kolkata book fair
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kolkata book fair

A Fair is a large gathering of people who come to patronize it since it is mainly a medium for relaxation – it gives an opportunity to them to mingle with newcomers on the scene, with old timers who are ever ready with their advice (it is one of the cheapest commodities in the market!), with hardcore business persons, with novices who are trying to get a toehold, with opportunists, with those who would be better off behind bars.

A Fair has also to have nooks and corners where patrons can satisfy their pangs of hunger – there have to be stalls for eateries, snacks. Some of them cater to the high flyers, some to the commoners.

A Fair must also provide chances to all and sundry to brush up on the latest, to pick up bits and pieces of information laced with juicy incidents which will, subsequently, spice up the tea parties or kitty parties or prove some points for discussion during the lunch breaks.

A Fair is like a large scale novel – there has to be a beginning that may be slow. As time progresses, situations keep on getting added and they all go to build up the climax to create a magnum opus. As the Fair draws to a close, all concerned sigh and close the book. A good read, some will say. Deserves to be criticized, others will say. And, debates will rage … in the Press, in the Electronic media. No one would want to be left out. After all they all had some contribution or the other.

The Kolkata Book Fair (also known as the Kolkata Boi Mela) is all that and much more. ‘Boi’ in Bengali means ‘book’ and ‘mela’ is ‘fair’.

Conceived by the Publishers and Booksellers Guild way back in 1975, it started off with only 14 members and organized the 1st ever fair in 1976. It was inaugurated by the then Governor of West Bengal Sri A. L. Dias.
The 30th Kolkata Book Fair will be held this year from 25th January to 6th February 2005. The theme is France. Jean Claude Carrier, the noted French cartoonist, novelist, actor, director and screen writer will deliver the Ashok Sarkar Memorial lecture on the 31st January. Gunter Grass will also grace the occasion – he is expected to arrive in the city on 24th January and will join in an adda (informal one-to-one discussion forum) on 28th January in the fair premises with fellow writers and critics.

This year, an innovative gift coupon scheme is proposed to be introduced. Visitors can purchase these coupons and gift them to near and dear ones, who can, in turn, exchange them for their favorite books. Also, e-books will be on display in the form of CDs. The fair last year had 2.2 million visitors and this figure will certainly go up. In the last 30 years, only once in 1997, there was the incident of fire in the fair which caused considerable damage. Hence, nowadays, insuring the books is mandatory. Restrictions have also been imposed on open furnaces in the fair premises.

(to be continued…)
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| Maha Guru Member

inside the fair grounds

(in continuation to Kolkata Book Fair posted on 24/1/2005)

The Kolkata Boi Mela, like any other fair, is a vast multitude of men, women and children and, of course, books of all shapes, sizes and weights, Yes, there are something called ‘mini books’ – the size of a couple inches by a couple of inches, I possess several samples! Side by side, there are the real heavy weights like the Ramayana, the Dictionaries, the Encyclopedias and the Rabindra rachanabali – collection of the complete works of the Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore in several volumes. Then there are the little magazines – fruits of hard work by dedicated Bengalis to whom poetry is second nature. Unfortunately, with so few magazines in the market and so many aspiring poets waiting to board the bandwagon, competition is intense. Only a selected few make it big, others take this annual event of Boi Mela to print their poems with borrowed finances and approach the visitors to buy them.

There are also artisans who come to the fair to sell their handicrafts – some even set up easels and paint your picture then and there. They have the abilities but lack opportunities.

Since the stalls are erected by the Publishers themselves, one can see variety everywhere. The entrance to the fair grounds this year is a replica of the Eiffel Tower. Some stalls are real big ones, some are decorated artistically, and some stalls have special sections for children. Practically everyone offers discounts because this annual event allows publishers and booksellers to clear their inventory of large outdated holdings.

The innumerable tea stalls, fast food joints and snacks counters lend an air of festivities all around. There are also stalls set up by the fisheries department of West Bengal offering various types of fish preparations apart from stalls displaying sweets from specific parts of Bengal. They are all there with their products – to rekindle old memories in the older generation and to let the younger ones saviour long forgotten tastes. This year, the Eastern Railways is setting up a stall where visitors can purchase tickets for returning to their local destinations instead of waiting in queue in the railway stations.

The fair doors are thrown open by 1.30 pm and continue to remain open till around nine. Since this is invariably held in January-February, there is always a chill in the air at pack up time. In the day one has to bear with the heat, dust and stuffy atmosphere. The authorities arrange for sprinkling water on the makeshift roads and passageways but, when so many people trample their way all over the fair grounds, organizers have to remain as mute spectators.

For the ten odd days of the fair (from the last Wednesday of January to the first week of February) all roads lead to only one destination – the Kolkata Boi Mela.

(to be continued…)
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the last few hours of boi mela 2005

All good things must come to an end. Boi Mela is no exception. Sunday the 6th February will bring down the curtains on this year’s Mela. Exactly, at 8 pm the gong that heralded the start of the Mela will toll once again, mournfully this time, signifying the end. The stall owners and visitors will leave the grounds with a heavy heart. The venue of next year’s Mela remains undecided. While one cannot over rule the decision of the Honorable court, from what has been gathered, the new location may not be able to accommodate an event of such a large scale. Some statistics will highlight the problems –

In 1976 there were 36 publishers and 51 stalls. This year there were 852 stalls. The value of books sold in 1976 was around Rs 20,000 while last year it was approximately Rs 18 crores. In 1984, the Mela secured international recognition – it earned a place in the international calendar. In 1991, the theme pavilion started – initially with the different states of our country. From 1997, other countries joined the theme brigade. Over the years, keeping in mind the needs of the visitors, IT pavilions, internet magazines, software, CDs etc gained prominence. Today, there are stalls of popular TV channel networks hogging the limelight.

Apart from books, this Mela encourages all those associated with fine arts to come centre stage and showcase their talents. A separate area is earmarked for the artists who can draw your portrait in colors or pencil sketch if you have the time. And then there are the dedicated group of little magazine owners whose motto appears to be to get noticed – in their own words ‘we do not bother about how many books we sell but in how many people we can enthrall with our products!’

And then there are the groups of youngsters huddled together, humming tunes and soaking in the atmosphere, trying to become one with the elements. This time of the year is pleasant as it is – there is a slight nip in the air, evenings are charming with promises of good feeling flow in the air. The Kolkata Boi Mela gives everyone a wonderful opportunity to feel the toxic odor of new books, of goodies that make your mouth water; of suddenly locating someone you have been searching for – probably, this is the place where your search may end.
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