, written by EL James, which is soon to be released on the silver screen, too, is known for its graphic sex scenes.

Sharma adds that in the non-fiction genre, however, biographies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are doing well.

Booksellers, however, are of the opinion that such schemes like three books at Rs. 100, do not help them make profit, but popularises the shop.

“There many people who want to read the popular books, books which make it to best-seller lists, books which their friends suggest, and so on. But often such books are expensive. So, when there is a great offer on bestsellers, and that too not duplicate copies, people are eager to buy,” says DC Verma of the Rakesh Book Agency.

He explains that in every book-store’s storehouse a large number of old popular books are stocked. During a book fair, those stocks are brought and piled up, to be sold at a discount.

He says: “Strictly speaking, it’s not that we are making some huge profit out of this scheme, but it’s a marketing strategy to popularise the shop, and also clear the old stock in a fruitful manner.”

Pran and his characters live on

Famous cartoonist Pran, the much-loved creator of characters like Chacha Chaudhary, Pinki, Billoo and others, passed away earlier this month, at the age of 75.

Of all Pran’s characters, the most widely known is Chacha Chaudhary—the frail but extremely intelligent old man who, along with a giant from the planet Jupiter called Sabu, give evil doers a tough time.

This Book Fair, Delhiites have shown a fond remembrance for Chacha Chaudhary and co, by thronging the Diamond Comics stall, says Tarun Jaiswal, circulation coordinator of Diamond Comics at the Delhi Book Fair.

“Sales have increased after the death of Pran sahib, and it’s reflecting not only in this book fair, but even in our online orders,” says Jaiswal. He adds that Pran’s death and the media attention it got, has brought back Chacha Chaudhary suddenly into the popular discourse with full force.

“While parents are coming to the stall after growing nostalgic at Pran sahib’s death, children have become all the more interested in this easily readable comics series,” Jaiswal adds.

Diamond Comics has republished all the early editions of Pran’s comics since 1971, and they are put up on sale at the ongoing Fair at 50% discount. So, at Rs. 25, you get to buy, two Chacha Chaudhury comics!

“In this book fair we have brought all our old editions of Chacha Chaudhary comics, and they are selling quite well. Almost every day at least one middle-aged customer comes, who buys Cacha Choudhary collections in bulk,” Jaiswal says.

 ‘Only IAS aspirants, no Leftists’

In a quaint corner of the book fair, there sits a small square stall, manned by a single person. The stall belongs to the Economic and Political Weekly, and every now and then, a Civil services aspirant comes up and asks about the student discount on yearly subscription.

Vasant Sharma, of the circulation department of the magazine, who has flown down from Bombay to set the stall up, says that in the Delhi Book Fair the crowd mostly consists of young people who are preparing for the civil services. But, he points out, in JNU, where he had put up a stall prior to the Fair, those who came up to the stall, were all eager readers of the magazine, irrespective of their profession or studies.

The strange case of the Norwegian thriller

Shuffling through a heap of heavily discounted bestsellers, this writer is astounded to find a Norwegian version of Ken Follett’s Winter of the World, ‘Vinter over verden’. The Winter of the World, is a novel set in and around the World War II, written by the Welsh-born writer of thrillers and historical fiction, Ken Follett.

On asking Munna, a young assistant of the shopkeeper, about this strange edition finding a place here, he replies that the writer himself is confused and it’s ‘Angrezi’ and not any other language.

Meanwhile, another in-charge of the stall comes and explains that either someone from Norway touring India had sold it to their shop in Tilak Nagar, or while importing in bulk this book must have crept in.

Munna again voiced his opinion that the book was in English, albeit in a feeble voice this time. The letters, he argued, were the same.

The other in-charge looked at him sternly and said, “Tere liye toh sab kuch angrezi hai, chahe Urdu hoy a French. Unpadh hai na tu.” (For you, it’s all the same, whther Urdu or French. Illiterate that you are)

Munna, the seller of bestsellers, walked away, with his head hung low.


This report was published in the Hindustan Times on August 29, 2014.