Updated: Apr 3, 2021
The state of Tripura is one of the most literate states of India at 87.8 percent. It is little wonder that the annual book fair held in the capital Agartala sees a huge footfall. Book enthusiasts as well as young people looking for a mesmerizing evening visit the place in droves and fill up every display stall. What is heartening to see, other than the fact that people still take time out to read books, is that many indigenous publishing houses are actively promoting and selling books in the local language of Kokborok.
The book fair is usually held in the month of February-March just as the weather starts its transition from winter to spring. This year it was held from February 26 to March 11. I visited it towards the end and was completely bowled over by the sheer number of stalls and books available there.
There were five book stalls at the fair that were operated by publishing houses that promote local languages. One of the first one I walked into was set up by the Chakma community of Tripura. This community speaks the Chakma language that has its own script. Kokborok doesn’t have a script and so writers write it in either Roman script or Devnagiri script. The other four publishing houses are 1. Jora Publication, 2. Kokborok Sahitya Parishad, 3. Language Wing, Education Department, TTAADC, and 4. Kokborok Sahitya Sabha. The Language and Education department of TTAADC brought out 13 books in Kokborok this year. I was very happy to find that the department had made a calendar with just Kokborok numerals. I, obviously, bought one. According to the people running the stall, their display included poetry books, book of verses, and two novels called Hamjakmung ni Hachuk (Love's Hill) and Khapang ni Mari (What The Heart Wants). "The sale this year has been very good. Our stall is always full of people," said one of the stall in-charge.
One of the age-old literary traditions of the Kokborok speaking communities is that they like to create beautiful poems. From time immemorial, the Borok community of Tripura has been making songs out of verses that talk of youth, love, and pain. This inclination towards poetry could be seen at the book fair too where there were some books on poetry. The Kokborok Sahitya Parishad, for example, had displayed a book of poetry called “Bubagra” written by my cousin Dr. Kahamnuk Jamatia. He used to “write” his poems on Facebook but due to the praise he received for his work, he decided to collect them and turn them into a book.
Apart from the books, the book fair also showcases cultural shows in the evening. This year, to my utter surprise, the cultural show was preceded by the remembrance of my late grandfather, Beni Chandra Jamatia, who won the Padma Shri in 2020 for his poems. When I visited it, there was a performance by the Naga community. It was exhilarating and immensely beautiful.
I have always enjoyed visiting the bookfair, but this year was made more beautiful by the fact that my cousin and my grandfather, both found space in the programme.
This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.