We live in a dangerously political era. I firmly believe there is nothing more futile than ‘Zen and the art of renaming’ ! Our politicians, continue to dog-fight amongst themselves as to what is a more appropriate name. Bombay became Mumbai. And you dare not publicly ever call it Bombay name, especially if you live in the public space. You still may, only to then bear the wrath of the ‘Shiv Sainiks’, or lately the MNS henchmen. Calcutta for all it’s trappings, and even though officially renamed to Kolkata; is not quite an incendiary issue unlike it’s western or southern cousins.
Book Fair has been quite a storm in the tea cup ever since it was moved out of Maidan since 2009. Milan Mela – a permanent fair ground on the E.M. By-pass is the new home for a tradition that dates back to 1976. Now then, Milan Mela complex does not match the ‘Pragati Maidan’ in Delhi, in either size, grandeur, facilities, or infrastructure. But then your erudite book loving Calcuttan will go to any lengths to defend the ‘Calcutta Book Fair’ as a grand affair that is unparalleled. I am no different.
Both the city of Calcutta and the book fair has been transmogrified in a way that is both good and bad. Over the years we have seen some good governance, bad governance and some ugly.
The gates to this year’s book fair were thrown open on the 26th January, the Republic Day. Being an ardent follower of the tradition, I was there on the same evening. Now most of us would recall Book Fair to be one dusty affair, little has changed in that respect. Dust is an integral part of ‘Boi Mela’. Huge acres of lands adjacent to the Milan Mela complex are used as makeshift parking lots. The parking lot represents the moonscape and needs special driving skills to negotiate the traps laid for you and your car. But then again, it does not stop us Calcuttans to throng the Mela with unbridled gusto !
Below is a story told in pictures.
The parking booth, you can see the smog is in the air, just like love was in the air !
So this year’s edition does score a first. It is free entrance. Not even the customary Rs. 5 or Rs. 10. A gesture by the state government in the 150th year of the much revered Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore The state government has gotten more than it’s share of flak by awarding the Book Publishers Guild the status of a not-for-profit status and slashing and then double slashing the rental for the fair ground.
* Pardon the poor quality of some of the pictures above.
USA has been selected as the focal theme of this year’s book fair. Quite a contrast and a shift in paradigm of the 30+ year ruling left government. Imperialism vs. Communism takes a back seat, at least for the duration and in the context of the Boi Mela.
As you can see a huge near replica of the US Capitol has been erected at the mela premises. Some interesting comments were overheard in context of this structure. Quite common as it is to get lost in a book fair, but now with the aid of mobile technology and such magnificent structures serving as landmarks; it is not as bad as before. So I was privy to the following remarks:
- আমি ওই ‘White House’ এর সামনে আছি তাড়াতাড়ি চলে আয়ে লম্বা line আছে (I am in front of the White House. Come quickly, there is a huge line to enter it.)
- তুই কথাযে ? আমি ওই ‘America’r Showroom’ হয়েছে তো, তার সামনে আছি ! (Where are you ? I am standing in front of the American Showroom !)
I too stood in the line to enter ‘America’ ! As one would guess it, the theme inside was ‘Social Networking’ the latest buzzword !
Below are some more sights from the much awaited book fair !
With the continuing push towards green, renewable form of energy. Here is a ‘Community and Domestic Solar Cooking System’ at display. In the same vein, you would see green vehicles below, both in letter and spirit !
The gigantic roof at the Milan Mela complex
Loosely translated as ‘Children Study Room’ !
This was it for Day 1 at the Book Fair 2011. To be continued in a separate post titled - ‘Calcutta Book Fair – more than just books, Day 2’ …