Notes from a Book fair

by Satadisha Saha Bhowmick on December 21, 2012

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My association with the book fair goes back to the days when I have just started bearing the idea of what books were. I was born in a typical Kolkata family where books are valued and archived. This is one of the many common things which run in the households of my city, the others being a compilation of Tagore’s works, immense love for all culinary delicacies of fish and an album of Mohiner Ghoraguli.The cultured Bengali loves being identified this way as the torch-bearer of a race which once brought Renaissance in the country during troubled times of British dominance. His Christmas holidays will not be fulfilled without a travel to Park Street a lunch at Flurry’s and a glance through the wooden racks of The Oxford Bookstore. Its citizens love to read for ‘Kolkata is a bookish city’ as Amitava Ghosh correctly said. And to commemorate this trait the city begins its eventful years by organizing the largest book fair in the country.

With fairytales, candyfloss and legacy~
Usually held in the last week of January, the Kolkata International Book Fair was initiated way back in 1976 by The Kolkata Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Guild. By then the Beatles have flooded the West with their revolutionary rock ‘n roll and many great things were happening all round the globe. Kolkata thought to manifest its fondness for the thing it loves the best, books. Since then its legacy continued as the Book Fair grew in magnitude by leaps and bounds thereby gaining an inseparable place in the city’s culture. It has been celebrated time and again through theatres, songs poems and limericks that define the very essence of this city. This is a city of joy and it has earned this epithet as it likes to meet new people, hear them and make friends. The book fair opened gates for everyone who had an art to be appreciated or an unheard poem. Over the fields of barren sand-grains there can be seen stalls of Little Magazines and cheap Chinese food. And in whatever space the orange twilight sky meets the dust-green grasses of the Book fair venue, there are artists, each trying to portray his own tale in whichever form he excels in. One of my oldest habits related to book fair is to interact with these people who have made beauty to descend in their hands. As if each one of them tries to tell that we are greater than our mistakes. What make us are the choices we make and we are the art we choose that way. Pains, happiness, loss, frolic, all are a part of life but what creates the difference from man to man is how one allows these to reflect themselves through oneself.

My journeys to the book fair have often been the start of something new in my life. The coloured books of Aesop folks, the first novel I read (namely David Copperfield), my first book of Jerome K Jerome, my first step to womanhood, even the first date with my boyfriend, all took me back to that dusty field across which books of all kinds and fragrance were stacked together. Of all the things I have learnt from those books or the artists I have met at the fair one thing became established in me like a primal lesson, that one which told me never to lose the ability to be astonished. There are new things around us, everywhere. New life seeing the light of day, new fact of science, new lesson learnt from a great book, anything new is like a possibility of an idea that enriches us, adds a dimension to our being and makes us more than what we were the moment before. The least we can pay to them is a moment of surprise in which we take in the newness before us in its complete glory and move on to the next. This way from Jane Eyre to Isaac Asimov, from Satyajit Ray to Ravi Shankar everything fits wonderfully without the slightest hint of disparity in those red blue shelves of Oxford, Penguin, Macmillan which attend the Book fair.

Way more than stories~
Apart from promoting literature there are few more important aspects of the Book Fair which makes it unique. Not only it provides an important platform where regional literature gets recognition but also it serves diplomatic missions. The British Council, United States Information Service, European Union and other Latin American embassies participate in the Book fair. Moreover the Guild selects one foreign country every year and promotes its culture in totality as the theme of the Book fair thereby giving it the international feat it so aptly deserves. Following this trend Kolkata Book Fair has chosen Bangladesh as its theme for 2013. Major news media like The Telegraph, Times News and The Statesman also hold stalls in the fair. Institutions having their own publishing house like The Asiatic Society, Indian Museum, Ramakrishna Mission etc. which form an integral part of Indian heritage are also a part of the fair. Often people have a keen interest in various annual surveys that take place in the country. To serve their purpose the Book fair encourages involvement of survey institutes like The Zoological Survey of India, The Botanical Survey of India, The Geological Survey of India. Since the educational institutions of Calcutta have held an important place in the country’s history and culture the Book fair acknowledges them by introducing stalls for various seats of education in the city, namely University of Calcutta, The Jadavpur University etc. This way the book fair surmises every field of the city’s life and conglomerates them to put forward Kolkata as a place where happiness can found in culture, learning and a cosmopolitan outlook.

In lands other than my own~
As I said January is a happy month in the former Indian Capital. With the mild chilliness of maritime winter and colourful books by Gorky, Vonnegut, Amitava Ghosh the city rejoices each day as the Book fair helps it to become a true admirer of World Art. However with the presence of intellectual minds all across the country many book fairs take place in India. The New Delhi World Book Fair organised by National Book Trust at the Pragati Maidan, New Delhi since 1972 happens to be the oldest book fair in the country. 

On life and its little happiness~
The book fairs in the country vary in magnitude and in the culture that they represent. Although Kolkata Book Fair gets to be the most attended one, there exists a more important thing beneath the apparent grandeur and external hustle that needs to be identified. Each book fair in its own manner represents a common love for book present in this country. There are many shades of life. However in the series of crimson of sunrise and mauve sunset that we get to see, only one life gets identified to us completely. This one is our own. And the remaining hues which otherwise would go unnoticed are captured in the books we read, in the films we watch, in the music we listen to. In the subtle nuances of pristine music or the many brilliance of literary tapestry we live, not once but many a time. Each time it leaves with us a different experience, a trail of contemplation and finally a newfound faith in all that is good.
"A good book is like a pocketful of hope and when you see many such books together, at the portals of the different book stalls, you know there is no dearth of hope. Even at the end of a dusky horizon studded with ochre memories and dusty oblivion, there is a tomorrow. Once you return from a book fair full of stories, you know it can be better than the one you can imagine, one with a brighter morning. That’s what a book fair does to you."

List of notable book fairs held in India :

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Satyam Kapoor March 4, 2013 at 10:33 AM

Your content is excellent and contains tons of great information. Your perceptions on this topic are interesting, profound and different. I agree with a lot of this material. Thank you.

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Samapika March 22, 2013 at 11:30 AM

I simply agree with you.. Being a Bong, born and raised in Delhi… somewhere I feel still my umbilical cord is joined to the soil of Kolkata.. as an avid reader I can relate it to a great extend!

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