I was returning from Gangtok on a two-week holiday from my institute after our third-year examination on February 1. My mom was in Kolkata to attend her friend’s daughter’s marriage followed by her routine medical checkups and consultations. So, I joined her in Kolkata. After her checkups and consultations at Apollo Gleneagles Hospital, on February 2, we decided to go for the Kolkata Book Fair (কলকাতা বই মেলা) in the afternoon. One of my friends Manali also joined us there. The fair is being held at “Milan Mela” near Science City on E.M. Bypass. Two years ago, while returning from Kumbh Mela we couldn’t visit the book fair as that was the last day and I didn’t want to miss the chance this time.
International Kolkata Book Fair is a late winter fair in Kolkata. It is a unique book fair in the sense of not being a trade fair – the book fair is primarily for the general public rather than whole-sale distributors. It celebrates international literature and reflects India’s much-loved reading tradition. The Kolkata Book Fair, recognised by International Publishers Association, Geneva, is also the largest Book Fair of the world in terms of visitors.
It’s reported that the last year’s edition of International Kolkata Book Fair was visited by around 2 million book-lovers over 12 days and books worth Rs 200 million ($3.25 million) were sold. It is the world’s third largest annual conglomeration of books after the Frankfurt Book Fair and the London Book Fair.
The focal theme this year was Great Britain. The fair was divided into five big pavilions. Each of the pavilions contained different publication houses from India and abroad. The pavilions were very large and had mammoth collection of books from almost all subjects and interests one can imagine. I could not visit all of them but I visited two of the pavilions. One of them was containing British publishers like Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, etc. The Oxford stall was no less than a usual Oxford bookstore having books ranging from kids fiction categories to business books. They even had comics of great Japanese series like bleach and one piece (my favorite). There were stalls especially for research books covering every field from biomechanics to elementary physics and astrophysics.
In the other one, there were stalls for local publishers like Ananda Publishers, Dey’s Publishing, etc. These stalls had basically all the Bengali books and novels ranging from Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray to current writers. There were separate stalls outside the pavilions. Other than that there were small stalls of different bookstores outside of the pavilions. This book fair could feed needs of every reader. it’s truly a paradise of book-lovers.
The delicious attraction of this book fair was the food court — the gastronomic section where variety of snacks, sweets & confectionaries and other food items were available. There were outlets of Dominos, Kathleen, Laziz, Roll’nRoll, Alibaba etc. Some famous restaurants of Kolkata had also opened their stalls there. They were serving delicious, mouth-watering dishes like fish fry, chicken rolls, prawn chilli to biryani and even different flavored patishapta (Indian style crepes stuffed with sweet fillings).
There was even a tall guy standing on sticks, wearing a menu card of one of the food stalls in the food court, inviting people to the stall.
The other attraction of this fair that I found out interesting was different forms of artwork which I saw there. It was amazing to find artists actually working there on the spot and painting bottles, clothes and many different things that we generally dispose off after use। This actually proved a good point in reusing the refuse. The idea is very inspiring and I was excited to see them doing that on the spot. This is good for our nature and sustainability.
I love reading books and was very thrilled to be there. We visited many pavilions but couldn’t visit all of them due to paucity of time. I bought several books. I wanted to buy more books but couldn’t buy more as we had to go to our home in Ranchi next day. I missed my dad very much as he is fond of books and he loves reading books. The time was too short although we were there for more than 4 hours. Any number of hours — even a full day is too short for this book fair. I felt bad that I could only visit two halls.
A good book has often been called a man’s best friend, or as Groucho Marx puts it,
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
Atri Bhattacharya has rightly said:
The Kolkata Book Fair (KBF) is a phenomenon. Large. Crowded. Noisy. Intellectual. (Oh, very intellectual!) Musical. Gastronomic. Artistic. Controversial. Chaotic. Resilient. In its own way, it encapsulates the character of its city and its most visible tribe: The literary Bengali.