So how is Kolkata Book Fair different from the Jaipur Litfest? I’ve been asked this several times and I have always failed to give a convincing answer. How difficult it is to describe the fair to someone who has never seen it!
There are hundreds of stalls to buy books from–the ongoing Kolkata Book Fair 2014 has about 800 participants from 30 countries. There’s always a book launch or some discussion or talk going on somewhere or the other. Then, there are exhibitions and performances. Almost two million people come to the fair over the 10 days. It’s been a part of city’s culture for the past 38 years. Drat!
It is not the statistics, even though they are mind-boggling, that make the Kolkata Book Fair what it is. There’s something about the air of the fair (at the risk of sounding horribly clichéd). It is like the Durga Puja in that the book fair is not just about books as the Durga Puja is not just about pujas, to quote a friend from an earlier interview. She lives in Bangalore and comes to her hometown Kolkata ever year during the book fair.
Featuring public art by students of the university, the stall offers some really rare and obscure titles, one of which–reprint of Henry Sargent’s Bengali translation of Virgil’s Aeneid–had remained forgotten for over 200 years. In 1810, the translation of the Latin epic was first published and it disappeared from circulation soon after. In 2010, a copy of it was discovered at an Oxford College library and has been reprinted in facsimile along with a trilingual (English, Latin and Bengali) rendition. Click here for a complete catalogue of JUP publications.
For the stall, the students were supplied with art material and asked to interpret the contemporary roles of knowledge and university on the walls of the stall. The result was coming together of Yoda of wisdom, TARDIS of time and space and Yorick’s skull from Hamlet–technology, power and poetry.
Enjoy some pictures: