Book-reading disappearing in India: Javed Akhtar

By Dipankar De Sarkar

London, April 21 (IANS) In the middle of a bustling Indian book bazaar at the London Book Fair, India's most famous film lyricist said the culture of reading books is disappearing in India.

"That's the real issue, but nobody here is talking about it," an animated Javed Akhtar said on the sidelines of the fair.

"Do you know how books are selected in some of the homes in my city of Mumbai? They are chosen by interior decorators... by interior decorators! If you have brown-coloured furniture and carpet, you must have brown-coloured books," the award-winning poet told IANS.

Akhtar is a leading member of a contingent of 50 Indian writers and 90 publishers that has come to the British capital to attend the London Book Festival, which has an India market focus this year.

But while some here have stressed the booming Indian publishing industry, Akhtar said there was also a "sad story" of disappearing languages and book-reading habits, which are being rapidly subsumed by English and television.

"Urdu publishing, to the best of my knowledge, is dying out," he said.

"There was a time when there were so many brilliant lyricists and poets in Mumbai - Majrooh, Sahir, Rajinder Krishen, Shailendra... But today, the poets of the past have been replaced by non-poets.

"So, it's not only in Urdu but also in Hindi. That's the real tragedy."

But Akhtar said he expects his interactions with other writers in London, as well as the fair's writing-centred events, will give him inspiration and refresh "the well" of creativity.

"In Mumbai, I end up spending far too much time writing for films.

"At the end of the day it's the same well from which we draw the water - whether to write film songs or poetry.

"I am hoping that after meeting people here and attending some of the events and coming across new ideas, I will be able to draw from that well to write some more poetry," he said in Hindi.

People Akhtar met at the fair include a large number of Indian writers - "Ironically, we hardly get to meet in India. It's either Paris or London these days," said the poet, who sat in the front row to hear economist Amartya Sen speak Monday morning.

Sponsors of the India focus said India is a booming publishing market and they hope for greater book commerce between India and Britain. They said the Indian book market is worth 625 million pounds and is growing at 10 percent per year.

Sponsors British Council said India is the world's third-largest producer of English language titles, with over 15,000 titles in English published each year.

Indian publishers are at the fair to sniff out opportunities for publishing outsourcing, which, sponsors said, will be worth 1.46 billion dollars by 2010.

Indian writers attending the April 20-22 fair include Amartya Sen, Vikram Seth, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shankar, Daljit Nagra, William Dalrymple, Prasoon Joshi, Y.D. Thongchi, Namdeo Dhasal, Bhalchandra Nemade, Jiwan Namdung, Suketu Mehta, Tarun J Tejpal, Amit Chaudhuri and K. Satchidanandan.

(Dipankar De Sarkar can be contacted at dd.sarkar@ians.in)

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