The overwhelming presence of literary enthusiasts at Bangla Academy and Suhrawardy Udyan, during the month of February, speaks volumes about the love for books in Bangladeshis' hearts. The Ekushey Boi Mela this year, on a regular day, was primarily crowded with young people sprawled across the venue boasting over 700 stalls, along with some families with children.
Moving from stall to stall was the order of the day for visitors, except perhaps to linger for a while at some personal favourite stores. With less than a week left before the country's largest book festival wraps up, we caught up with a number of young first-time visitors at the Ekushey Boi Mela to find out about their experiences.
Mashiat Islam, a student of Academia School Dhaka, was unable to attend the fair earlier because she resided overseas for many years. She finally got the opportunity this time around. A fan of mysteries and fiction, Mashiat was impressed by Shamir Montazid's Heisenberg er Golpo. “There is a lot to learn from this book. It presents many complex scientific thoughts in an interesting way,” she said.
Many readers were particularly drawn to books by Muhammed Zafar Iqbal. Be it Niyan, Hotline or Mitu Titu'r Time Machine, it was evident that his books connect well with the youth. “I developed a keen interest in science ever since I started studying the subject. In many ways, Zafar sir's books have aided in fostering my curiosity,” said Ahnaf Alavi Rafi, a student of Dhaka Residential Model College.
Naimul Hasan Emon, a student of Bogura Cantonment Public School and College, also shared his thoughts on the author. “I have bought two of Zafar sir's books today and I cannot wait to go home and read them,” he said. “His books keep readers hooked and tend to build a hunger for more knowledge.”
Naimul, who came to Dhaka for the first time this year, always wanted to attend the Ekushey Boi Mela. A bookworm since childhood, he had only read about the fair in newspapers and watched reports about it on television. Visiting the fair for the first time was a special experience for him. Naimul also picked up Ayman Sadiq's Student Hacks and Bhallage Na, both of which are inspirational reads for young people.
Even though science-fiction was a popular pick amongst young bookworms at the Ekushey Boi Mela, it was not the only genre that sparked their interest. We came across Mahira Farhin, a student of Siddiqui's International School, who was perusing Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. “I love the ambience of the fair. It is exciting to see so many people come together to share their love of reading,” smiled Mahira, who returned to Bangladesh from the USA in 2017. “I would love to read more Bangla books once I am more fluent in the language.”
Apart from new Bangla novels, young readers like Mahira were also on the lookout for good English books along with English translations of Bangla books. The patriotic spirit surrounding the Ekushey Boi Mela was infectious as people who came to pay their respects to the Language Movement martyrs at the Shaheed Minar also dropped by to buy books from the fair as they did not want to miss out on the festivities.
The Ekushey Boi Mela, an annual festivity anticipated by Bangladeshi book lovers, also saw a noteworthy attendance of foreign nationals at this year's iteration.