India is the first Asian country to serve as the guest of honor at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (Feria Internacional del Libro, FIL), and its diverse culture will be celebrated at this year’s fair. India and Mexico have enjoyed a long cultural exchange. Mexico’s Nobel laureate, the poet Octavio Paz, first visited India in 1951, shortly after the country’s independence, and served as Mexico’s ambassador to India from 1962 to 1968. He studied Indian culture and wrote several books about the country, including the poetry collection A Tale of Two Gardens (1995) and the collection of essays In Light of India (1995). “Everything that I saw [in India],” Paz writes, “was the re-emergence of forgotten pictures of Mexico.”

India’s history reaches back some 5,000 years, and with a population of 1.4 billion, India is the second most populous country in the world. The Constitution of India recognizes 22 official Indian languages in addition to English, and another 100 languages are spoken across the country.

Authors and Publishing

India has a robust publishing industry and has produced some of the most prominent and challenging writers in the literary canon, from Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Pritam to contemporary favorites such as Amitav Ghosh, Chetan Bhagat, Arundhati Roy, Amish Tripathi, and Vikram Seth. To showcase the country’s literary patrimony, National Book Trust, India, a Government of India body established in 1957 for book publishing and book promotion under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which is the Nodal Agency for the FIL presentation, is bringing more than 100 publishing professionals to Guadalajara, including dozens of authors and representatives of publishing houses. Some 2,000 titles from India will be on display, including books on yoga, handicrafts, art, as well as ancient and rare editions of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, among others. Many books will also be for sale, at the specially created Bookstore to be located in India Pavilion including several titles specifically translated into Spanish for the event.

Celebrating Gandhi

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, known as “the father of the nation.” In honor of this occasion, Gandhi’s great-grandson, Arun Gandhi, will offer a keynote titled “Gandhi and Civil Disobedience” at the invitation of FIL. In addition, the FIL will host a special installation titled “Gandhi: The Writers’ Writer,” showcasing his literary legacy, influences and his own role as author-publisher-editor-printer. In fact, the slogan of the Indian presentation, “Let Our Lives Be Open Books," has been taken from a quotation of Mahatma Gandhi himself. Prof. Govind Prasad Sharma, the Chairman of NBT, notes, “It is a matter of great satisfaction that the Indian presentation at Guadalajara is taking place during 2019 when we are commemorating the 150th Birth Anniversary of our Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.”

The Climate Crisis and Children’s Literature

Many of the events will be hosted in the India Pavilion, which will span some 1,200 square meters and feature a special design created for the FIL. One important segment of India Pavilion is a digital exhibition of illustrations from nearly 80 children’s books published by National Book Trust, India over the last four decades. Titled “This Earth of Ours,” the exhibition features published illustrations from the archives of National Book Trust, India that contribute to a visual understanding of nature, natural phenomena and the climate crisis. These pictorial narratives spotlight various indigenous flora and fauna, natural habitats spanning across the Indian subcontinent, human interactions with the environment and visuals of the climate crisis interspersed within stories for children. The illustrations showcase a timespan from the beginnings of the universe towards the irrevocable environmental transformation happening in the recent past.

Cultural Experiences

As well as featuring some of its best writers, India will present performances of traditional and contemporary Indian dances and instrumental and fusion music, as well as film screenings in theaters at the University of Guadalajara. Among those screened will be notable works from Bollywood and films by Vigyan Prasar, a national organization that strives to popularize scientific learning and research.

In addition, India will present three exhibits: Tangible Words: Preserving the Intellectual Heritage of India, an exhibit of rare and unique manuscripts from India, at the Regional Museum of Guadalajara; Modernism in India: Through NID Archives, at the Cabañas Cultural Institute; and Stree Drishti: Women Engravers from India, at the Museum of the Arts of the University of Guadalajara. As always, food and handicrafts will be an important part of the cultural exchange, and numerous venues around the hall will offer a taste of Indian cuisine.

Marisol Schulz, FIL director, says she’s excited to be hosting such a fascinating and diverse country. “There are many things that unite our cultures,” Schulz says, “such as our strong family values and an appreciation and celebration of our rich and complex histories.” Sharing her enthusiasm, Mr. Manpreet Vohra, Honorable Ambassador of India to Mexico, whose office is co-ordinating with NBT and other agencies to organize the guest of honor presentation states in his message, “In 2020, as we mark the 70th year of the establishment of our diplomatic relations, our special participation at FIL Guadalajara and the Festival of India will start the celebrations, further deepening the understanding and bonds between our two countries and peoples.”