India’s first book fair returns to Kolkata after 100 years
The exhibition was held in 1918 at College Street, the hub of Bengal’s learning and publishing industry. It was also the first of its kind in the country.books Updated: Feb 24, 2018 22:41 IST
Long lost in the pages of history, the first book exhibition held in the city under the watchful eyes of Rabindranath Tagore, Lala Lajpat Rai, Gurudas Banerjee, Bepinchandra Pal, Satish Mukherjee (founder of Dawn Society), Dr Nil Ratan Sarkar, Rashbehari Ghosh, Chittaranjan Das, Aurobindo Ghosh and many others has been resurrected after 100 years.
The exhibition was held in 1918 at College Street, the hub of Bengal’s learning and publishing industry. It was also the first of its kind in the country.
The centenary is being celebrated with a modest book fair organised at the Jadavpur campus of National Council of Education (NCE) which is a part of the campus of Jadavpur University.
NCE started the movement to spread science and technical education on national lines and under national control to counter education and trade policies of the British government.
“Among the publishers you see here today, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers from Benaras and Basumati from Kolkata participated even in 1918. It was the country’s first book fair. The NCE however called it book exhibition,” said veteran academician and a former vice chancellor of Vidyasagar University Ananda Deb Mukherjee.
Nearing 80 but still active, Mukherjee serves the NCE as general secretary. The council runs a school and several institutes.
Formally set up in 1906 following the plan to bifurcate Bengal that prompted people to boycott factory-made products from Britain, NCE was actually the first to raise the ‘make in India’ slogan.
Incidentally, Kolkata hosts the world’s largest book fair in terms of footfall. Kolkata International Book Fair organised by the Publishers and Booksellers Guild in the second half of January attracts more than 2.5 million visitors. (In 2018 the 42nd fair was held in Salt Lake.)
“In 1906 great souls set up the Bengal Technical Institute. The same year, Bengal National College and School were also set up with Aurobindo Ghosh as principal,” said Ananda Deb Mukherjee.
“We are all volunteers at NCE and, following the principles of the founding fathers, we don’t accept any monetary help from the government. It was necessary to organize this book fair and many publishers such as Oxford responded. Sadly, the present generation of students doesn’t know that in 1908 the city witnessed its first industrial fair as well. Instruments, tools and machines manufactured at Bengal National College were exhibited,” said Mukherjee.
To help researchers and spread awareness among youths, NCE has reprinted ‘Education for Industrialisation’ that noted economist Benoy Kumar Sarkar wrote in 1946. “The book was almost forgotten by people. Prof Sarkar was a student and later a teacher at Bengal National College. He chronicled the history of Bengal Technical Institute and how it became the College of Engineering and Technology at Jadavpur which gradually evolved into Jadavpur University in the 1950s. During Independence the college was headed by the legendary Dr Triguna Sen,” said Mukherjee, himself a former student.
In his book, prof Sarkar narrated how students from the College of Engineering and Technology excelled in various fields in countries across the world and how the British government was compelled to relax its reservations about allowing them into colleges in England.
During WW II American engineers and army officers took keen interest in the works of the alumni and paid visits to Jadavpur.
So did top industrialists such as G D Birla.
In 1945, Jawaharlal Nehru delivered the convocation address before a 5000-strong audience comprising American, British and French visitors, wrote prof Sarkar who was a member of think-tank bodies in England, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland and China.
First Published: Feb 24, 2018 22:40 IST