In a famous article about Kolkata, Vir Sanghvi once wrote, “You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal; go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer; Bangalore’s your place. But if you want a city with a soul: come to Calcutta.”
Yes Kolkata, the erstwhile Calcutta, is a city with soul. And what’d you find when you peep inside that tranquil soul? Art, fine music, dance and most importantly literature. So my second presentation on the topic of Kolkata Chronicles is B for Boi, Boi para and Boi mela.
Boi is the Bengali term for Books. Home to some of the most celebrated writers in modern Indian literature, including the first non European noble laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, as well as a number of influential publishing houses, Kolkata has gained a reputation as the country’s unofficial literary capital in past 100 years.
And why shouldn’t it? Every year Kolkata successfully hosts the world’s largest non-trade, Asia’s largest and the most attended book fair. The BoiMela. A twelve days long festival, celebrating the collaboration of readers and authors in an exuberant spirit, around the eternal theme of books. Make no mistake. The book fair is about books. Only not just about it. It is also about the people. The throngs of people who gather from all parts of Bengal to celebrate an important event, an occasion to mark the spirit of reading. So bibliophile or not, for a true Kolkata citizen it is a must annual pilgrimage.
My earliest memories about book fair is that of swarming through the rabble of the over enthusiastic public, in complete awe of the pavilions, on a wintry afternoon, holding the hand of my father tightly, lest I get lost, sniffing through the delicious smell of new books along with Ben fish, coffee and pakora of the Coffee house stall and the roast at Arambagh chicken counters. You ask me what is food doing in a book fair? Of course, one cannot hunt good books with empty stomach.
So my younger self would load herself with popcorn and cotton candies and embark on the mission to get adrift along the flood of books. The long queue, the overwhelming crowd or the dust stirred up by the million footfalls, nothing could deter the zeal of this young reader who was busy hoarding the Enid Blytons, Satyajit Ray collections or the Timeless Tales. Mostly one trip was never enough to satiate the greedy soul. And dadu(grandfather) would come to rescue. He, an author, would visit the fair each day. It was an unwritten routine and on some days I would accompany him. Years rolled on, Dadu is no more, but, the tradition of visiting the fair continues.
The fair is as much about readers as they are about the writers. The famous publishing houses would sport their best writers in their stall and fans would flock to get a glimpse or acquire an autograph on their coveted books. If inside the stalls were illuminated with thousands of books and celebrated authors, the scenario outside the stalls would be equally endearing. The not-so-successful, but ambitious writers and poets would be busy displaying the talent through their stocks of small leaflet or as we call it “little magazines.” If you are lucky enough, some poet himself would recite you one or two of his creation, and as you devour through the words, beautiful flute music would charm up the ambience a little more. At places there would be temporary stages, adorned by intellectuals, discussing or debating about current and past literature. You walk past them only to encounter a small group of musicians playing an unknown tune and drifting your experience to a whole different world. Because in Kolkata, nothing is complete without music. Then there would be the portrait maker and the beautiful painters showcasing their flair , just like that. Art, music, literature and warmth, the Kolkata book fair is an assemble of all these and more. You have to visit it to experience it.
Now the book fair of Kolkata is an enigma in itself, but, if still you miss it for some reason, there should be some other resort to hoard books, right? As all the book lovers know scrolling through the Amazon list fails in comparison to the pleasure of grabbling among the piles of books, relishing their smell and holding them close to heart.
Worry not, for others there is the Boi para aka College Street – a neighborhood of books.
Kolkata homes her very own Boi-para, a kilometre long road lined with books and more books on both sides; the eclectic collection on display that can entice any connoisseur of books. The street is dotted with countless small book kiosks which sell new and old books. The legend goes by, that if you do not find a book here, it doesn’t exist. A tall claim, eh? Those who do not believe me must visit once to test.
Since the topic is books and I am a talkative Bengali, I can ramble on and on. But let me draw the curtain for today. Will return tomorrow with another interesting Kolkata feature. Until then goodbye.
Note: This post is written as a part of #BlogchatterA2Z challenge.