The Paroma Island intersection on EM Bypass, where people driving to office and cranes lifting steel beams for the Metro project fight for space, is suddenly wearing a colorful look. The Kolkata International Book Fair is on and crowds are streaming into the Milan Mela grounds from all directions.
It is celebration time for the city’s bibliophiles. And, leading the crowds are young people dressed in their best woolens. It’s the scent of new books, all carefully covered and waiting to be picked up, that attracts youth who wait all the year be take a dip in the melting pot of diverse literary flairs.
Eighteen-year-old Brishti Sen Banerjee is looking forward to collect the entire Chetan Bhagat series from the fair. “I am a huge fan of Chetan Bhagat. I want to get all his books this year,” said the Class 12 student of a reputable school while she was waiting to visit her favourite stalls with her friends.
“Stalls put up by the British Council and Rupa always have good books. Visiting those stalls is a must on my wish list,” said Brishti. Ironically, neither she nor her friends are very fond of Bengali books, a syndrome that has note scaped many litterateurs in recent times.
The Bengali language however continues to draw teenagers like 12-year-old Sayan Dastidar. He was found leaving a children’s bookstall with his parents. The boy flashed a big smile and held up his prized acquisition — a copy of ‘Feluda Samagra’, a compilation of detective stories by Satyajit Ray.
“I admire Feluda’s sharpness, his ability to feel the unforeseen during the course of solving a crime. Sometimes I try to imitate his styles,” chuckled the Class 6 student, a rookie detective in his fantasy world.
“This is the grandest opportunity to get the best text books,” said 25-year old Sebanti Karmakar, a Jadavpur University research fellow. “You get a huge variety of text books that are rarely available at College Street or elsewhere. Moreover the dealers offer good discounts,” said the student of political science.
From textbooks to fictions, from novels to encyclopaedia, from pocket lexicons to cookery books — there is something for people from all walks of life. And there are also offerings for people who look beyond books.
Nineteen-year-old Prakash Barman is not at all a bibliophile. He always spends his spare time playing games — on computers and fields. For him visiting the fair is just another way of hanging out with friends. “I hardly read any book apart from my texts. This is just a casual visit. Even if I come here with my friends it is purely for hanging out. I am more into computer games,” said Prakash.
For some young people however the fair is no less than a mecca. Amrita Panda, who is about to appear for Madhyamik, believes that as far a humour is concerned Sukumar Roy and Shibram Chakraborty still set the rules of writing. The 16-year-old student of Kamala Girls’ School was planning to get a copy of ‘Shibram Samagra,’ a collection of stories by the immortal humorist whose works often transcended deep satire.
“Last year I collected the ‘Sharadindu Omnibus’ because I am an avid fan of Byomkesh Bakshi, the sleuth who is now ruling the silver screen. But this year I’m switching from crime to humour. Besides, I believe reading the best of authors from Bengal helps improve writing skills,” said Amrita.
But these are all stories of the bookworms. One cannot ignore the fact that the fair is not just about books. Those without the slightest interest in books enjoy the fair with the same enthusiasm and gusto as the others.
Suparna Bagchi from Behala was found pouring over a plate of tangy papri-chaat right beside the Google Dome, venue of the Kolkata Literary Meet where national and international luminaries in literary were interacting with readers.
“I have come with my colleagues after office hours. We don’t want to jostle inside crowded stores. We are having a good time. Every year the fair becomes our favourite hangout zone,” smiled the professional, munching on her platter.
Like Bagchi, there are many who love to spend idle hours and get into adda sessions with friends, lovers and family members around the fountains and the small empty patches in the Milan Mela grounds without getting anywhere close to books.
Like every year, young musicians can be found entertaining the crowd with their self-composed songs and guitar recitals. Like every year the food court appears as packed as the stalls put up by the city’s biggest publication houses. “I liked it a lot when they introduced Mexican cuisine in 2010 when Mexico was the theme of fair. This year they might include some Bangladeshi dishes. Let’s wait and see,” smiled Debarun Banerjee.
Youths from foreign shores always make it point to visit the fair. Yesterday some of them were busy buying tribal art, some queued up in front of painters to get their portraits done wile the rest minutely observed how the painter’s moved his pencil.