Kolkata boi mela is the best boi mela in the world.
The 38th edition of the Kolkata Book Fair–the largest retail book-fair in the world–kicked off at the Milan Mela grounds on Tuesday evening. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Peruvian author and academician Francesca Denegri inaugurated the 10-day event by sounding a gong at a colourful programme attended by some of city’s well-known people, and me.
I made it a point to reach the auditorium half an hour in advance and occupied a seat towards the front; well, it was the first row, if you count from where the non-VIP seating arrangements started.
Didi arrived on the dot at 4.30 and an orchestra band of students from an international school swung into action just as she entered the hall. The VVIPs were soon seated on the stage, Didi flanked by Tridib Kumar Chatterjee and Sudhangshu Dey, the top office bearers of the Publishers & Booksellers Guild, organizers of the fair. Others on the stage were Denegri, writer Shankar, painter Jogen Chowdhury, politicians Subroto Mukherjee and Sovan Chatterjee and diplomats from Bangladesh and Peru. When Banerjee was not lost in her thoughts, she was conversing with the two organizers, at times vehemently shaking her head at Dey, who is also her publisher.
An out-of-syllabus moment!
As soon as the children were done with their last recital—a Peruvian score—Dey gave his welcome speech. Peruvian minister Patricia Balbuena Palacois was among the people he welcomed and thanked. It is just that Palacois, who was earlier expected to inaugurate the fair, was not present at all. She could not make it to the inauguration; neither could the famous Peruvian poet Rodolfo Hinostroza Clausen. If Dey did not remember that the two major guests at his show were staying away, he seemed not to have paid attention to the master of ceremony who announced right at the start of the programme that the Peruvians were absent due to pressing circumstances back home. But Dey was reading from a prepared speech that he forgot to edit at the last moment. Writer and academician Francesca Denegri, who stepped in for them, looked on, amazed, as an unsuspecting Dey profusely thanked Palacois for “taking time out of her busy schedule”.
Of didi’s tabloids, poetry
Banerjee, as usual, rose before the emcee had finished announcing her name and charmed the audience with her speech.
“Kolkata boi-mela is the best boi mela in the world!” she stated.
Underscoring the relevance and importance of books even in this digital age, she said: “Everyone can read papers, books and magazines on computers and tabloids these days. But there is nothing like the pleasure of reading a book.”
She said she prefers writing with a pen on paper; typing on mobile phones and tabloids (sic) not for the very social media-friendly chief minister, active on Facebook.
Banerjee wears many hats, as we all know by now. Apart from being a politician, she’s a painter and a writer, who does not shy from singing on occasions. This boi-mela, her five new titles are being released. Veteran painter Jogen Chowdhury released four of her titles—Shera Mamata I, Shera Mamata II, Kothaay Kothaay and Pother Saathi. “The other book, Soja Shapta, written by our Manoniya Mukhyamantri (respected chief minister) will be available at the fair in a few days,” the emcee announced after she was prompted by none other than Banerjee herself.
Banerjee said the move to come out with five books was aimed at keeping herself “updated”. “Jara boi bhalobashe tara ekta, duto, teente charte boi debei boi melai (Those who love books will launch at least one, two, three or four books at the book fair).”
Her speech, in keeping with the creative spirit of the book fair, was peppered with her poetry. Sample this:
Ek-ekta chhotto chhoto stall e kato protibha lukiye ache
Ek-ekta chhotto chhoto stall e kato medha lukiye ache
Ek-ekta chhotto chhoto stall e kato byatha lukiye ache
Ek-ekta chhotto chhoto stall e kato ananda lukiye ache
Boi mane… Ananda,
Boiyer modhye diye dukkha abiroto dharai beriye ashe
(Every little stall has so much talent hidden within itself
Every little stall has so much intelligence hidden within itself
Every little stall has so much pain hidden within itself
Every little stall has so much joy hidden within itself
Books mean… joy
It is through books that pain flows out in an unceasing stream.)