Memories of Calcutta Book Fair

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I am neither religious nor a big bibliophile. And yet the things I miss most about Calcutta and my old life , without doubt, are Durga Puja and the Calcutta Book Fair.

That is because Durga Puja is not only about religion. Just like the Book Fair isn’t merely about books.

People. Yes both of them are also about people. And the essence of Calcutta—my favoritest city in the whole wide world.

When I close my eyes and think of Book Fair, the sound of shehenai on the public-address system comes warbling back to me—through the many years that have passed. I am flooded by memories—the puddles of water on the Maidan, the discarded bamboo poles lying about, the dust everywhere stirred up by the peripatetic peregrinations of millions, the tattered newspapers flying around in a midafternoon vortex of air, the smell of freshly-printed books, the sense of peaceful hustle-and-bustle all around. All was well with the world.

Make no mistake. The Book Fair is about books. Only not just about it.

When I was a kid, eons ago Book Fair was The event. It was where I got to spend my birthday money and set sail for imaginary worlds where I would encounter the antics of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda and Professor Shanku, the tall tales of Narayan Gangopadhyay’s Teni-da, the spooky charm of “World’s Best Ghost Stories”, the adventures of Tintin and the surreal comedy of Bantul the Great and the naughty Nonte-Phonte.

My memories of these early days constitute strikingly fresh images of a small boy going wide-eyed into the huge pavilions holding his father’s hand tight lest he get lost in the crowd. And his father reaching up the shelves and then looking down and saying—this book is good for you. Let’s buy this.

I also remember the feeling of irritation and impotent desperation as this aforementioned father took his sweet time going through heavy books in the boring Oxford book stall while the horrid book agent (who used to sell books at Indian Institute of Management) kept on showing him one new arrival after another. Aghast at the time being wasted on this futile activity, the small boy, with a strand of freshly-eaten pink cotton candy hanging from his nose, kept on pulling at his other hand —reminding him that the Rupa bookstall was filling up. And the “Limca Book of Records” was flying off the shelves like hot cakes.

Samuelson could wait. The man with the longest moustache could not.

As I grew older, things became different. Baba would come on his day and me on mine. Of course there was one family day—Baba , Ma and me. But bookhunting became more personal.

I never liked coming with friends to the Book Fair—I preferred solitude . It was easier to get lost in the crowd while being alone. Also my friends were too much into question papers, GRE big book, competitive exams and VC++ Unleashed —which to me was too much work. And quite against the spirit of the whole thing. I had nothing against GRE test papers and did a fair amount of mugging too—-but thinking of the corporeal world at the Book fair was to me like entering a temple with shoes on. In short, anathema.

Just as much a cosmic disturbance as forsaking the pakoras and coffee at the Coffee House stall for the chicken kababs and roast legs from the Arambagh Hatcheries cubicle.

Okay I confess. I ate all of them. Because one should never book-hunt on an empty stomach. Or discriminate between the Coffee House laddoo, the Rollick ice cream, the Fish Fry from Benfish and the Paan from Mantu’s.

One of the principal attractions of the fair was being able to physically leaf through the books —an experience we seem to be gradually losing in the world of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And the books that were ideal for leafing through were those lavishly photographed expensive picture books which you would never see anywhere else—-the World War encyclopedias, the National Geographic’s anniversary collection, a collection of greatest pictures from Life magazine.

And also those pictorial Kamasutra and erotic massage books —-furtively going over a page or two before a disapproving stare from an older person would lead me to quickly reach for the Complete Gardening and Home Improvement book reclining next to it.

Every year of course there was one hyped-up, must-do thing at the Book Fair. Once Jacques Derrida was the special guest[sorry my mistake: not Saki as I initially typed] and a lot of people turned up just because he was “heavy”(or because of the reassuring “da” at the end ). Another time, Shobha De came to promote one of her steamy KLPD novels and a minor riot broke out to see her. Another year the hottest selling book and topic of conversation was , hold your breath, Arindam Chaudhuri’s Chicken and Egg book. I remember asking the popcorn guy to put more butter on my popcorn while he discussed with his mate this great new “management” guy (yes he used the word) whom he had seen in a book-signing session nearby and how he looked like a mahamanush (great man). And was a Bengali too.

The magic of books. And the ponytail to provide an aura of intellectualism.

However I was not the one to be taken in by the hype. Okay maybe a few times. But in general, I never found the big stores particularly appealing–most of them were just like the other. And I could go to these places any time of the year.

However what was unique to me at the Bookfair was the little stalls. They were the lifeblood of the event–totally bereft of commercialization, selling books noone could possibly sell in an economically viable way. Some were motivated by a belief—the Ananda Margis, some by a cause—punish the Rajakars (the Pakistani collaborators during Bangladesh’s war of independence), and some by a dream that had passed them by—old emaciated men peddling thick tomes of Marx and Engels.

Then there were the amusing ones—stalls for selling Yoga books by the Ironman of Bengal where one could get weighed for free if one bought one of their books.

And finally the foot-soldiers of the fair–those peddling “Little Magazines”—printed versions of what we would nowadays call blogs—poems, small bits of prose, humor, satire, rants–all sold at bargain basement prices. And what’s more the authors were themselves selling it, engaging you in a conversation that sometimes intentionally, as part of their salesmanship was escalated to a heated debate and then asking..no compelling.. you to buy the “Little Magazine” for prices that ranged from Rs 2 upwards.

Sometimes the magic of the bookfair lay in sitting down on the ground and just observing people. Because those who love books are as fascinating as the books themselves. The young intellectual–bearded, jhola in hand and a faded kurta. The struggling artist—peddling his pictures and small sculptures. The bald-headed, thick-glassed bibliophile wending his way to Subarnarekha–the stall that sold rare, out-of-print books. The family out for an evening of fun with the packet of shrimp bought from the Benfish stall being the principal purchase. A group of college kids talking and laughing. A couple holding hands, lost in themselves.

And me sitting, a bag of fast-disappearing pop corn in my hand leafing through the book of life. Free of cost.

In conclusion, my abiding memory of Book Fair would be this man we met a long time ago. My father and I were sitting on the grass. Poverty writ large on his face and his faded, threadbare shirt, he came and started reciting a poem. And then asked my father whether he would like to buy a poem for 10 paisa. (His punch line was ” a poem for 10 paisa”).

He had in his hand several printed copies of a small leaflet—each of which had 10 poems written by him. And he was selling it for Re 1 a pamphlet.

My father asked him what he did for a living. Smiling shyly, the man said that he is a poet. He lives far away in a remote village in North Bengal and all through the year he goes to different fairs all over West Bengal—mostly village melas where he recites and sells his leaflets. He also proudly pointed out that every few months he comes up with new material.

When my father asked him where he stayed during the Book Fair, he smiled enigmatically and the poetic, dignified silence left no doubt as to the fact that he possibly slept on a footpath.

My father bought one of his leaflets and after he had gone read a few of them. They were of middling quality—a jewel in the dust this man surely was not.

But therein lay the beauty of it. The beauty of conviction. The beauty of dreams. The fact that this man believes that one day he will make it as a poet . And what’s inspiring is that despite the odds he faces every day, he still manages to radiate enthusiasm for his craft—a luminant joi de vivre that comes from believing in what he does.

That sales pitch of “a poem for 10 paisa” accompanied with the boisterous recitation—he must be doing this routine about hundreds of times every day, mostly to people who are irritated by his presence (I saw another group on the grass who basically told him to f*** off) and just want this nuisance to leave them alone. Looking at him going about his work, I realized that not once during his numerous sales pitches does his enthusiasm or self-belief waver, nor does he ever sell his poverty and ask for sympathy—not when insulted, not when rebuffed and not when sleeping on the footpath on a cold Calcutta night.

That , my friend, is the mark of a true artist.

And the Book Fair is where you find him.

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83 thoughts on “Memories of Calcutta Book Fair

  1. I’ve never been to the Calcutta Book Fair, but did visit the Delhi Book Fair a few times. I found it to be a good place for browsing but the books were by and large too expensive. I prefered to buy used books at the Daryaganj’s Sunday market on the pavements (equivalent to Calcutta’s College Street perhaps but I h’ve never seen it).. if you have a keen eye (to spot the right books, often the bookseller wouldn’t be able to tell you what he has and what he doesn’t) and know enough to bargain right, that’s a place where you can still get a P.G. Wodehouse within Rs. 20 or a Tintin for Rs. 30. And it is an economically viable business, some of those sellers buy their books by weight and make a great profit (% wise) selling at what seem to us very low prices – it astonished me that people sell good stuff like that, even if they had to clean out.. but possibly that source is what made Daryaganj a more interesting browsing experience compared to a book store. The chain book stores in the US are even more boring, stocking what seem to me a factory produced line of books. There is the odd locally owned bookstore that is better..

    Online buying only appeals to me when I want a title I already know about, then I can look for the best deal.

  2. Hi GreatBong, your description and analysis of the poor guy selling poems reminds me of this poem “the guy in the glass” by Dale Wimbrow. Check it out. You have a way with words….keep the words flowing and us drowning in the deluge……I enjoy reading every one of your posts.

  3. A classic post—you are a brilliant writer yourself. Any plans for a book soon? I will be the first in line. No sales pitch needed.

    –Indrani

  4. After reading – I wish I had gone to one of these book melas. Kintu I have never lived in Kolkata and was never very “book-loving” types:) I do have memory of this road in Kolkata though, my Mama used to take me. The amazing thing was that the book-stall guys actually knew the names of books/authors very unlike those in Mumbai….

  5. I used to love going to the Book Fair… but never had any money to buy the books which I really wanted. It used to be heavenly just being able to leaf through them and planning for the day when I’d have enough money to afford all I wanted.
    Now I am too far away to actually go there and buy. Making do with bookstores dotting cities… but I wish I was there.
    – EBW

  6. even if u write a book ,no doubt u ‘ll be a great success,dont stop blogging. where else cud u review devanand,mithun and the band?all ur posts r a delight and ur poet was interesting too but without without ur reviews theres no other way our clogged arteries r going to clear!varsha

  7. Hi Arnab, fabulous post as always. After reading your post, a host of memories came flooding back. I suddenly have this irresistible craving for a Fish Batter Fry. They used to be sold at about 10 Rs in those days…

  8. Hmm, I can really smell the dust now… but there was no dust this year, at least the day I went.
    I have always waited for the time when I would be earning enough to buy as many books as I wanted, but now that I do, I don’t have the time required to be spent there!
    Sigh

  9. lovely, arnab. i’m going to take a peek at the peek of the book of life this evening too, since i’m flat broke.

    by the way, the kobi in question was probably binoy majumdar, since this is a while back. google and see what you find about him. fascinating. he’s one of those born with a great future behind them.

  10. arnab, very very long post 🙂 ur getting infected by rimi! 😉 but nice – brings back memories of the bookfair. the sketching artists, the candyfloss, the big brass tea kettles i a bizzare shape … the dust

  11. what a lovely post…

    not once during his numerous sales pitches, does his enthusiasm or self-belief waver, nor does he ever sell his poverty and ask for sympathy—not when insulted, not when rebuffed and not when sleeping on the footpath on a cold Calcutta night

    wonder if i will ever have that conviction or humility? to be so completely self absorbed in what you believe that acknowledgement from others doesnt matter? truly amazing.

  12. Great post, but I have to point out one thing. It should be ‘the days of Amazon’. Not the days of “Barnes and Noble’. Because Barnes and Noble is the best place to read books. Better than the CBF even. Because you can take a book, sit down in a chair that is meant for the purpose of sitting and reading things you have no intention of buying and READ for the ENTIRE day if you like. This is true for any branch of Barnes and Noble at all. It’s one of my favourite activities ever so I felt I should stick up for Barnes and Noble!

  13. Arnab Da,
    Awesome post. As always. Have been a silent reader of your blog for long. As few others have mentioned, you too are a writer in your own rights and I wouldn’t stop to think before buying your book, if ever you write one. Go for it. Please!

    Me too have been missing BF for the last couple of years ‘coz I live elsewhere now. And each passing day I wonder WTH am I doing staying away from what I’m made of – Kolkata!

  14. Brilliant; absolutely lovely…and since I went to the Book Fair a few days back myself, the picture’s even clearer…it’s as good as ever…I envy you, because of your touching encounter with the poet…wish I could get a glimpse of a true artist like that as well…

  15. about the bohemian poet…

    Who, my friend ever said that the true artist is living with the best of craftsmanship and environs?

    I just believe that he has a will to draw in a state of inspiration to move on.

    Who can fathom the true value of an art? Aren’t we thankfull for the self-doubts and fortitude of Dostoevsky?

    Reminded me of the big and small book fairs in Kerala and the folks who belonged. Thanks.

  16. After ‘A letter from Andaman— I was honestly wondering what you will write about. This is another gem. I totally agree with Indrani, who has already written “you are a brilliant writer yourself”.

    It is all about conviction in life – just like your granddad’s conviction. And it is definitely heartening to see that you appreciate conviction and that is the only reason you still remember the encounter with the poet. So many things happen in one’s life but one only remembers those which leave strong impression. The conviction of the poet, your granddad’s has left lasting impression in your mind. You are blessed to have such a sensitive mind and I am honestly glad to know such a sensitive mind thru your blog – thru your writing. Thank you.

  17. It is really a travesty of fate that poetry does not pay well- that is one area where laxmi should have followed Saraswati. Some of the greatest writers and poets have to do other work to support themselves. A great pity. The luckiest folks are those who get paid for what they enjoy doing.

  18. You tranported me back to a world that I knew 10 years back… I wish you had not written this post because it makes me so very nostalgic… Makes me want to leave everything else and run back to Kolkata and its idiosyncrasies… But alas, that is not to be… Not now, not yet…

  19. Boss,
    Simply great piece.
    One small thought comes to mind .. the miniature Anandabazar Patrika and Statesman that were published (dated some 30 yrs back).
    Ananda Publishers always had the most crowd followed by Rupa.
    Thanks .. keep on writing .. for our sake.
    Sandip

  20. Arnab, how could you leave out the Mishti Doi at the Mother Dairy stall? I was lucky to be at the Fair in 2005 and now they have five different flavors! Thanks for rekindling lost memories… good and bad alike. I still bear the trauma of a near-stampede by an emotionally-charged crowd at Gavaskar’s Bengali release of Sunny Days… among good things, making new friends at the Ayn Rand stall, idly lying on the grass, adda and scoping out girls… your story about the poet is really touching. I remember meeting a guy who was a railway TT by the day and was selling translations of Neruda. This probably happens only in Kolkata.

  21. Beautiful post!!

    I remember going to book fairs in several different cities, but most notably in ahmedabad. It used to be great…

    “One of the principal attractions of the fair was being able to physically leaf through the books —an experience we seem to be gradually losing in the world of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.”

    — How true; I still visit borders or b&n for the exact reason; just to go through the books. I come back home and order from amazon, but I just love going through the pages.

    The last part about the poet was touching – yes, he was a true artist.

    Great writing here

    Suyog

  22. Binoy Majumdar
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to: navigation, search
    Binoy Majumdar (born 1933, Calcutta, India), a brilliant and controversial Bengali poet of the mid-twentieth century, received the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award in 2005, amidst senility, ill-health, and years of social reclusion. A Mechanical Engineering graduate from Bengal Engineering College, Calcutta, in 1957, Binoy turned to Poetry later in life. Mathematics was Binoy’s passion from his early youth. He completed ‘Intermediate’ (pre-University) from Presidency College, Calcutta. When Binoy took to writing, systematic observation and scientific enquiry of objects found a place, quite naturally, in his Poetry. Binoy Majumdar’s most famous piece of work is Phire esho, Chaka (Come back, O Wheel, 1960), which was written in the format of a diary. The book is dedicated to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a fellow-Calcuttan and contemporary of Majumdar. The book opens with the lines:

    (transliterated)

    March 8, 1960
    ekti ujjwal maachh ekbar ure
    drishyata sunil, kintu prakrita prastabe swachchha jale
    punoray dube gelo – ei smita drishya dekhe niye
    bedonar gaarho rashe aapakka raktim holo fal
    which, translated, reads:

    One bright fish flew once
    Only to sink again into the visibly blue, but truly
    Transparent water – catching this pleasing sight
    The fruit blushed red, ripening in a deep abyss of pain.

    1958-1962 was the period when Binoy’s poetry thrived. Apart from Phire Esho, Chaka, he wrote other books, such as: Nakshatrer Aaloy (In the light of the stars), Eeshwariyo (Godly), Adhikantu (Excessive), Aghraaner Anubhutimala (The emotions of the month of Aghran), Balmikir Kabita (The Poetry of Balmiki). An anthology of Binoy’s poems was published by Dey’s Publishing House of Calcutta under the name Binoy Majumdarer Srestho Kabita (Selected Poems of Binoy Majumdar) in 1981.

    In the 1980’s and 90’s, Majumdar was affected by severe illness of the mind. It went to the point of failed suicidal attempts. His poetry came to a standstill. The medical treatment he received was inadequate. He moved to the outskirts of Calcutta, and to this date, lives with local town folks, a stranger amidst strangers, far from the madding crowd and glare of publicity that pervades Calcutta.

    Binoy has often been regarded by critics as a true successor of Jibanananda Das, the poet who revolutionized Bengali Poetry in the post-Tagore era. Like Jibanananda, Binoy drew his material from bountiful nature, the fields and the jungles and the rivers and the fauna of Bengal. But Binoy’s originality lay in his attempt to relate the various elements of nature to one another through objective logic and scientific enquiry. In this respect, some refer to the genre of his work as scientific field journal. Binoy Majumdar was bold and revolutionary in the depiction of Sexuality in Poetry. He abundantly used vivid imageries which were sensually potent and Freudian in essence. In a series of pieces (Aamar Bhuttay Tel etc.), where he gives an explicit and graphic description of sexual intercourse, Binoy, once again, lays strong emphasis on the physiology of the process, and takes to a journalistic narration.

    Binoy has always been somewhat obscure among readers of Bengali Poetry. He was quite ahead of his time in breaking norms of contemporary literature. Some of his poems are difficult to decipher at the first go, and require multiple readings. His writings are unconventional because they often appear as neutral scientific reportage, and not poetry in its usual romaticized self. In this, Binoy readers can perhaps trace back his background as a Mathematician. Binoy builds up all his imagery, nuances, lyricism, and poetic discovery on the skeleton of scientific reasoning and factual observations, in a very toned-down manner.

    Binoy presently lives in Thakurnagar, on the outskirts of Calcutta. Senile, forgotten, and in utter negligence, all by himself. He doesn’t have a family, and has no social interaction. It is as if the poet retreated unnoticed into exile, and retired from Poetry, thereby severing ties with his readers, with no hue and cry from the media. Binoy Majumdar, till this day, remains as controversial and enigmatic as ever.

    [edit]
    References
    http://www.kaurab.com/kau10/kau10_gadya_saxatkar.html
    http://www.kaurab.com/kau10/kau10_pro_binay.html
    This article about an Indian writer is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.

    Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binoy_Majumdar”

  23. Arnab,

    I used to go to the book fair back in the eighties. It was a terribly simple affair then, not in size but scope. We used to always head there on the last day. Even today the hard bound Raduga Publishers Chekov, Gogol, and Pushkins adorn our bookshelves back home.

    Chief, I first read this blog on a particularly downer evening. Your Hindi movie evaluations were a laugh riot. On this note, your book fair write up is superb. It evokes the sights and sounds of the place on the dot.

    Much like the descriptions of your father, my father loves books. We used to visit this bookstore in Dover Lane to buy up everything in sight. He was/is a surgeon, but one of those old lefty FRCS types.
    Your parents’ description at the Cellular Jail brought back some of those notions he attempted to embed in us.

    I have been to Calcutta of late; go there every two years or so. Things are changing; some for the better and some for the worse. However, the truly amazing part of the city is the unchanging ethos of its inhabitants. It’s this dark and deep humanity. Dark and deep because Calcuttans as people from Prague love to complain about everything and anything. Life is never “bhalo acchi”, but “cholchey”! Yet, it is so full of this ‘je ne se qua’ mysticism about life in all its misery and exhilaration. And, this dialectic is best evident in the book fair. The strange beggared poet, the old believers with the Gramsci tomes, the glamorous Rupa and Ananda stalls, as well as the infantry men of the little magazines whom you have carved like Rodin on paper, epitomize the synthesis of Calcutta.

    Cheers,

    Vasabjit Banerjee

  24. Just a suggestion. When you are changing something in the post again and again, make sure you atleast strike out the things which you correct or whatever because every day, I see the same post being repeated on bloglines, with absolutely no change and it kinda gets irritating.

    I hope you understand.

    thanks much,
    Gary

  25. hmmn..No need to say a good post. You always do a good job of writing and all of us sincerely hope you get a good topic to write about when you think of writing a book. And I promise I will buy it. (Not sure if i will buy the non-pirated version, still I will buy).

    As for the Book Fair, somebody mentioned about Mumbai not having a Book fair as well as not having a book culture. Maybe he is right, maybe he is wrong.
    The Strand Book Stall according to me is one of the landmarks of this city. And the Strand Book fair has always seen a good response. Also, the book sellers who used to setup their wares on the pavements in VT,Churchgate prior to BMC cleanup were always a good source of cheap books for people who longed for a good but cheap read. And the book sellers definitely knew their Archers,Sheldons and other authors even if they were ignorant about the classics and non-ficition.

  26. Babu-Dipanjan said…
    > I remember meeting a guy who was a
    > railway TT by the day and was
    > selling translations of Neruda. This
    > probably happens only in Kolkata.

    There was also this guy at the Port Trust many moons ago when my dad was trying to get some off his stuff off a ship. He somehow got to know my dad was at Presi and offered to speed up the process in return for access to the Presi library. Apparently the guy worshipped Milton and wanted to look up some books that weren’t easily available. Another one of those things that only happens in Kolkata.

  27. Hi Greatbong
    Wanted to write this comment since I read your article about Prabhuji.
    You have a good unique writing style.
    Coming to Calcutta (or Kolkata) book fair, I had been to the fair twice. I am not a bengali but was staying in Kolkata, when it was Calcutta. I found the book collection and the atmosphere absolutely condusive for buying books. I wasn’t very comfortable with the foodstalls there.
    We had a nice experience, as my friend wanted a book “Asian Drama” – apparently a economics book and without listening to this piece of info, everybody shooed us away to the stall which sold the regular stage drama books.

    Thanks for the nice article.

  28. @Debashish: The Calcutta Book fair wasnt too big on used books–for that College Street and the smaller/racier Golpark was your only alternative.

    @Dipanjan: Thank you for that lovely link.

    @AQC: Sorry that was a semantic typo—I meant to write Derrida and wrote Saki instead….which shows that I am not the antel type.

    @Aditya: Thank you

    @Indrani: Hope you keep your words by buying my book when and IF it is ever published.

    @SD: the fun about the Book Fair was that you didnt have to be one of the “book-reading” types in order to enjoy the total package.

    @Anon1: Thank you thank you

    @EBW: True. But again the fun of the Bookfair is browsing and not always buying.

    @Varsha: Oh of course. the reviews will always continue

    @Srin: For the Jaino Shilpa Mondir, there is Lexpo..

    @Soham: It had me emotionally moved while writing it. So many personal memories which I didnt share came flooding back

    @Anon2: Now that you say it, even I have this craving for fish batter fry.

    @S: The eternal paradox–time and money.

    @Rimi: No its not Binoy Majumdar. Binoy Majumdar of “Chaka Phire Esho” (as someone has pointed out is a dedication to noted beauty of Presidency College–Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak) is someone much older than this 10 paisa poet.

    @Prerona: Ahem. I have the patent on long posts much before Rimi started doing them.

    @Anon3: Thank you

    @theidiot: Well put. No it’s very difficult to love what you do so much that appreciation and encouragement don’t matter any longer…it’s a state of artistic zen few can attain.

    @Abhimanyu: Point taken. I meant the online B&N

    @Dark Star: I wonder that too. Maybe not for long.

    @yourfan: Thank you thank you. But I am not such a detached artist as the 10 paisa poet—I need the words of encouragement/appreciation from readers like you to go on blogging. What can I say—that’s my limitation !

    @Hiren: Yes they are blessed. I wonder though that for how long can one enjoy what one does for a living—for instance I am sure if blogging was my only way of livelihood I wouldnt enjoy it one bit.

    @Saikat: But maybe soon.

    @Supratim: It is. And what a marvel…a non-religious festival.

    @Anon4: Oh yes the crowd at Ananda Publishers as you milled past the books in a line.

    @Babu-Dipanjan: Aha the mishti doi. A TT selling translations of Neruda—happens only in Kolkata.

    @Suyog: A true artist he truly was.

    @Vasabjit: The russian books. So forgot to mention that in the post—those excellent bounded novel sets and science books all available at unbelievable prices—when Communism fell that was perhaps my only regret: we will never get books like this this cheap any more.

    @Gary: Firstly sorry for the inconvenience. On multiple readings of my own blogpost, small stylistic corrections often need to be made. And maintaining a record of the corrections would make the post look like CVS (Open Source Version Control).

    I have a bloglines account where I am also subscribed to my own blog (ahem) and I dont encounter any problem with multiple posts—of course I understand what you are saying with multiple pings going out for each posting and so it *should* be a problem if something gets republished.

    Do other blogline readers also face the same problem?

    @HP: Pirated version? It would be my privilege if the pirates even hear about my book !

    @Expiring Frog: Again happens only in Kolkata.

    @Anon5: You’r welcome.

  29. This, my friend, is a wonderful post. *gives you a big hug for writing this post inspite of not knowing you*.

    P.S: You’ve made me even more jealous of the people who’ve managed to go to the Delhi Book Fair.

  30. Used to visit Kolkata Book fair in the 80s. Since 1991 in Delhi..visited Delhi Book fair once and hated it like anything – so these days browse though Boimela special of Desh and order books from Kolkata Book Fair by phone (friends/relatives).. This time bought 20 books!

  31. ah…book fairs…!this post fills me with such nostalgia! I have been a ‘probashi bangali’ nearly all my life – have only lived in kolkata for a very few years in childhood – but i can still remember the enthusiasm of going to the book fair…. checking out the latest Feluda… picking up bengali translations of russian books like ‘fun with mathematics’ or some such title….admiring all the other glossy ‘imported’ books… my mum buying the sharat chandra omnibus which looked very imposing at that time (i really have to thank her coz years down the line i have devoured that book so many times)……… it was a day out…almost a picnic of sorts…..

    the delhi book fair attracts its own share of gloss and hype but has less of the old world charm that i associate with kolkata…… most of the publishers are big international names…so of course are the prices…. (even if you can afford an expensive book, there’s no greater joy than to get it at a discount!)

    i haven’t been to any fairs in uk ….. i’ve heard there’s a village in wales that’s a book lover’s heaven…… but i must say i quite enjoy haunting the used book sales at the local libraries where you can pick up books (in prime condition)for 5p or 10p.

    thank you, arnab for recreating the atmosphere of the kolkata boi mela…. makes me yearn for my bong roots…

  32. It has not been more than an hour I have returned home from the Book Fair. This year is supposed to be last one on the Maidan. The Book Fair will lose much of its glory if it is shifted from the Maidan. 😦

  33. Perhaps it’s proximity to Calcutta helped,but the book fair and DP were the two events I looked forward to in Jamshedpur.The intensity and the crowd may have been nowhere compared to it’s bigger cousin,but that was all we had and we loved it.

    Infact the memories of such wonderful things I have been missing inspired me to write about them on my now dormant blog about Jamshedpur city.
    Here and here if you wish to know more.

  34. its a lovely piece of writing GreatBong.

    i went to delhi book fair once. and like debashish said … found it a little too expensive to the pocket.

    i spent all my pocketmoney on books too, since my mind can recall. even today i cant pass by a bookseller without purchasing something readable. I think i have passed my passion for books to my child. 🙂

    there is nothing in world compared to the smell of an old book. the best perfume in the world

  35. Simply outstanding !!

    And me sitting, a bag of fast-disappearing pop corn in my hand leafing through the book of life. Free of cost.

    anything said about that line would mitigate its depth

  36. Here is a wonderful article i came across which tries
    to highlight the probable reason for the political
    stability in west bengal.

    The article deals with one broad question – How does
    economic development or the lack of it affect
    political behaviour of the people who are benefited by

    by or excluded from the fruits of progress?

    The complete article is accessible at this link –
    http://www.epw.org.in/showArticles.php?root=2006&leaf=01&filename=9643&filetype=pdf

    Summary of the article:

    Market and democracy are the two basic institutional
    pillars on which free capitalism can be firmly
    planted. it is presumed that there are situations of
    market failure where free market forces are unable to
    deliver the optimal outcome. such situation warrants
    government intervention. but what happens when there
    is government failure as well? in such situation the
    institution called democracy is supposed to emerge as
    the saviour. if the government fails to deliver,
    citizens are supposed to exercise their voting right
    to get rid of the inefficient government and bring
    back efficiency. But the bigger question is “Does
    democracy necessarily play this role?”
    West Bengal(WB) is a classic case where there has been
    political stability since 1977 when the left front
    came to power. WB’s economy has not seen phenomenal
    growth over pst 30 years. It is at best a middle
    ranking state in India. Many people have tried to
    answer this question of political stability in WB.
    some have attributed it to rigging in election while
    others have attributed it to land reforms. but can a
    party remian in power for 30 years without any decline
    in its voting share compared to 1977 just by unfair
    electoral practices. the answer is firm NO (example –
    BIHAR where govt changed after 15 years). Even the
    land reform cannot be the reason. agriculture sector
    has seen tremendous growth in WB in 1980s but there
    after it declined. so this can explain the political
    success of left front in 1980s but not in 1990s which
    witnessed significant fall in the growth rate of the
    agri sector. The possible reason is “AN INCREASING
    INFORMALISATION OF THE ECONOMY AND AN OUTSTANDING
    POLITICAL ORGANISATION OF THE RULLING LEFT”. With the
    steady decline of formal sector employment in the
    state the only way to survive is to depend on one of
    the informal sector jobs like taxi driver, street
    hawkers, shopkeepers…….. This highlights two
    points. First and foremost, all of them are extremely
    vulnerable and second, they do not live by formal
    laws and norms. there are people who live and earn
    within the formal legal framework but each individual
    is too small to protect himself from the local goons,
    musclemen. this is simply because the formal legal
    system is too costly to resort to. these people depend
    in a fundamental way on political parties for their
    livelihood. it is their vulnerability which compels
    them to do so. a political party which gives them the
    protection gets their support. An individual living in
    a political society has an important commodity to sell
    apart from his labour namely “HIS RIGHT TO VOTE”. he
    remain attached to the party as long as he remains
    vulnerable. This also explains the reason as why the
    poor people are more active in politics and exercise
    their voting right in larger proportion compared to
    the affluent class. and with its strong unmatchable
    organisation in the state the left front has emerged
    as an alternative to the formal economic and legal
    system. the organisation alone would not have
    delivered this result. if the economy had been
    substantially formalised and if the legal system were
    less costly most people would have voted independently
    where ideology and other consideration would have
    become more important. This also explains the reason
    for poor performance of left front in Kolkatta
    compared to other parts of the state.

    Though it is open for debate but this seems to be the
    best possible reason.

  37. You lead us astray with your last post to the other site. I kept checking it often and thought, what’s up with greatbong… and I came back here to check “just in case” … And I pardon you for all this after reading this post. Superb!! Superb!!! Even a non-bengali like me (but one who has spent the prime of his life in Kolkata) could not help but get a tear in my eyes. And I think it was also because I have been to Kolkata, just a few days ago 🙂

  38. Lost in deluge if i may say. Well I literally moved down the memories in the book fairs that i used to frequent every feb in Delhi and now the most recent one i attended in Bangalore, Strand book exhibition.

    Finally today standing on my own legs i let my purse splurge went away lighter by a few Ks. The hustle bustle of people rushing seeking books and potential books also.

    Wonderful !!! Thanks a lot to Samit (ohmigosh he is incredible with the game world trilogy – soon)

  39. Hi Arnab,

    This one should be seriously considered for your “Best of” compilation. Simply wonderful…childhood memories of bookfair (lets call it boimela, shall we?) are simply the most beautiful ones that i have…the intoxicating smell of plywood and books inside the stalls, the dusty air, pink candy, peeping into the newly bought books on the journey back home…even my father and I used to have a similar time at the bookfair like you, when I was a small boy…
    This one really brought back a load of simple yet beautiful memories…thank you!

    Arani

  40. This is interesting…
    I left Kolkata for Canada at a rather impressionable age of 18… I have lived and died for boi mela… I can so well identify myself with your experience, that I am almost in tears with nostalgia. I came to Canada, lived by myself and pretty much got lost between the difference of cultures. I even lost my great passion for books. But I remember boi mela, I remember it used to be like a week of gifts till I grew old enough to go with my parents, and then I remember it as an adventure, I remember it as christmas, you know the whole being a good boy deal. I remember trasuring the “treasure Islands” and the racing heart beats as Feluda would stage Maganlal’s arrest. Then I remember almost getting trodden over at the entrance of anondo publishers.
    I grew older, the books became pricier, but the whole experience of boimela itself transformed in a very different way. The “bidogdho/ aantel” discussions with a peer, the curious and adventurous feeling of discovering great literature – doesovsky to neruda and shakespeare to bonkim… the whole shebang.
    I miss that a lot, I miss having discussions about Satyajit while sipping on cold coffee at coffee house. Its probably just because of the experience of an impressionable age, but I swear I have not had such chicken omelette and cold coffee any where else. Star Bucks and Tim Hortons can only serve me the coffee to keep me awake to finish oh-so-abhorred assignments ; they can never serve me the elixir and source of utter peace and absolute complacence. Those days, coffee was a way to relax, and these days it is a source of my brain’s midnight oil. Its probably only my surroundings and I that have changed. Or maybe it is the coffee.
    tonight I sigh and remind myself of the whole different person I had the chance of being, and realign my dreams with all the beautiful things I would want back in my life. Thanks for reminding me what books and boimela meant to me.

  41. Pingback: Kolkata Book Fair » Niponwave

  42. all things bong seem beautiful, their love of culture, their intellectualization of every single aspect of life, their ability to spurn/ignore money and pursue the elusive deity of ART, their musical language that rises and falls like a song, their poetry, literature……., their way with words. The singhadas and all the mishti!
    Kolkatta here I come.
    I long to learn the language and Rabindra Sangeet, steep myself with poetry in that dreamy world they live in…..

  43. Kolkata book fair is really a good place for the book lovers.I become nostalgic reading about the book fair now.I remember my past years when i used to visit the book fair with my sweet girlfriend Indrani:).I really miss those days:(

  44. Dear Arnab,

    It was wonderful reading about the bookfairs of Kolkata – Immediately brought back a flood of nostalgic memories of being there 20-25 years ago. I recall one instance where I wanted to buy a book but did not have the money to pay for the entire cost – Guess what the lady at the stall did – Packed up the book and asked me to pay the balance later , before the exhibition was over. I still find it hard to forget the trust that lady exhibited! It could have happened only in Calcutta ! Yes I did go back and pay the next day !

    Rgds

    Viji

  45. simply amazing piece of writing.you have so wonderfully preserved the pieces of its essence and the memories…..hope to read much more of ur demented mind…:)

  46. Nostalgic and Vivid. I lived at Dhanbad, Jharkhand till my 2 days. There is an annual Book Fair in Dhanbad as well which I eagerly awaited for the whole year. I used to spent my entire savings in the Fair. And again, I went there alone as none of my friends shared my passion for books.

    The book collection in the Fair was not extensive and thats why I always wondered how the Kolkata Book Fair would look like when I used to read about it in Ananda Bazar Patrika. I never made it to the Grand Kolkata Book Fair. Now I live at Noida(a New Delhi suburb) and I have made it a point to make to Delhi Book Fair this time.

  47. Wow! Now I am stumped. How do I stick in a “subliminal” message that refers to Himesh Reshamiyya in this topic? Duh….!

  48. nostalgia is the only word thatdescribes my emotions right now….onek dhonyobad, for that lovely article, which made me relive those memories. sadly the govt has decided this year to chuck the event due to space constraints.
    btw, this winter had gone down to cal for a few days and there was a chotoder boi mela happening near nandan, though on a much smaller scale, the spirit of boi mela wa definitely there. may be thats what we bongs say as dudher swad gholey metano…..

  49. Pingback: The mark of a true artist « Entertaining Research

  50. Probably the best post I’ve read in a while. What a nostalgic piece!

    And some thing most of us can relate to – the child holding on to the father’s hand, that distinctive smell, the crowd, and (I almost fell off the chair laughing reading this) “…also those pictorial Kamasutra and erotic massage books —-furtively going over a page or two before a disapproving stare from an older person would lead me to quickly reach for the Complete Gardening…”!

    Arnab, I spent two years in Calcutta (at IIMC, taught amongst others by the “father” in this piece) and most likely our paths must have crossed since I remember going to the Book Fair with the Sobha De episode. Thanks again for the nostalgic trip down the memory lane.

  51. Quoting from your blog:

    “not once during his numerous sales pitches does his enthusiasm or self-belief waver, nor does he ever sell his poverty and ask for sympathy—not when insulted, not when rebuffed and not when sleeping on the footpath on a cold Calcutta night.

    That , my friend, is the mark of a true artist.

    And the Book Fair is where you find him.”

    Simply great. I am your fan from today 🙂 …

  52. Your posting on calcutta book fair was a delight to read. Relived the excitement of my own teenage & adult days many years ago. A big thanx for sharing your thoughts & observations.

  53. Hi Arnab,

    I have been reading your blogs for the past few months now.. however since I had a lot of catching up to do I didn’t comment for a long time. Nevertheless this particular post made me reminisce about my Cal days and I couldn’t stop myself from commending on your blog. Really great job..

    I absolutely love the sentimental ones, the letter from Andaman one is my fav and now this one too.

    Kudos!!

  54. this post really made me burst into tears. thanks arnab da. for the post and not for the tears. and arnab da, a request. dont write a book. the flower rose looks good decorating a woman’s hair but the cauliflower looks good as a garnish. now it’s a debatable question which one is you, but you are and would be the best as the great bong and not one of those pointy nosed, spectacled writers of books 🙂

  55. like many others who have been born and brought up in the city of joy, i too burst into tears towards the end..
    what is it about the city that remains embedded in our soul no matter which part of the world we are in..
    year after year i have visited the book fair and felt a part of the great big calcuttan tradition..
    from the bus conductor shouting ‘book fair’ as soon as we near maidan to the person sitting in the ticket counter wearing thick glasses and tearing out a yellow or pink ticket slip, each memory is so vivid..
    the world as i knew it from doing adda at the book fair or outside nandan..or the countless pandals seen at durgapujo, is fast disappearing from my eyes…
    ans i must say that the great bong had captured the essence of the book fair wonderfully except one thing… i would have loved to see ektu besi description of the artists sitting on the grass… the beautiful cards and drawings that they sold were a joy to see each time i went..
    and now i may be half way around the world away from the city i love, but i still have memories of the best time of my life..
    even though i am not a bengali..

  56. I follow your blog regularly but this is the first time i’m replying. First of all let me tell you, among all the other blogs I am a huge fan of your blogs. I simply love the style. And the reason I’m replying on this post is, i guess i also met the same poet you described. His name is NABAKUMAR DA. Everytime I used to buy his poetic leaflets. But surprisingly I couldn’t find him last year. I have asked several of my friends who are also regular buyer of his leaflets, but nobody has seen him. 😦

    Anyway, keep posting.

  57. Pingback: Sale Sale | Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind

  58. Pingback: Traditions And Technology – Talk transcript from KDE India conference « Through Myopic Eyes

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