A Visit to Kolkata Book Fair
About 1.6 milion people visited this year’s Kolkata Book Fair.
A group of Bangladeshi writers and readers were in Kolkata to attend the Book Fair from January 26 to 29 this year. The fair is held every year for 12 days starting on the last Wednesday of January as a tradition. The visit was organised by The Reading Circle known more commonly as TRC and Gantha, a platform where people writing in Bangla and people writing in English meet every month to exchange their views and ideas. Sometimes they read from their work, at other times they invite famous writers to conduct workshops on creative writing. The Reading Circle, on the other hand, meets once every month to read a chosen book or some books by a certain author depending on the availability of the book.
The group gave a talk at the AC hall in Kolkata about the book club. Speakers mentioned that they regularly met for the past five years and that they successfully read 60 books within these five years. The speakers declared that it was only possible for them to do so because of cafés and book shops which were helpful towards them. They also discussed how difficult it was to get books in Dhaka and how they solved their problem by choosing books that had been either printed locally or asking someone to get some copies for them from neighbouring countries.
Kolkata Book Fair is organised by the government of West Bengal and it was held in Milan Mela Prangon at the heart of the Indian state. This is relatively a new venue as till 2007 the fair was held in Maidan near Park Street. Kolkata is a metropolitan city, and according to the organisers as many as 1.6 million people visited the fair this year which was the 35th since its inception. The fair was held in a very spacious ground with food shops in abundance. The paths around the fair were cemented and hence dust pollution was reduced. There were concrete benches where the visitors could take rest. The book stalls were big and there were usually enough room for people to move about and choose books from the shelves.
There was a separate pavilion for Bangladesh, the structure of which was like that of the National Museum at Shahbag. Numerous writers from Bangladesh attended this fair and some books sold very well. The other countries that participated in the fair were Britain, China, Vietnam, US and Italy. The focal theme country for this year was the United States of America. There was a pavilion replicating the White House which was the main attraction and the Pulitzer Prize winning writer Richard Ford inaugurated the fair. So along with Bangla books, English and translated books were showcased in the fair.
The Reading Circle and Gantha was invited by the prestigious Oxford Books on Park Street on the 28th. Anannya Shahitya Puroshkar award winning writer from Bangladesh Nurjahan Bose read from her book Agunmukhar Meye. The audience was mesmerised by Bose's memoir. The initiator of both Gantha and TRC Niaz Zaman and Asfa Hussain talked on the occasion and Shahruk Rahman read from her translation of Shahidullah Kaiser's famous book Sangspatak. Eminent writer from West Bengal Moni Shanker was present and gave the group a warm welcome.
Bangladeshis know almost all the famous writers from the other side of Bengal; however, our own writers are not so fortunate in terms of popularity on the other side of the border. Very few of them are known to the people there. So if more such visits are organised more frequently, Bangladeshi writers will get more exposure in the neighbouring country.