It is celebration time in Bangladesh, more particularly in the capital. Beginning with Nabanna (harvest festival or Poush Sangkranti), a series of indigenous cake festivals are held. The old Dhakaites have their Sankraine Utsab, part of which is cake festival made more gregarious by kite flying festival.
To cap the cake festivals arranged by different organisations including educational institutions, the Shilpakala Academy had on its precinct the largest cake festival for 10 days. Perhaps this unique festival can vie for a Guinness Book record, for it is unlikely that a cake festival is held for such a long duration anywhere in the world. More than a hundred stalls exhibited an array of indigenous cakes and almost every outlet had arrangement for preparing at least a few recipes there to serve oven-fresh delicacies to customers.
At Cox's Bazar, the patrons of a kite flying festival on sea beach call it a national event. Whether it has become a national kite flying festival is debatable, indeed. But it had the make-up of a national festival. What is lacking is the promotion of kite flying all across the country. Kite flying events are arranged elsewhere as well but such isolated attempts can be brought under a national championship event which may be held at several legs.
Right at this moment two fairs of mass participation are in progress in the capital. The Dhaka International Trade Fair (DITF) and the Ekushey Book Fair. One celebrates books, the other consumer goods. The Ekushey Book Fair in its smaller editions is held in some divisional and district towns as well. But the DITF cannot have any such smaller versions for reasons understandable. Now two such big events -although the DITF is more a misnomer than what an international trade fair actually ought to be - held at the same time exert extra pressure on a city already gasping for breath.
Celebration of books through a month-long book fair has earned the country many a laurel. First, the nation had the courage to transform a tragic event of killing or martyrdom into a most sacred, inspiring and festive occasion. Death for a worthy cause and the consolidation later on of national ethos into a rock-solid determination for struggle until liberation of a nation make this a special occasion for the nation. No wonder, Ekushey February has been recognised as the International Mother Language Day.
However, the hard truth is that the enthusiasm and hyperactivity surrounding the book fair do not truly reflect the love or the lack of it for books. Here is a most inauspicious time for books all over the world. Gadgets like smartphone, computer, tablets, notebook and TV have diverted people's attention from books. So engrossed are people with social media that they are totally unaware of its cheap contents. True, at times social media can help form opinion or spread a campaign like a conflagration but when it comes to stimulating the deepest thought, its role proves inadequate.
That a nation concentrates on a month for publication, sale and purchase of books has indeed become more of a fad than a culture. If reading habit survives, one month's craze looks rather misplaced. Electronic gadgets are better at serving information -misinformation as well - at an exponential pace but to acquire knowledge and wisdom, people must turn to books. When the entire year's production targets a month, not many quality books can be expected. Going beyond commercial consideration and cheap popularity for writers is the greatest challenge and not many can successfully face it. Yet the hope is that one or two masterpieces among the endless titles would be created at some point.
As for the DITF the less said the better. Visiting the venue has in effect turned into a pastime for those who have nothing better to do. Retail sale of consumer goods and household utensils cannot ensure an international trade fair's ambience. Its rusticity is conspicuous in more ways than one.
It seems both fairs are concerned about quantity; it is time the patrons and sponsors now took a serious look at improving the events' quality.
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