DHAKA, Bangladesh

The Bangladesh national book fair, held every year in February to honor the demonstrators killed in the Bengali language movement of the mid-20th century, promotes a spirit and desire to uphold the country’s language and culture, especially among book lovers, according to analysts and readers.

“This book fair reminds us every year that we have a golden history of struggle to protect our mother language and our own culture,” notable novelist Selina Hossain told Anadolu Agency.

The South Asian nation of nearly 170 million people has been holding the month-long Amar Ekushey Book Fair every year since 1972 in commemoration of those who died during the February 1952 Language Movement to establish Bangla as one of the state languages of then-East Pakistan.

In 1999, UNESCO recognized Feb. 21 as the International Mother Language Day to honor the demonstrations in what is now Bangladesh, held in 1952 against the use of Urdu as the sole national language of the country.

The Bengali Language Movement started in 1952 and after a long struggle, the central government of then-Pakistan accepted Bengali as one of the state languages of the country in 1956.

The Ekushey Book Fair fosters a sense of patriotism and love for the Bangla language and culture throughout the country, especially among young people, says Hossain, who is also the president of Bangla Academy, an autonomous state-funded institution aiming to promote Bengali language and literature.

The Bangla Academy is the main organizer of the book fair.

“We learned a lesson from this event that our own literature, culture, and language should be kept in mind with great dignity and to uphold this spirit before the whole world,” Hossain said.

Mohammad Tareq, a university student visiting the fair on opening day on Tuesday, said: “Every year, the national book fair reminds us that our predecessors sacrificed their lives for the mother language and so it’s our duty to uphold the spirit of our own language and culture.”

Due to the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the fair will last only two weeks this year instead of the usual full month. It is being held in the capital Dhaka at the Bangla Academy premises, as well as the historical Suhrawardi Park.

A total of 776 stalls have been set up, while 534 organizations and publishers are participating this year, according to the official declaration.

Attraction to history

Book-lovers from distant parts of the country came to visit the fair on its opening day, with some browsing the wide selection of publications, while others search for a particular title.

“As the fair will only continue for two weeks, I came on the first day to buy my favorite book on Islamic history and culture,” said Mollik Usama, a student who came from the central district of Gazipur.

He told Anadolu Agency that he was mainly interested in books written on Muslim history and culture, including on the Prophet Muhammad and the first four caliphs. “I’m also going to buy books on Ottoman history, which is very inspirational for the Muslims of the Asian regions.”

History books were also the main interest for another group of university students attending the fair, looking for sources on the Middle East crisis and the rise and fall of the Muslim world and Ottoman dynasty.

“I used to read novels more. But now, I like to study history, especially the history of our past. I think that as a human being, my time and ability are limited and so, I shouldn’t miss out on studying about our golden past,” said Mohammad Rafiq, one of the members of the group.

Demand for extension

Publishers, meanwhile, have expressed satisfaction with attendance at the fair on the first day.

“The spontaneity of people seems to be more this year than the previous year as most have already adjusted to the pandemic and aren’t as scared as they were last year,” Mohammad Haider Hossain, an official at the Bangla Academy bookstall, told Anadolu Agency.

“I hope more people visit in the coming days and authorities consider extending the duration of the fair,” he added.

A month is a reasonable amount of time for such a big fair to last, said Jakir Hossain, the manager of Prothoma, another major publisher. He said the establishment had already applied to the authorities of the Bangla Academy to extend the fair until March 17.

“We requested authorities extend the book fair’s duration if the pandemic doesn’t get worse, so people may buy books at their leisure and we can gain more economic profits,” Hossain said.

Addressing the inaugural session of the fair on Tuesday, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on people to hold such book fairs in other, more remote areas of the country to attract young people and teenagers to Bengali language, literature, and culture.

Hasina underlined that such events in remote areas would help promote talented poets, artists, scholars, and cultural activists at the grassroots level.

Around 240 million people across the world speak Bengali as their mother language, making it the fifth-largest language in the world, according to Ethnologue, a reference publication on living language.

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