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'2000 Rs each.''Mumma! That's it? Dadi gave us 500 rupees so that makes it 2500?'
'Nope. There's a severe cash crunch. I might cut back from the allowed amount too.'
The boys quickly made peace with the sanctioned Book Fair allowance and I felt content at having some method to the madness that would play out in the next few hours. And then the World Book Fair happened.
It was a mad day. We had set out thinking we will be back by afternoon, still not red-flagged by the bank for bankruptcy. Yet here we are. It is late in the night and I am scared of checking my credit card notifications. So when are you going? Planned it all out yet? If not, read on:
1. Pay attention to your attire
No, there are no prizes for dressing up. But you might end up with sore feet if you decide to wear fancy shoes. A good pair of sports shoes is what you need to survive all the walking in store. Going by the forecast, the coming week will be nice and chilly. So do not get over enthusiastic and pile on Eskimo gear on the child or yourself. Layering, on the other hand, is a better idea. The pavilions are pretty warm inside and you might have trouble stuffing the thick jackets in your bag, once indoors. Hence, easy-to-peel-off layers make much more sense.
2. Reach early
Beat the rush. Be there at 11.00 am. And if you intend to have a leisurely start to the day, be prepared to face the afternoon rush. The crowds start building up around 2.00 pm, so it is a better idea to get done with major chunk of the fair in the morning itself.
Don't go through the hassle of online booking unless you are planning to drive down. Most metro stations have ticket counters that help you beat the rush at the Fair ticket counters. The tickets for children are priced at 20 rupees and for adults they are 30 rupees. Keep change handy since that is the only accepted mode of payments there.
4. Take the Metro
The best way to reach the Book fair is by the Metro. You could be an ace driver or be blessed with the best chauffer there is, but finding a parking spot will test your skills and nerves in equal measure. Hence, just take the metro. Oh and a Metro card is way more convenient than standing in a queue for tokens.
5. Shopping bag
When we attended our first Book fair a few years ago, after a gap of roughly two decades, we laughed at people wheeling trolley bags in. Who does that? As it turned out later that day, smart shoppers do that. If you are a certified bookworm, chances are you will burn multiple holes on your pocket and by the end of the day have as many bags to carry. Now if you were smart enough not to laugh at people who come prepared, you'd be smoothly wheeling your haul around. However, do not get overexcited and wheel out your best bag. You'll be lugging tonnes of books from one pavilion to another. I'd say take out the old bag with wheels so that you do not get a mini heart attack in case one of the wheels gives away.
Lesson learnt today - carry food. Most of us presume that food can be managed at the food court. Now, I am not saying it can't but it is a royal waste of time. We ended up murdering an hour and a half trying to get a space to sit, standing in line for the coupons and then for the food. We wouldn't have had to forgo a pavilion had we carried a few sandwiches instead. And water, please carry water.
If you are going there with your child, visit Hall no 14 first. Let the kids pick their books before the fatigue sets in and they get cranky. Most children's publishers have their books displayed there. However, some publishers have a more elaborate collection on display at the main exhibit along with books for grown-ups. We first went to Hall no. 14 and then straight to Hall 9-11. Between the two places, we ended up with two beaming children.
8. Have a keen eye
Don't just focus on the big publishers and known names. The small store in the corner might have surprises in store - from handmade bookmarks to bargain stores - you might find treasures. We found Harry Potters with original covers, a couple of origami bookmarks, picture books at throw away prices, hand painted mugs on offer with purchases above a certain amount - all at unexpected places.
Apart from this, build arm strength, patience and be flexible. By the time we got through, I was carrying a gazillion books, following the crazed boys around to the 'last store,' and occasionally saying no to insane choices. The flexibility mostly involves reworking the budget. By the end of the day, the boys had overshot the limit that we had all solemnly agreed upon, by at least a mile.
Oh and if all else fails, keep two days aside for the fair - one with the little ones and one alone. You need a day alone with books. It is worth it.