Singapore makes debut at Chennai Book Fair

Eight home-grown Tamil authors head to India's second-largest book fair as Singapore is given Guest-Of-Honour status

The Singapore Pavilion at the Chennai Book Fair boasts about 120 titles by Singapore Tamil writers and will present daily programmes such as panel discussions and meet-the-author sessions.
The Singapore Pavilion at the Chennai Book Fair boasts about 120 titles by Singapore Tamil writers and will present daily programmes such as panel discussions and meet-the-author sessions. PHOTO: NATIONAL ARTS COUNCIL

Singapore makes its inaugural appearance at the Chennai Book Fair to much fanfare: It is the first to be accorded Guest-Of-Honour Country status in the fair's 39-year history.

It has sent a delegation of eight Tamil authors, including Cultural Medallion recipient J.M. Sali and Singapore Literature Prize winner K. Kanagalatha, better known as Latha, to India's second-largest consumer book fair this month.

A dedicated Singapore Pavilion, which boasts about 120 titles by Singapore Tamil writers - among them reprints of classics by Cultural Medallion recipients such as KTM Iqbal - has been set up and will present daily programmes such as panel discussions and meet-theauthor sessions.

It also offers a selection of English books, including Jeremy Tiang's It Never Rains On National Day.

Mr Gandhi Kannadasan, president of fair organiser Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India, says: "We want our readers to understand that Tamil literature has a great place in Singapore and we have a strong belief that the Singapore Government will give this initiative good support."

Singapore's debut at the fair, which runs from June 1 to next Monday in the capital city of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is presented by the National Arts Council and organised by the Association of Singapore Tamil Writers.

Ms May Tan, the arts council's acting director for literary arts sector development, says that through Singapore's participation in the fair, the council is looking to give Tamil writers and publishers here more opportunities to raise their profile in the Indian market.

"We see a strong interest in Singapore literature from India, one of the largest reading nations in the world and a country that boasts a booming publishing industry," she says.

India is the sixth-largest book market in the world and the second largest - after the United States - when it comes to English-language books. The Chennai Book Fair last year drew a crowd of about 900,000 to its more than 700 booths.

Sithuraj Ponraj, one of the writers in Singapore's first delegation to the fair, has two Tamil books up for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize: poetry collection Kaatrai Kadanthai (She Walked Past As The Wind) and Maariligal (Invariables), a book of short stories.

Both these books, which are available at the fair, can offer readers in India a glimpse of Singapore.

Kaatrai Kadanthai, says Mr Sithuraj, uses Singaporean imagery to describe how romantic relationships work in an urban setting.

Meanwhile Maariligal explores how "ordinary Singaporeans react to extraordinary situations". A young Indian man, for instance, bucks his orthodox upbringing to become a chef specialising in Chinese cuisine.

Singapore being accorded Guest-Of-Honour Country status "shows the high regard Singapore Tamil literature enjoys in India", says Mr Sithuraj.

It is not just Singapore's Tamil offerings that are finding their footing in India. English books by Singapore authors have made their way there too.

Singapore has been the country in the spotlight for a number of fairs in India in recent years. It was Guest Nation at the Hyderabad Literary Festival in January, Guest of Honour Country at the 2015 New Delhi World Book Fair and Focus Country at the 2015 Goa Arts & Literature Festival, among others.

Mr R. Ramachandran, executive director of the National Book Development Council Of Singapore, says the diversity of expertise and experience that Singapore's literary community has to offer has helped it impress in India.

The delegation to the 2015 New Delhi World Book Fair included authors and illustrators such as playwright Haresh Sharma, poet Gwee Li Sui and cartoonist Otto Fong, as well as publishers such as Ethos Books.

Mr Ramachandran says: "With such a strong and diverse group, we were able to organise different programmes not only at the fair, but also in schools and at the National Museum, as well as the bookstores in and around New Delhi."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore makes debut at Chennai Book Fair'. Subscribe