A city for books

Updated: 09 November, 2020 08:24 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Imagine a celebratory, yearlong event around literature across Bombay where its bookstores and libraries come to life? Such initiatives can go a long way in restoring and preserving the essence of community, as a recent UNESCO announcement revealed

Fiona FernandezGuadalajara. Is that a name, place, animal or an object? For many of our readers, it might not be an easy guess. But perhaps if you're a diehard fan of the TV sitcom Friends, this would be a sitter. It is a city in Mexico where soap opera star Cecilia Monroe, played by the iconic Susan Sarandon, was heading to after she was knocked off the show Days of our Lives. Joey, true to his character, had no clue, and confused it with La Guardia airport.

This city in the Central American country was in the news recently when UNESCO named it as the World Book Capital for 2022. So why should this resonate in far-off Bombay, you'd ask? Because, it made us think of the possibilities if a similar scenario were to unravel here, and how it would benefit our city as a whole.

For this particular recognition, nominations are invited from across the world, and Guadalajara won the spot because it had a solid plan centred on books that were in line with rooting for social change, combating violence and working towards establishing a culture of peace. UNESCO went on to highlight that the Mexican city had a three-tiered plan that involved opening up reading activities in public parks and accessible spaces, engaging more with children through reading and writing workshops and finally encouraging a sense of community in neighbourhoods using performing art forms like street poetry and storytelling.

Few might be aware that Guadalajara hosts the largest Spanish language book fair in the world. This event came in for special mention by the approval committee who were looking at the platform to give wings to Guadalajara's elevation by using books as changemakers for their 2022 edition in particular. There were other ideas, too, that grabbed our interest, like using bookstores, libraries, reading rooms and indie publishers to act as facilitators to help create a safe, violent-free environment. Social transformation was key, the note said, and human rights, gender equality and a culture of peace were all part of their larger goal for a better Guadalajara. All kinds of literary events were planned in sync with theatre and the arts.

Cities that had been designated as UNESCO World Book Capitals in the past had to take full onus to support the reading habit and curate events around it all year through. New Delhi (2003) is the lone Indian city to have earned this tag.

The reason I've shared their plan in such detail is that in the itinerary, apart from the core idea where safety and public engagement were key, every other element could so easily have been something that Bombay can pull off. And, if I can add, we might be able to offer an even more diverse and executable wishlist, if all stakeholders involved were to put their heads together.

Bombay, like the rest of the world, has been badly hit by the pandemic. But our city's famed resilience is something that can do wonders if we tap into it and make a bid for 2023. The city has enough bibliophiles and cultural angels to take on the planning part of things; add a healthy number of visionary entrepreneurial minds and financial backers, and we might just have what it takes to pull off a sparkling year-long celebration of literature. Like theatre, the city has been a haven for writers across Hindi, Marathi, English and Gujarati. Add to that its rich tradition of translators. It could be a win-win for every book-loving Bombaywallah.

We have already seen how public resolve has brought so many art and cultural events to life in the past, even after all was lost. And it is this spirit that can be the fuel to bond city folk together, to work towards these initiatives where public good of the community is the end result. Even if coming together to win this tag seems too far-fetched, for starters, we might want to look at it with baby steps. Start small in the first year – bring all our bookstores and libraries together; the second year can see an expansion to include open spaces and parks, and so on.

It's a movement that is bound to be a success in a city that deserves a bigger dose of cultural stimulation. I'll leave you with a classic quote from Jerry Seinfeld – "A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking."

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana

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First Published: 09 November, 2020 07:08 IST

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