There is a sense of the theatrical about the Frankfurt Book Fair. This is driven home to me each year when we arrive on a Monday morning at our hall and make our way through empty spaces, corridors, escalators all bathed by the natural light that seems to caress the silence punctuated by the odd participant wheeling their suitcase full of books to their stands. The sound of wheels on soon-to-be carpeted corridors as we seek our stand in Hall 6.1. D 125. A sigh of relief as we approach it and find that the books and catalogues we shipped out from Calcutta a week ago have in fact arrived and been delivered. We start to open the boxes, we start to arrange our shelves.

At Frankfurt this year we were plunged into questions. Why do we publish in these cannibal times? What do we write? How do we translate the right to write about what is being erased? Now more than ever.

There is anxiety. A kind of “unravelling”. A sense of things slowly losing their way. There was a time when the courteous security staff at Frankfurt, Munich, and Berlin airports would smile at your hand-baggage full of shapes that could only be books! Unlike other countries where the books had to be taken out, split open their spines, upturned in case the pages, shed their dire secrets. Germany knew books. The Book Fair at Frankfurt was a celebration of the written word. And diversity. A word that is in danger of disappearing in these dark times.

The business of books too, seems sometimes to no longer be the collective act it once was. Ideas often take a backseat. The book as a “product” is what matters. And the numbers of course prevailing, one feels, more than the word. Yet not all has been lost, there remains room for emotion affection, and creativity that makes this year-after-year event so very worth it.

When words are denied

The words “shocking” and “tragic” no longer express the turmoil turned helplessness, turned anger, tuned twisted tormented guts. Literature has for some time now lost the ability to find hope in the “hopelessness” that we are facing every single day as citizens, as ordinary beings. Language has turned its back on us at one level. At another, it is being used to turn us into supplicants without a voice. Words refuse to heal. We are no longer governed by people who treat governance as a “calling”.

Adania Shibli. Author of an extraordinary “testimony”: Minor Detail. Denied the right to speak. At an award she hadn’t asked for. An award is given. Bestowed. In honour. Appreciation. A decision not of her choice. Neither was the denial. She was “gifted” the lack of ceremony during the book fair. If the ceremony were held, she said, she would have taken the opportunity to reflect on the role of literature in these cruel and painful times. That is all.

October 7 will not end. It will go on. Till some other date supplants it with even more murderous intent?

For the many Shiblis that inhabit our being. A text.

A clasp. Like curving your hands around an imaginary neck. This is not to suggest that this is what you do. As a pastime. Or as part of your daily ruminations. As a wordsmith. A writer. A poet. A playwright. One who plays with words. Only so you can get a visual sense of what I am talking about. Not with murderous intent. Nor necessarily with the caress of a lover. Certainly not in envy. Or some far-fetched notion of measuring it for an eventual gift. One you would use to adorn the neck of your muse. Just a neutral clasping of a neck that isn’t there. An absent neck. Therefore, you have to make do with an approximate circumference. So, an average neck. Or a neck embedded in your memory. As necks often are. So, you can measure the size of the ring your hands will make. Around the neck. The one that isn’t there. So, air. Trying to get your interlaced fingers. The ones that have closed ranks. Around air. Air that is so vital. For breathing. Not imprison. Mind you. That is not what you wish to do. Hold anyone captive. You just want to keep that which you imagine you will soon grasp within a circle. Perhaps even one that is charmed. Or magical. Or one that protects. Just so you can question whatever it is that is within this circle formed by your hands. Or so you say. Or so you think. Not in a manner that suggests interrogation. God forbid. You are not like that. Are you? Out of curiosity. Maybe. Or because you sense that something revealing will take place within this air-tight embrace. This holding close that which is not in fact present. This imagined presence of an absence that you think is of vital importance. Or else why would you take the extreme step of grasping the neck that may have been there were it actually present while you made this plan of clasping your hands around a neck that only you could see? In your mind. Yes. In your mind where it is all taking place. Where the words you seek are grouping together. Bands of resistance. Finding ways of escaping. Breaking the grasp. Of vice-like fingers. Around their necks. The tight clasp. The one you have formed. In the hope of keeping the alphabet from fleeing. You can’t, can you? Keep an alphabet from expressing itself? From forming words? And sentences? Of its own free will. You cannot dictate to your museYou cannot silence it either.