Nepali Times
The curious reader


You there in the corner with the glasses. Yes, you with your head stuck in a book. It's time to venture out. Starting today, bookworms and aspiring students of all hue will be found prowling around the annual Nepal Education and Book Fair at the Bhrikuti Mandap Exhibition Hall. The fair, which last year attracted 50,000 visitors, displayed close to one million titles and generated some Rs 1 billion in revenue, is one of the biggest crowd-pullers in this city where bibliophiles have few chances to indulge their guilty pleasure on such a large scale.

When the fair was first held in 1997, there were only 47 participants from Nepal, India and the UK, mainly from the education sector. The organisers, Global Exposition and Management Service (GEMS), were in for a bit of a surprise-the turnout wasn't quite what they'd expected. In 1999, GEMS teamed up with the National Booksellers and Publishers Association of Nepal (NBPAN) and together they managed to entice major booksellers from Nepal and India to put their goods on display. There were 40,000 visitors in 1998, compared with the 30,000 who came the previous year, and the participants were pleased to be associated with what was turning out to be a solid annual event.

Ask any regular at the fair, and they'll tell you the reason it works is the combination of things on offer. There's an enormous diversity of textbooks, academic treatises, art books, children's literature and plain old fiction. Add to that the burgeoning number of stalls that dispense advice and application forms to feed the hunger of young Kathmanduites to get an education, and you have a winning combination.

This year there will be 142 participants-59 in the book section and 83 in the education and career section. The book section will include international names such as the Cambridge University Press, Orient Longman, Addison-Wesley Longman, the Krishnamurti Foundation and Macmillan India, Nepali standbys like Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Himal Books, Ekta Books and Mandala Book Point, and even INGO's like WWF Nepal, WHO, IUCN and the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation. As with most events this year, the spotlight will be on mountain issues. The pavilion of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development will include participants from various related sectors from around the world.

Colleges, universities, and other educational institutions from India, USA, Malaysia, Australia, Switzerland, UK and Canada, and career counselling organisations from Nepal will be looking to lure young students to study abroad. There will also be plenty of IT institutions, such as Singaproe's ATS Information Technology Institute, Aptech, Pentasoft, and Manipal IT Education.

The fair will be held from 3-11 May, but the education and career section will only run until 6 May. Tickets for the exhibition are Rs 10 per head and students get 50 percent off if they are in school uniform or have valid ID.

The fair is not without problems. In most parts of the world, merchandise meant for exhibitions and fairs get tax and duty breaks. But there's no such incentive in Nepal. The economics of book fairs, exports and imports simply haven't been sorted out. There isn't a clearly defined policy, so publishers from overseas have to go through a time-consuming procedure at customs where each bill is verified and the part of the consignment being returned is counted slowly, one by one. Nepali book exporters are also not provided any facilities to make their job easier. Under existing laws, books and hardware are in the same category. The Nepali diaspora in north-east and north-west India is a rich potential market, but because books do not come under the Open General Licence (OGL) regulations, the foreign currency restrictions make imports and exports tedious.

Santosh Chettri of GEMS says the basic point is that this fair is not just a profit-making venture. "Visitors may not necessarily buy books or enrol in the colleges, but at least they have access to an array of information." Says Madhav Dangol of Mandala Book Point, which has been involved with the fair since 1998, "An increase in visitors need not necessarily mean monetary profit for us. There is hardly any profit in organising these events. Our concern is that we hope this will help develop a reading habit among Nepalis, that it will open their minds to a whole new world."

The NBPAN is already working on that with six associations from the SAARC region. The idea, which they developed last year, was to organise an annual book fair with support from the SAARC Book Development Council in New Delhi. The plan is that each SAARC country will host the book fair on a rotation basis, and the other six countries will participate with a good selection. All publishers will be requested to donate a display copy to the SAARC library. The NBPAN also envisions promoting co-production, joint authorship, and the sale of subsidiary rights. If all goes according to plan, they anticipate that the regulations governing cross-border trade of books will be made less cumbersome. The first SAARC book fair will take place in September this year in Dhaka.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)