I will be honest. The only reason I went to the Kolkata Book Fair today, barely a few hours after a grueling flight, was to see my book being sold there.
And there I found it. Right next to Linda Goodman in the references section. The urge to turn around and exclaim tearfully to the store clerk, in Alok Nathian fashion, “Beta tumne yeh kar diya” was immense.
And then I figured it could have been worse.
I could have been kept besides the “SMS for love” collection of books , whose pages bristle with pre-written SMS-s for those spontaneous times when you must express what you have in your mind, typically by skipping vowels.
Publishers may say that the Kolkata Book Fair is nothing in terms of sales, Kolkatans come to eat at Arambagh’s but not to buy books. But what do they know? Have they gone there, year after year, gawking at the shelves of books, imagining their names up on the spines, in the august company of those that can call themselves “authors”?
No they have not. So what do they know?
Of course this wasn’t my father’s book fair. Nor was it mine. The venue had changed. Admission had become free. Books, all them campus love ishhstories, written by men and women whose bio read “Fourth year student at XYZ college. Wrote this book in the second year” crowded the stores, their English enough to make Queen Elizabeth swoon nasally “Oooh huzur, kya tha mera kasoooor….”. Television channel personnel trawled the grounds with more determination than pickpockets. A girl cooed to her boyfriend—“Cannot decide which one to buy—- Pamuk or Chetan Bhagat?”, reflecting a rather eclectic taste in world literature. Another teenager grabbed a copy of “Twilight” as well as “Heartbreak and Dreams ! Girls at IIT” , revealing a fascination with imaginary creatures. Books promising to make you money IN DOLLARS by blogging were advertised prominently. People thronged the Income Tax booth for reasons I could not fathom, unless of course they were, like every other shop, giving a 10% discount. An old battle-hardened salesman shouted “Uff sob bikri howe geche. Aro baksho theke Chetan bar kor” (English: Damn we sold all of them. Bring out more Chetans from the box), bringing up images of mythical creatures of yore where one when you lopped off one head, a hundred more would grow in its place. The cheap kamasutra Rs 60 bound-pamphlets we would leaf through while pretending to look at other books, had vanished, reflecting perhaps these times where the Net has made such tomes redundant.
The most damning sign of the changing times? Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” being sold at 50% off. Yes you read that right. The market forces have finally caught up with Marx. In the last place he could hide in the world. West Bengal.
And as Shiv Khera smiled proudly down from his big poster and people filled their basket with Robin Sharmas, one could not but detect an expression of sadness in the faces of the comrades manning that booth, almost as if they were wondering whether it would be worth learning how to earn IN DOLLARS from blogging or if they should try to pass “Ten Days That Shook The World” as a never-been-published Chetan Bhagat novel.
Yes things have changed. Whether for the better, I am not too sure.