In Focus

A book fair holds promise of beating the COVID blues

By A Draft Colaba Correspondent

After the latest Maharashtra government announcement relaxing the COVID-19 curbs from 15 August comes another reason to smile. Ashish Book Centre's Book Fair has been underway at Sunderbai Hall at Churchgate and presents the perfect getaway for Mumbaikars, this weekend. The fair, plugged as India's largest, commenced on 6 August and has been registering heartwarming footfalls, in keeping with COVID-19 norms. On sale are more than one lakh books on Architecture, Self-Help, Management, Literature, Photography, Travel, Sports, Art and Craft, Children books, etc., for people of all age groups.

BASKET-FULL: Actors Shruti Jolly and Swati Rajput (right) bought books to their hearts' content
"We have been organising this fair for 20 years now. Every year, the fair is held in April and August for 18 days each. However, this year, we could not hold it in April but it's happening now for ten days as the COVID-19 restrictions have been eased in the city," says Ashish Book Centre owner Dhaval Nisar. It was Dhaval's father Damji Nisar who, spurred by his love for books, initiated Ashish Book Centre, opposite Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) two decades ago,

"My father started working at a shop where he'd have to visit houses to collect old newspapers and books. That's how he developed an interest in books and began reading himself. After working for 25 years at the shop, in 2000, he opened his own book store and started hosting the book fair too," offers Dhaval.

AT SERVICE: Ashish Book Centre owner Dhaval Nisar at the book fair his father started 20 years ago
Book-lovers, young mothers, students and curious passersby have been trickling in to the venue 'open' to all 'Only With Masks' that is. Book connoisseurs from far and wide have been availing this opportunity to get their hands on new editions and literary works. Young parents, on the other hand, have been dropping by to grab physical books for their children who, owing to the lockdown, have been reading and studying 'digitally' for more than an year now.

Andheri-based actor Swati Rajput, who travelled by Ola all the way to 'town' to visit the fair and got a 'basket-full' of her favourite books says, "I had a lot of fun skimming through the vast collection of books. I even found special editions of a few history books I had been looking for some time now and hadn't found anywhere else." Friend and actor Shruti Jolly adds, "It was a great experience and I just loved the collection here. I got myself a few good ones too. What makes it even better is that most books are priced way lower than those available online."

MASKED BUYERS: Book-lovers have been trickling into the venue of the book fair 
However, the overall response, this year, has been lukewarm so far, rues Dhaval. "As compared to the last time we held the book fair, before the lockdown, the footfall and sales have shrunk by 50 per cent, now," he adds. With everything available online of late, the demand for books has reduced.
Yet, one glance across the exhibition hall peppered with enthusiasts, excited to be able to avail the joys of reading a book after staying indoors for a year and half, underlines the passion that authentic book-lovers feel for paperback that will never replace the digital experience.

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