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Booked for Kolkata

Kolkata Book Fair is swinging along, as it has been for 28 years. Benita Sen captures the flavours of this edition.

books Updated: Feb 06, 2004 12:10 IST

Never mind what you read between the lines about the state of healthcare or the potholes of Kolkata. The Kolkata Book Fair is certainly the front cover of the city, as it has been for 28 years now.

For months before, the city gears up. And I don’t mean just the book fraternity – publishers, distributors, book stores, authors, illustrators. Children save up pocket money, parents wag threatening fingers with reminders of the forthcoming fair.

This year, there was a bit of a furrow on the city’s brow when there was some talk of shifting venue from the hallowed Maidan to a more eastern location for environmental reasons.

The media has been reassuring bookworms of all the amenities on offer this Fair: 32 special Book Fair trains will be operated by the Eastern Railways- which is participating for the first time in the fair with its official history book, Symphony of Progress- The Saga of Eastern Railway - so that book lovers from the suburbs can browse without the nagging worry of how to commute home. Talking of unconventional participants, there are financiers, bankers, an FM channel and fistfuls of spiritual outlets. Like the city, Kolkata’s book fair has a place for them all.

With over 640 stalls and pavilions, it’s going to take far more than a couple of visits to do some semblance of justice to the fair that has almost reached the stature of a festival in the city of festivals!

The Railways have also woken up to the volume of visitors that they ferry back and forth to and from the Book Fair by offering Book Fair tickets at both the main stations, Howrah and Sealdah. For all concerned, this ought to mean shorter lines at the Fair gates. There’s also a hush-hush scramble for season entry passes. Not because they are complimentary, but rather, so that the tortuous wait outside, while the best books in the world wait within, is shortened. However, with the Kolkata Book Fair, you never can foretell. After all, it’s the only international Book Fair in south Asia and certainly the largest in Asia.



Just a hint of the deluge of visitors this fair enjoys comes from the fact that Oriental Insurance provided Rs 50,000 accident insurance coverage for the visitors. I don’t have statistics to check this one out, but a random thought: is it also the only Book Fair to have been burnt out in a raging fire, some years ago?

Talking of unconventional participants, there are financiers, bankers, an FM channel and fistfuls of spiritual outlets. Like the city, Kolkata’s book fair has a place for them all.

Bengal’s book lovers have always reserved a special corner in their hearts and heads for Pablo Neruda, who was a diplomat in Myanmar and Sri Lanka and touched Kolkata in 1928. It seems fitting that this year, the 100th birth anniversary of poet Pablo Neruda, the theme for the Fair is Chile. Appropriately, Chilean poet Raul Zurita inaugurated the Fair - whose main gate represents the Supreme Court of his country - on January 27, a day after Saraswati Puja, the ode to the Goddess of Learning.



With over 640 stalls and pavilions, it’s going to take far more than a couple of visits to do some semblance of justice to the fair that has almost reached the stature of a festival in the city of festivals!

And did we mention something about the city’s potholes? Ah well. Nothing much changes, not even in the Book Fair. The grounds are painfully uneven, littered and dusty, just as they have been for a generation. The car park resembles a Grand Prix track. The temporary Fair structures continue to splurge on huge amounts and will be dumped, adding to the waste generated, after the Fair is over. And the dust continues to settle over everything. Even the brand new book you bring home.