There are over 700 stalls and pavilions at this year's Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela, and there are salespersons in all of them… except for one.
To buy a book there, one has to look at the price list hung on the wall, slip the price of the book into a box, pick up the book and walk out.
While there have been similar initiatives in a small scale in other places of the country, this is the first for the book fair, which was set up by a nonprofit named “Bidyanondo” (Learn for Fun) on the Bangla Academy premises of the fair. The stall has been installed at the northern edge of the academy's pond.
“Honesty is the key to success of the stall, and earning money from here will be used in the 'Ek Taka-e Ahar' (Bidyanondo's charitable feeding programme at a token cost of Tk 1) service for underprivileged children in different parts of the country,” said Aunonto Arfat, who was seen stocking books at the stall, at around 3pm when fair opens on weekdays.
He said they set up the “honesty stall” for the first time at the book fair this year; they had a conventional book stall in the last year.
The stall, named “Ek Taka-e Ahar”, has its books on shelves. Two cutouts of children are seen holding a placard that reads “The money from sales at the stall will be spent in feeding us. Please pay the price of the books in the box”, while another notice at the stall says “A stall without salespersons”, to eliminate visitors' confusion.
The stall has turned a few heads, with a large crowd seen gathered around it yesterday.
“I have paid Tk 176 into the box for a book on ethnic communities named 'Mro Rupkotha'. I am happy to know that food for underprivileged children will be provided with my money,” said Aanika Tahsin, a third-year student at Dhaka University.
Stall volunteer Arfat left the stall soon after the opening, but visitors at the fair were seen buying books without much of a problem.
Arfat later shared some activities of Bidyanondo to The Daily Star over phone.
“Since the inception on December 22, 2013, we have been working relentlessly to bring a sustainable transformation in our society, especially by helping underprivileged children with food and basic education in urban areas,” he said.
Arfat said these children are not begging or stealing food from anywhere. Rather, they are buying their own food, maintaining a good order. And, the price of the lunch box is only Tk 1.
When asked if he had seen anyone taking a book without paying, he smiled and said, “No, that hasn't happened yet.”