Kolkata Book Fair —A Visit After Many Years

50 Comments

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.

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50 thoughts on “Kolkata Book Fair —A Visit After Many Years

  1. The last time I visited the Kolkata Boi Mela was it’s first year out of Maidan.. it just seemed so unlike itself, without the dust clouds stirred up by crowds of college-goers with jholas on their shoulders and no BenFish stalls in sight, that I decided it was time to move on and let the childhood memories live.

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  3. Great post gb…
    “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.”-this part is the best

  4. echo your feelings about the fair…(the day i visited the fair , i poured out my frustrated feelings in my humble blog )… sadly now it is about everything other than books….. 1. free sitting zone for couples 2. family outings 3. hangout zone for gangs 4. free stage for unwanted singing sensations 5. parents who are proud of that their kids have bought books worth 1000 bucks , never mind that it is mainly piles of twilight, sheldon and archer. .. still book lovers exist and they do visit the fair…only they seem to be a minority species…

  5. Chetan Bhagat is killing any quality literature this country has to offer and its really sad that we are really lowering ourselves to acknowledge that as literature

  6. @ Sahil…hey. Just wanted to say..I like reading Chetan Bhagat…don’t consider it as a “classic”.. or of great “literary value” but he keeps me entertained like a rom-com movie… i don’t think everyone who reads Chetan Bhagat thinks that its “literature” .. Why blame him for killing “literature”?? Aren’t the people to be blamed if they do not read better books or see it as a worthy substitute for Pamuk? Why blame the writer? One can read any book as long as one knows exactly the worth of what one is reading. Generalizing is a tad irritating at times 🙂

  7. GB,

    A blog on airport terminals becoming a railway station would be a handsome treat.
    After all who can forget the comment “onek boro playne dekchi ghoraghuri korchey” .

  8. @GB,
    What about Bengali books? Do they have a presence there or everyone is bringing out more “Chetan“s (What a symbol)?

  9. @ Utsav
    >>>>This was the first time VHP came into the Book Fair.

    Finally some good news… 🙂
    And the Commies are selling Karl Marx’s book at 50% off.

    These two are not a coincidence, are they?
    So do you see a brighter future for Bengal?

  10. @ Suchishmita di
    One swallow doesn’t make a summer.
    But I am always optimistic. The land which gave birth to Prithviraj Chauhan’s mother, can regain its …..

  11. hilarious as always!

    “Another teenager grabbed a copy of “Twilight” as well as “Heartbreak and Dreams ! Girls at IIT” , revealing a fascination with imaginary creatures”

    The Best Part!!!

  12. thats the difference between a kolkata bangali visiting the book fair (one who has seen it before) and one who went after visiting the delhi book fair (or even the world book fair) in pragati maidan.
    In delhi the amount of people who visit are close to what the kol book fair will get for one of the stalls in a day. the amount of people who buy will be even lesser. the reason they come to DBF is to spend time with their girl friends and boy friends, coz their parents will never expect them here, it is cheap, or to buy the toys that come from china every year.
    i went to KBF last year and realised kolkata loves its books, maybe decreasingly so, but they still do. i am just glad it wasnt the psuedo intellectual(no one to judge)-media hyped-who’s who attended-jaipur lit fest. and i hope it stays that way.

  13. @Suchismita,

    So do you see a brighter future for Bengal?

    From what angle Maomata looks like a bright future to you? 🙂
    @aparna,
    I have not seen DBF but I have gone to KBF till 2000. From what you described about DBF, KBF was not very different then. Today I am sure they are same. Avid readers including friends and family members stopped going there long back. You actually get better discounts outside if you are known as a regular reader and buyer to the publishers or big shops or the shops that sell used books. If KBF changes it’s name to kolkata food mela or kolkata binodon mela, it would make better sense from marketing perspective.

  14. After reading so many good posts about Kolkata Book Fair i highly recommended it to one of my friend who has recently joined a company there.I just hope he is not cursing me.

  15. Loved the book fair!!
    beautiful ladies. Artists selling their paintings. Better toilets and food stalls. better organised stalls. Free entry. Buying and choosing books has got easier though..as we can check the ratings at amazon but still a lot of semi standard junk books(in one case written by relatives of a publisher!).

  16. We live in dangerous times, when one of my neighbor’s kids wishes to be a chetan bhagat when he grows up, and his sister wants to be a karan johar.

    and yeah i loved this part too – Girls at IIT” , revealing a fascination with imaginary creatures” 🙂 my man would agree.

  17. Arnab, I found the current book fair better organised in terms of better underfoot conditions, more aisle space between stalls, better maintained public service areas like toilets and drinking water facilities.

    I have bought some Bangla books authored by well known people like Syed Mustafa Siraj as well as newcomers like Chandril of Bangla Band Chandrabindoo fame. I also did buy some collections of Khuswant Singh as well as some new ‘Chetan’ inspired first time novelists

    The point is a ‘fair’ is typically a mishmash of a lot of things– some classic some weird! That’ why it is a fair and not a conference. The unregulated’chaos’ gives the fair its character, isn’t it?

    By the way, the total transaction amount from the fair is supposed to be Rs. 14 crores. I believe this is the transaction amount only from the book stalls and not the food pavilion. Not bad for a fair which has raised questions about the actual percentage of book lovers among the visitors:))

  18. Hey I didn’t have to go to a book fair to buy a copy of your book – got it straight off the shelf from an uppity book store at Vasant Kunj, Delhi.

    Sure I was expecting a story and ended up with the Bong’s great opinions on life, movies and much more. Enjoyed it immensely.

    May I hebb…should come with a statutory warning though – may induce loud chuckles, avoid reading in public places lest people assume you are a certified lunatic.

  19. Arnab,
    I am a fan of this fantastic blog, not because of your mastery over the English language, but for your ability to articulate and take stands which would sometimes be considered controversial in an increasingly politically correct society. Chetan Bhagat is a literary entertainer, and to suggest if he is as good as Orhan Pamuk (or anyone else) is like asking if Michael Jackson is as good as Led Zeppelin or Bob Dylan. Each artist has his own sphere of influence and fans. To have 100 Orhan Pamuks would be as painful as having 100 Chetan Bhagats. I couldnt care if Queen Elizabeth approved of Indians writing in English. Language evolves faster than human beings do and there is no such thing as correct or incorrect language. Hindi or English or any language as spoken today is certainly not what was spoken 100 years ago. Lastly, its not Chetan Bhagat’s fault if those following in his footsteps are mediocre. He has created a genre of writing in India, which may or may not see better products. Not every rock star rocks, not every hip hop artist is groovy, but you cant damn someone who took a different path. In the end, a good book is as much about good story telling as it is about words which constantly make you look up the dictionary.

  20. Still hv fond memories of Kolkata Boi Mela that used to be organised in the good-old Maidan. Unfortunately, have been out of Kolkata ever since the location has been changed, call it coincidence…

    I feel going to the Boi Mela is more of a ritual to a self-respecting citizen of Kolkata, especially for its overall once-in-a-year experience, as well as since most of the middle-class janta doesnt have anything better to do on a week-end afternoon.

    One of my most vivid memories of KBF is having gone to watch a film at Jamuna, and since I had some extra time at hand, hopped across the road to soak in some fresh-faces at the Boi Mela. There was so much to look around, I grudgingly had to come out, since the cost of ticket bought in advance would have pinched bad…

  21. Arnab,

    I briefly missed the Kolkata Book Fair the one year when I was very much in Kolkata, but your article paints as deeply textured a picture as I’d have loved. Having said that, thank you for the CB baiting. I know you didn’t mean that as a bait, but the mere name is enough to spark an entertaining series of comments on any given day 🙂

  22. P.S. Please provide a ‘share’ button. Copying a link and posting it on gmail, fb and twitter is too much work 😀

  23. My first novel (and second) was written by Sidney Sheldon. I gradually moved on to better gifted and far more original authors as I grew older. So I don’t know – perhaps many of those that swear by the Chetan Bhagats of the world will move on to superior work as they come to terms with the deeply derivative (among other things) nature of books they’ve read so far.
    Chetan Bhagat may serve the purpose of bringing those that require a bit of hand holding into the fold at the very least. “Just Saying”.

  24. @VIJIT JAIN,

    Why , for example, a Franz Kafka is a bigger writer than Chetan Bhagat? Why do you think that if some artist/author/moviemanker does not make you feel enriched or enlightened then he is a lesser one? Why people need to use Chetan Bhagat to ‘ascend’ someday in reading stuffs such as, say, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?
    Is it not us, bound by varying levels of ignorance, make this mistake of labeling and levelling any creation?

  25. @ Lazyani,

    Interesting choice, that one: Chondrobindu’s Chondril.
    Chondril is indeed a brilliant writer (though at times, in his constant effort to be witty, he does tend to ramble a bit too much and lose coherence) and I wish he wrote in English too.

    @GB,
    would love to know what you feel aboout Chondrobindu’s songs (“Aamra bangali jaati”, “Geetgobindam”, “Onko ki kothin”, “Aakul hoye boshe aachhi”, “Hotay paare cliche”, “Aami aamaar mon”, “Surjer dikay cheyo naa”, “Dhyatterika”, “Chondrobindu”, “Keu Bhalobeshe”, “Gabgubagub”, “Eita tomaar gaan”, etc.). I sometimes feel there’s a lot of similarity – in the positive sense – between their style of writing and yours.

  26. Just pointing out a minor typo :- “The urge to turn around and exclaim tearfully to the store clerk, in Alok Nathian fashion, “Beta tumne yeh kar diya” was immense.”

    Shouldn’t it be “Beta tumne yeh ‘kya’ kar diya” ??

    Anyways , great post .

  27. and please keep writing posts such as these more frequently. In these troubled times these have the same effect on the brain as one of Jeeves’ pick-me-ups.

  28. Dear GB, please do a post on your opinion of the Aarushi case. i just read Tehelka and Open and learned from Twitter that you think they were both hiding facts. please find the time to do a post.

  29. I have never been to Kolkata book fair so I can’t comment on the quality of organization.
    But you should be happy that your book was even kept there, in fact since your book was being sold there I can imagine the quality of books there.
    Your book is the biggest ^*&^ I have ever read, you took god knows how much time to produce that bull$%# # when all you did was to copy paste your old blogs in a book format.

  30. Arnab’s “Anti-Bhagat” obsession has become as irritating as his “Pro-Ganguly” stance!! Totally agree with some comments here. Bhagat’s books are like the David Dhawan/ Anees Bazmee brand of movies: No-brainer’s, time-pass and mostly paisa vasool!!
    And Arnab, 3 Bhagat references in one post?? Thoda zyada ho gaya!
    Also, is it only me or does anyone find it too F…ing coincidental that the girlfriend talking about Pamuk/ Bhagat as well as the Salesman shouting for Bhagat books HAPPEN WITHIN ARNAB’S EARSHOT, conveniently giving him an opportunity to lament on the Bhagatization of the book-fair???? Daal mein kuch to kaala hai!!

  31. when are you writing about the book meets in Mumbai?
    I could come only at churxhgate but am eager yo know about what happened in bandra

  32. Quite true- This bookfair it seemed to be very conspicuous- how Marxism has been turned into a potent marketing device in the literary sphere. ‘Marxism for Dummies’.I ask you!! A certain ‘Leftword’ publishing house seems to be doing good business with handsomely produced books too.

  33. I have written a book on Kolkata Book Fair. Its languages are both English & Español. This book’s objective is to make people interested towards reading more books and attract people to visit book fair. Although the book is based on Kolkata’s ambience, but the poems and articles in it touches the spirit of every book fair in the world. This year Kolkata International Book Fair had a deep influence from Latin American & American culture. You’ll understand it as you go through this book.

    A free digital edition of the book can be downloaded from this link:
    http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/kolkata-book-fair-cultural-unity-in-diversity-of-life/10491989

  34. I reached the Kolkata Book Fair a few days after it commenced. Was keen to find copies of my debut novel – MISSING VARRUN in the stalls and perhaps autograph a few for buyers present there. To my utter surprise the book was out of stock in all the stores which were selling it – Oxford, Starmark, Crossword and even Future Publication. The young man who was introduced to me as – Amit Agarwal- the owner of Future Publication, was glad to have me in his store and gave me immense respect. Upon asking as to why there were no copies left, he replied that the book has been in great demand and he was unable to keep up to it. The story was the same in the other stores. I left the Book Fair, my first as a published author, with a nice feeling and with plenty of hope for the future as an author and novelist in contrast to being a Chartered Accountant, which I have been over the past two decades.

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