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     Volume 7 Issue 8 | February 22, 2008 |

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Children's Boi Mela

Elita Karim

Book stalls exclusively showcasing children's books at the fair.

"I just received two of the same books," says 11-year-old Tasmia Rahman, talking about the prizes awarded to her at the poetry recitation competition at the Ekushey Boi Mela. "I am waiting for someone from the authorities to change one of them. It was probably a mistake," she adds. Studying in the sixth grade, at the Tejgaon Government School for Girls, Tasmia had participated in the poetry recitation competition held for children at the Ekushey Boi Mela on February 15. "I recited 'Swadesh' by Ahsan Habib," says Tasmia happily.

Earlier this month, the Bangla Academy had announced February 15 and February 22 as days dedicated to children, since this year the usual children's corners were not set up at the mela. As compared to the other days, this particular Friday morning was less crowded. Men were not allowed inside the mela unless accompanied by women and children. Many of the stalls were exclusively showcasing children's books attracting many young people of various ages.

A small crowd of children were seen gathered around the Proshika stall. This year, the Proshika employees have written most of the books for children, says Shabnam looking after the stall. The books, meant mainly for children between 4-8 years old included catchy titles like 'Phutphute Projapoti' and 'Adibashi Rupkotha'.

Clockwise from Top-Left: Zaima and her older sister Ramisa check out some of the newly
purchased books. Ramisa Rahman and Zahin Rahman with their parents Hameem Mohiuddin and Mukti Rahman. Children waiting to recite at the competition held at the boi mela.

Araf, studying in the third grade and Ahnaf, in KG II from Kids' Tutorial were seen accompanying their parents, carrying loads of books. While Araf tends to go for a little light reading, little Ahnaf prefers books on science. "He is always asking questions," says his father, Taifur Rahman. "We bought children's science fiction by Zafar Iqbal amongst others," he adds.

A huge crowd of children were seen buying pop-up books from Progoti publishers, famous for introducing cut out books (popularly known as di-cut books) for children in Bangladesh. Books like 'Ghorar Golpo' - a compilation of Aesop's fables- printed on a cut out of a horse's mouth, 'Bangladesher Phul' by Mukarram Hussain, Sajjad Kabir's ghost stories for children, namely 'Bhuture Typewriter', 'Bhuter Raate Jhorer Raate', 'Bhuture Pahar' and 'Bhoyonkor Ek Raat' were some of the many books that attracted a lot of children. "We have also reprinted many of Kazi Abul Kashem's works, like 'Shobuj Chora' and 'Baeng Ustader Jolshay'," says Asrar Masud from Progoti publishers. Kashem, who died in the year 2005, is known as the first Muslim cartoonist to have participated in the language movement through his cartoons.

Masud feels that instead of dedicating two days to the children, the academy should have kept the children's corners throughout the duration of the fair like every year. "Parents and children have complained that they cannot find our stall along with the other stalls for children," says Masud. "For the last five years, we had fixed spots in the mela which attracted a lot of children."

Many, however, are happy with the two days dedicated only to children. It becomes difficult for children to move about in crowds. For instance, Ramisa and Zaima, students of Scholastica, studying in the fourth grade and KGI respectively, were seen moving from one stall to another with their mother, stacking their arms with lots of books. "My children have always been very keen on reading books," says their mother, Farzana. "They bought lots of story books, Zafar Iqbal's children's science fiction and the little one bought the Bangla version of Tom and Jerry."

L-R: Both Araf and Ahnaf look for science fiction books at the fair and Tasmia Rahman, posing with the books she won at the children's poetry competition.

Hameem Mohiuddin, working at Scholastica, feels that the boi mela should have had the children's stalls like every year. "Not all parents would have the time to actually bring the children to the fair on the designated days," he explains. "The children's corners would let them come and roam about from one children's stall to another with ease." Both his children, Ramisa Rahman, studying in the first grade at Viqarunnisa and Zahin Rahman ended up buying a good number of books.

For those who missed out on the children's day on February 15, can still catch up with the young ones on February 22. The Academy's decision will definitely encourage more children to appreciate books and the habit of reading which, according to many parents and teachers, is slowly fading away with time.

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