Sharjah International Book fair 2018 - noted as a grand celebration of literature and culture - concluded with hopes of becoming the world’s second biggest book fiesta.
1,874 publishers from 77 countries wowed the readers through 2 crore books that came in 16 lakh titles with tales of letters during eleven days and nights. Out of this, 80,000 books were latest titles. The letters fete attended by renowned writers as well as readers was also marked by its meticulous organization and planning. The fair was blessed with myriad subjects from writing workshops for children to explorations for new ways to survive the influence of advancing technology on the readers. The book fair which was a realization of aesthetic imagination of Sharjah ruler Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, himself one among literati, has transformed the emirate into the literary capital of the world.
The Sharjah Book Fair which is described as the cultural fest of the Keralite expats, has today evolved into a cultural celebration for the entire Keralites. The Keralite presence in the fair enthralled one and all with the presence of writers, participation of publishers, visits by readers and book publishing ceremonies more than any book fair in Kerala. The fair which attracts Keralite writers ranging from those in the state and abroad to cultural and political personalities has become a place where every reader has easy access to myriad opportunities for sharing their ideas and conversing with literary and cultural celebrities. The aesthetic energy it lends to the expat community is no small. Anybody will be astonished by the fact that books by more than 150 famous and fledgling Keralite writers, were released in eleven days. The book fest also lends great opportunities for small time publishing groups in Kerala to open the doors of bigger prospects in order to collaborate with international publishers and directly converse with the larger reader community.
Since Sharjah literary fair is celebrated as a grand fiesta of Keralites, it necessitates certain serious enquiries. What is the real reason for expatriate writers not getting the right space in Shajah fair? Is the Sharjah event becoming a harvesting festival for publishing mafia to nip in the bud the themes the venture to blossom among several young writers with a literary bent, and to make them appear a laughing stock? Are the hegemonic pretensions and commercial focus, which form the bane of Malayali publishing houses, posing any hurdle to the fair becoming a literary arena and an august forum of debate? Such and other related questions arise from the criticism – which sound plausible – that discriminations exist in, right from the choice of writers to the fair upto the nature and schedules of programmes. And in Sharjah fair one could hear the consistent voice of applause whenever the elitist mindset in book releases is obliterated.
There should also be concerted efforts from the part of the government to make the Sharjah event a half-way house for the journey of Malayalam literature to the outside world. If we count the cultural connections alone made by Malayali community and our publishers with the publishers from 77 countries, we will come to realize that the Sharjah fair – however much it may mesmerize us - is not becoming a marching song for us. Despite the facts that notable Arab writers are also present at the fair, and Keralites with the linguistic and creative competence to interact with them are available abroad, we do not have any plans to get their help to reach our writers and works to the Arab world. If Sharjah Book Fair became instrumental for writers from Japan as a window to the Arab horizon, Sharjah literary festival can definitely serve as a bridge for Malayali literature to travel to the Arab literary world, and vice versa, for sure.