Local book fair pioneer N. T. S. Chopra dies

Local publishing pioneer N. T. S. Chopra (left) with then Minister of State (Foreign Affairs) Rahim Ishak at the opening of the third Singapore International Book Fair at Victoria Memorial Hall in 1973.
Local publishing pioneer N. T. S. Chopra (left) with then Minister of State (Foreign Affairs) Rahim Ishak at the opening of the third Singapore International Book Fair at Victoria Memorial Hall in 1973.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Local publishing pioneer N. T. S. Chopra, who helmed Singapore's first book fair for 27 years, died on Thursday aged 88, following complications from pneumonia.

With his curled moustache, the founding director of the Singapore International Book Fair and Festival Of Books was a familiar sight to the bibliophiles who thronged it for decades.

When the book fair began in 1968, it was a small affair in Victoria Memorial Hall with only 22 booths, most of which sold textbooks. Mr Chopra had to go around personally persuading publishers to take part.

By 1994, the year before he stepped down, it had expanded to 560 booths and attracted 1.6 million visitors. At its height, it was the biggest and most important book event in South-east Asia.

The fair declined after Mr Chopra retired, plagued by falling support and competition from the rival World Book Fair. It was later revamped as the Singapore Book Fair.

Mr Chopra, a teacher and lecturer who went on to run academic publishing house Chopmen, was also chairman of the National Book Development Council of Singapore and a founding member of the Singapore Book Publishers Association.

In his time as book fair director, he championed support for homegrown writing. After stepping down, he continued to run his publishing firm and source for rare monograms from around the world.


In his time as book fair director, Mr N. T. S. Chopra championed support for homegrown writing. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/KHUSH CHOPRA

He had a home library of more than 6,000 books.

He leaves behind his wife, three children and five grandchildren.

His son, volunteer activist Khush Chopra, 54, remembers crawling around the floor as a toddler at early editions of the fair, while his father manned book stands nearby.

"He always told me he wanted Singapore's love for books to be much more than it was," he says. "That was why he did the book fair. He did not make money from it. He ran, almost single-handedly, this incredibly complex and large book expo, and it was a success because of the personal relationships he had with publishers around the world.

"He dedicated his life to promoting Singaporeans' passion for reading."