Books- words etched on white pages, dreams weaved between the covers and thousands of stories beckoning to explore them. To me, books also mean nostalgia, the memories revive themselves surreptitiously whenever I stand in front of my bookshelf. The one with a slightly torn cover winks,” remember?”. Another with moth-eaten pages sighs, “you have forgotten”, the voluminous one from the topmost row calls out,”you spent three afternoons with me!” Yes, I remember them all, how can I forget my faithful companions, my books!
As a child, I was kind of an introvert having a very few friends. I didn’t like to play much and hence, most of my spare time was spent in solitude. It was then I discovered an inexhaustible source of happiness in the corner room of our house. There were four big shelves, all full of books from different genres. Not all of them were for children, in fact, most of them were not. It happened this way that I kept on caressing the pages without understanding a single word. But, somehow, the words were able to send a positive vibe through my fingers, whenever I touched them, I felt good, I felt happy.
Books for children, they were limited in our house and, soon the day arrived when there was none left. The Ladybird series, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Tuntunir Golpo, Thakurmar Jhuli, (and there was a Thakurdar Jhuli, too) Rush Desher Upakatha, all were gorged in a way we gulp down fuchkas! I was probably five or six years old at that time.
On a fine winter morning, when the dewdrops were resting leisurely on the bosom of the flowers, and, I was savouring a delectable breakfast of Joynagarer moya,(a special kind of laddu available in Kolkata during winter only) bread-butter and oranges, my father made an announcement. That we would be visiting a new kind of fair that afternoon. That was a thrilling news to me and though I hankered after to know which fair it would be, he kept on smiling making me mad with curiosity and anticipation.
And, the wait was worthy enough! I gazed at the myriad of banners and the large makeshift gates, they made me ecstatic and open-mouthed. So many books inside! Ah, the animated joy of witnessing millions of books at one place was no less than finding the Alibaba’s cave.
That was my first tryst with the Kolkata International Book Fair.
After that, it became a routine affair every year. Visiting the book-fair became the nitty-gritty of my life. The fair was held at the heart of Kolkata, the Maidan ground at that time. On entering, most of the times, a gust of dusty wind welcomed me, rows of bookstalls mesmerically waved and winked and allured me from every direction as I insisted on visiting each and every stall. Believe it or not, but I could hear the books singing the song of the Bhooter Raja in the film Gupi Gayen Bagha Bayen; “aay aay kachhe aay”! (come closer)
The Kolkata Book Fair started its journey in the year 1976, with only 56 stalls and 34 publishers, now it boasts of being the largest one in Asia. The ambience, the attendees, the aroma, the aura- once you visit the fair, you’re sure to fall in love with it.
Kolkata, it is said, is the mecca of culture. One can see the culmination of culture and love for reading while visiting the Kolkata Book Fair. Not only acclaimed publishers, but the fair also showcases the little magazines since its inception. Now, the little magazines are provided with free space. The fair has a focal theme each year, showcasing a particular country. This year, the fair will be held from January 27 to February 7 with the Plurinational State of Bolivia as the focal theme country. Eminent writers, prestigious publishers, from all around the world adorn the Kolkata Book Fair. It is a festival to the Kolkatans. One should see the diasporic movement of the population towards the fair for 10 long days to believe it.
The fair now has been shifted to the periphery of the city, the Milan Mela Ground. On 2014, my Bengali poems were published in an anthology of different poets, the book was inaugurated at the Book Fair. A feeling so wonderful swept over me as I was standing on the podium…the same fair, the same smell of books, new and old…but it all felt different. There was a new kind of feeling, a new enchanting smell, the smell of loving nostalgia, living memories.
If you ever love reading, ever love the crispy, peppery smell of books, you should visit the Kolkata International Book Fair at least for once, so that you can live the memory, eternally.
Image Credit: here