28 February 2015

Calcutta Book Fair


After Durga Puja, the Calcutta Book Fair is the biggest festival in the City of Joy. Yes, its absolutely true. If a Bong does not visit the Book Fair while being in the city then he/she feels guilty for the rest of the year. Such is the charm and aura of the Calcutta Book Fair. It is the world's largest non-trade Book Fair and also the most attended Book Fair in the world. Religiously visiting it is like an annual ritual in itself. Its like if you are in Calcutta and still do not visit the Boi Mela then some sort of a horrible curse or an assortment of similar or varied curses will fall upon you! The Book Fair's magnetism has entered the bloodstream of the Bongs, even those with iron-deficiencies! For us Kaalchaar is very important. Even for those Bongs who do not feel it from inside, still they desperately need to fake it! Even in today's age of high-tech Kindles and free online e-books, the Calcutta Book Fair still attracts millions of book lovers. The Book Fair started in 1976 and is still going strong. Though sometimes it suffers from environmental hiccups. Here is an old and rare picture of the first Book Fair :   

In the early and mid seventies, a group of enterprising young men from the publishing world, who regularly used to hang out at College Street Coffee House, became hell-bent on the idea of organising a Book Fair in Calcutta. Among the young entrepreneurs were Bimal Dhur, Ashok Barik, Suprokash Basu, Jayant Basu, Arun Bagchi, Jayant Bagchi, Prabir Dasgupta and Amar Chand De. They kept the dialogue going with their seniors and gradually managed to convince some of them. N. D. Mehra of Rupa & Co, Neil O Brien of Oxford, Mahendranath Dutta of Sahitya Samsad, Supriya Sarkar of M.C. Sarkar, Jayant Makantala of Allied Publishers, Sushil Mukherjea of Minerva Associates were some prominent names then, who finally warmed up to the idea. Thus the Publishers and Booksellers Guild was formed on 18th September 1975. Sushil Mukherjea became its founder President while Jayant Manaktala became its first General Secretary. With 56 stalls of 34 Publishers, the first Calcutta Book Fair was organised on 9th March 1976, at the ground opposite Academy of Fine Arts, beside Victoria Memorial. The fair was inaugurated by the then state education minister Mrityunjay Bandyopadhyay. The entry fee to the fair was 50 paisa only. Since then this Boi/Pustak/Grontho Mela has made for itself a permanent residence in the collective consciousness of the Bongs. Here is an old picture of Vostok Stall (Publisher of bengali editions of popular Russian books) from the 1983 Calcutta Book Fair. Someone must have remarked in those days - Pustak Mela tey giye Vostok ey jaabo... 


The first time I went to the Book Fair was in the mid-nineties. In those days the fair was held at Park Street Maidan. I was in my early teenage years. It was a new experience for me. It felt like visiting a huge Durga Puja Pandal where only books were worshiped. I used to visit almost all the famous Stalls and spend quality time inside them. And I was always curious about the serpentine queues in front of Moushumi Prokashoni. Middle aged balding men standing in the queue with bated breath and eager eyes waiting for their golden opportunity to enter inside Moushumi! Whenever I hear the name Moushumi, instantly Bangladeshi Band FEEDBACK's song - Moushumi, Kaarey Bhalobasho Tumi, comes to my mind. I loved those soap-bubble-wallahs and also loved the little children who all tried to catch those bubbles. I loved listening to those theoretical and intellectual discourses which used to take place at Maidan and where reputed novelists, poets, playwrights, scholars, senior journalists used to take part. Though most of the discussions used to go over my head, still I loved to stand there and listen to those famous personalities. Sometimes I used to take down notes too in my pocket diary. Here is an old picture of Gunter Grass at the Boi Mela. He had on record said quite a few nasty things about Calcutta. Still Calcuttans love him. I love the film TIN DRUM very very very much, which was based on his novel. This film is director Volker Schlondorff's best work till date. 

Back in those days everyone complained about the dust, though nobody seemed to care that much. I myself was never bothered about the dust and frankly never noticed nor cared about the much hyped air pollution at Maidan. I always remember the fact that one day we all will turn into dust! Therefore why bother about it now? There is so much air pollution already happening throughout the year that it seems ridiculous to blame the Book Fair and make it an excuse to shift it to an alien venue. Maidan was in the heart of the city and was easily accessible. Initially Milan Mela Ground seemed indifferent and it was virtually impossible to get any kind of public transport while coming back home. Anyways I still miss my childhood Book Fairs at Maidan. I still miss those missing person announcements on the loud-speakers. These days only once in a blue moon one gets to hear such announcements. The first book that I had bought from the Book Fair was SERA SATYAJIT. In those days I used to buy a lot of AMAR CHITRA KATHA comics too. Even today I buy these comics and I want to possess the entire collection from A to Z. 


I still remember the terrible fire which happened on 3rd February 1997. I was not present that day at the Boi Mela. If I remember correctly then I had heard the news of the fire for the first time on that day's evening KHAS-KHOBOR news on DD-Bangla. Jacques Derrida was the Guest of Honour that year. Someone remarked that the Book Fair has been baptized by fire for Deconstruction! The fire took place on the 6th day of the Fair. Hundreds of books were burnt. One visitor named Jiten Seal had died from heart attack because of the stampede that followed. The entire bengali literary world was shocked. But in true Bong spirit the Book Fair bounced back and was resurrected within three days. Under the supervision of Soumitra MItra, the entire Information and Cultural Ministry worked all day and all night to revive the Fair. It started again on 7th February 1997. Like the proverbial Phoenix the Book Fair again rose from the ashes. On that day on the podium, Sandipan Chattopadhyay and Pabitra Sarkar recited Samar Sen's Bhosmo Opoman Shojjya Chharo, Hey Mohanogori. From another small makeshift stage, some burnt books were auctioned. Among them were Sunil Gongopadhyay's SRESHTHO PREMER KOBITA, Sandipan Chattopadhyay's BIPLOB O RAJMOHON and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's HRIDOYER SHOBDOHEEN JYOTSNAR BHITOREYThat year the Boi Mela was extended to twenty days. Noted poet Annadashankar Ray joked that since we do not believe in the Deconstruction Theory, therefore we have been able to reconstruct the Book Fair. From Erection to Deconstruction to Resurrection! 

I love collecting old books and magazines. Whenever I buy them, I immediately flip through the pages in the hope of finding an old love letter or any old cash-memo or an old leaf or flower etc. I love collecting these trivial things too. I have an old wooden box where I keep all these so-called trivial things. They might not mean anything now to anyone, but once these things meant something to someone. Therefore I cherish these little things. In one old book that I once bought from College Street, I found this Card : 

Here is another old photograph of the Calcutta Book Fair which was published in The Telegraph Magazine on 21st February 1993:

There is a special place for the Book Fair in a Bong's heart. Whether you like it or not, a Bong just loves the idea of thousands of people buying books, smelling them, leafing through the new pages, checking out the price, calculating the discount in mind and then keeping them back on the shelves. And some also trying to steal! Stealing books from the Book Fair Stalls is an art in itself. Some people work alone while others work in groups. Some do it for fun, some do it because they don't have the money to buy those books that they are stealing, some do it because they are kleptomaniacs and some do it because the opportunity to do so presents itself. I myself have always wanted to steal atleast one book from any Stall, but never had the courage nor the opportunity to do so. 

However if a book thief is caught, then seldom is he beaten up. There are various other ways to punish him which range from downright hilarious to downright humiliating. Boi Chors are part of the Boi Mela. Without them the Book Fair is incomplete. If I remember correctly, many years back in the nineties, there was a humourous article, most probably titled Phirey Esho Boi-Chor, in a SAPTAHIK BARTAMAN magazine. If a book thief has not visited your Stall, that means as a Publisher you are not popular enough! I guess book thieves literally believe in the motto CARPE LIBRUM at any cost! 

From the 2006 Book Fair I had bought Rupam Islam's booklet of poems and lyrics titled EPITAPH. I guess this booklet is no longer available and is out of print for many years now. Inside there was a poem on Boi Chor which Rupam Islam had written way back in 1995. Here is that poem and the cover of EPITAPH

Generally in Book Fair the Publishers offer a discount of 10% whereas in College Street people usually get a starting discount of a minimum 20% which sometimes reach the 35% mark also. Therefore a certain section of the people browse through books at the Fair and then buy them later from the Boi Para. However buying books from the Fair and carrying plastic packets or jute bags full of books and roaming on the grounds from one end to the other is a beauty in itself. I just love the huge crowds at the Book Fair. So many different kinds of people coming from such different backgrounds and belonging to different classes of the society. Yet inside the Book Fair they all belong only to one group - the group of book lovers! 

In 2003 the Calcutta Book Fair was rechristened into the Kolkata Book Fair, though I still prefer to use the former name. When the Book Fair was at Maidan one had to buy tickets to enter it. I used to buy the tickets from Metro Station Ticket Counters. Only from 2011 the entry became free, a decision which we all welcomed. When the Book Fair was first shifted to Milan Mela in 2009, I was very unhappy. The only thing that gave me some sort of happiness was my childhood friend whose job was to welcome and protect every body who came to the Milan Mela Prangan. However these days he is in a pathetic condition and urgently needs a makeover. Here is his picture : 

There was obviously more greenery at the Maidan than Milan Mela. At the Maidan I still remember groups of boys and girls sitting together, engaging in never ending adda, building castles in the air, munching on mouth watering snacks, arguing over Mohun Bagan-East Bengal rivalry, strumming guitars and singing songs of Mohiner Ghoraguli. Even this year on the little available patches of greenery at Milan Mela, I still found groups of young boys and girls doing the same thing. Those who were singing Gautam Chattopadhyay's songs, I asked them about the origin of the name Mohiner Ghoraguli. None could answer correctly, though few gave some abstractly brilliant out of the box answers. Those answers amused me very much. When I was their age I had already read each and every poem of Jibanananda Das

On the footpaths all around Milan Mela various books are sold ranging from poetry to pornography. They usually come a dirt cheap rates. The Police sometimes harass these book-sellers. Once I got involved in a heated argument with a bloody Police Officer who was harassing a street book seller. My logic was that if a poor man was trying to earn some money by selling some books on the pavement then there was no harm in it. A crowd gathered around us. The public supported me and started saying bad things about the corrupt Police Force. The Police Officer retreated. Power To The People! 


During the 2008 Book Fair I was madly in love with a girl. She was very beautiful and very intelligent. I generally hate dumb-beauties, unless and until they are super-duper hot and sexy! Anyways, one evening I was missing her very much and wanted to see her badly. Cupid or Kamadeva must have heard my yearnings. Therefore suddenly she emerged in front of me from the maddening Book Fair crowd. She was also surprised to meet me face to face. She smiled at me. Then looked down and then again looked into my eyes. I was stunned beyond words to see her in front of me. Then before I could compose myself, she herself came up to me and started talking to me. I took her to my BIJOLPO Stall and showed her our latest publications. Later that night I came back home and immediately composed this poem :  

When the Book Fair was first shifted to Milan Mela Grounds in 2009, bangla band Chandrabindoo had composed a very interesting song which could be heard back then in a FM channel, most probably Radio Mirchi. Chandrabindoo has not recorded this song in an album yet. I have the mp3 of that song and I guess very few people still remember this song. The best and the most apt line of the song is - Boi Mela buro holey Bypass laagey! This song is not easily available on the internet. However here I am uploading it for the benefit of the general public. Enjoy this brilliant song by Chandrabindoo : 

In the 2010 Book Fair I published my first book of poems titled BIDROHO JOKHON CHUMBWAN. The title was inspired obviously from Kabir Suman's line - Bidroho Aar Chumur Dibbi Sudhu Tomake Chai. Most of the poems were anti-CPM in nature and I had written them between 2007 and 2010. And the rest of them were love poems which were a bit sexual in nature. Some high nosed morally holier than thou people found them offensive. I obviously do not give a damn. I write poetry which comes naturally to me and not to please anyone. I make my own rules when I write poems. If you do not like them then do not read them. Here is the cover of my first book of poems : 

Also in the 2010 Book Fair, on the first Saturday, suddenly there was a power failure and the whole ground was engulfed in darkness. On the next day the headline on The Telegraph was - Here Books Lead Us To Darkness. I published my second book of poetry titled PORIBORTON in the year 2011, the year of poriborton in Bengal. We successfully overthrew the 34 years old evil Left Front Government. Here is the cover picture of my second book of poetry : 

For the last two years I was hoping to bump into my most favourite Blogger at the Book Fair. Ever since I started reading her Blog, beautifully named POTPOURRI, I always secretly wished to meet her accidentally either at the Boi Mela or at Maddox Square during Durga Puja or at Park Street or at Coffee House or anywhere else. But sadly it never happened. On the night of 7th January 2013 I first started reading her Blog and I immediately composed this poem : 

A Poem for Potpourri

In Life's Ups and Downs
We Measure What We Get, More or Less
But All the Smiles and the Frowns
Cannot be compared with the Tears of Happiness

When I am feeling Down and Low
Your Words can uplift my depressing Mood
As I have Nowhere Else to Go
Since You've brought back a Slice of Childhood

Whether Your Words are Harsh or Kind
Whether Your Emotions are Yours or Mine
When Dark Clouds are covering my Mind
You bring the much needed pleasant Sunshine

So keep on writing my Sweet Angel 
Your Blog is waiting for your next Post
Make me Smile with your next Tale
In Life, lets enjoy each Moment to the Most

Your Words flow freely like the River to the Sea
As comforting as One's own soulmate-Bed
As I am having a cup of Coffee or Tea
Your Words refresh Me when I'm feeling Dead... 

Around that time I used to believe that we would definitely meet accidentally somewhere someday in Calcutta. We both were and still are very passionate about this City of Joy. I was truly, madly, deeply, hopelessly and helplessly in love with her intelligence. I wanted to undress her mind and make love to her thoughts! By the way, I am Sapio-Sexual. Later I wrote another poem about her. Here is that poem : 


Spaces are there in Space and Time 
Characters are floating for a Story to be told 
I do not care about Rhythm or Rhyme 
He makes the Rules who has the Gold 

A Poem, a Prose, an abstract Art 
To Hell with monotonous Creativity 
Towards your Heart I have thrown my Dart 
Will meet You accidentally in this City

A Beginning, an End, the Circle is Full 
Life comes, Life goes, Life is Elsewhere  
Whatever they tell You is all Cock and Bull 
Only I can give You the truth, I swear 

Freedom is a Word I rarely use 
Freedom is a Song I rarely sing 
But I still Love You in all your hues 
Love is indeed a many-splendored thing 

Love comes, Love goes, Love dies Oneday 
Whether You are Smart, Stupid, Bold or Shy 
I have nothing more to say 
Therefore I bid here Goodbye...

In the 2011 Book Fair I met a very interesting man named Claude Besner. He was always on roller skates. I had a lovely adda with him. We roamed throughout the Book Fair together, me on foot and he on skates. From Milan Mela he went to Kalighat temple and that too on his roller skates. His GPS enabled smart phone helped him with directions. He awnted to travel throughout Calcutta on his roller skates. He never wanted to take a cab or bus. Here is my friend's picture :  

In the 2013 Book Fair, at the height of the Shahbag Movement, I saw a Bangladeshi Muslim girl and immediately fell in love with her. It was love at first sight. Later a mutual friend introduced us and we became good friends. I wanted to marry her and convert to Islam. I wanted to change my name into Kabir Raj. I even went to the Islamic Book Stall and took a free copy of the english version of the holy Koran. Later on I came to know that she was already a divorcee with a five year old daughter, a fact that she had cunningly hidden from me. She had told me that she was the youngest of three sisters and was unmarried. But the truth was that she was the oldest of the three sisters and was already a divorcee with a child. Generally every beautiful woman has a secretive past. Men would never be able to fathom what really goes on inside a woman's mind and heart. More than a decade back, Nachiketa had sung the title track of a bengali TV serial. As far as I can remember, the lines were something like this : 

Chena Chena Mukher Saari 
Juddher Prantorey 
Bichaanar Chena Manush 
Ochena Se Ontorey... 

Even with the woman you sleep with every night, it is very difficult to fully trust and understand her. She might be having an extra-marital affair with a younger man and her husband would not even have the slightest idea about it. But I am generally large-hearted and therefore I forgave that shrewd, calculating, deceitful Bangladeshi Muslim girl. During those days I had composed many poems with that girl on my mind. Whenever she used to pick up her phone, instead of saying the normal Hello, she used to say Aassalamu Aalaaikum. I found this quite amusing and composed this poem : 

Every Bong has a poem inside him. Or atleast a paragraph of prose. The Little Magazine Pavilion is another place of amazement. Since 2011 the Guild decided to give space to the Publishers of Little Magazines free of cost. Hundreds of Little Magazines featuring everything from poetry to dead ideologies are on display at the tables. The people who sell them are equally interesting and come from varied backgrounds. Budding poets waiting for recognition from the mainstream media, frustrated intellectuals, pseudo revolutionaries, Maoist sympathisers, members of the frontal organisations of C.P.I. (Maoist), day-dreamers still trying to believe in the remnants of a long forgotten dream from the Naxalbari period and obviously those hardcore ex-Naxalites who are still somehow alive and who have witnessed the transformation of the times from 




Also inside the Pavilion there are religious people as well as atheists, feminists, pseudo-feminists, sadists and masochists, the LGBT community, writers who cannot write, poets who cannot compose a verse, con-men, students trying to prove a point, rebels without a cause, etc. - all fill up the Little Magazine section. The enclave is like a huge bengali middle class joint family with its own brand of humour and petty politics. Sometimes the Little Magazine Pavilion feels like an old north Calcuttan Para where everyone knows the haarir-khobor of every one else.    

Every year the one and only Sandip Dutta sits in the Little Magazine Pavilion. A few years back I was a member of his Little Magazine Library at 9, Tamer Lane, Calcutta-700009. He has been running this library cum research centre since 1978. I used to go there and read the old issues of magazines like Kallol, Haowa 49, Krittibas, Kourab, Anustup, Ekkhon, Kobita Pakkhik etc. I gave special attention to the Hungryalist Quartet of Shakti Chattopadhyay, Malay Roy Chowdhury, Samir Roy Chowdhury and Debi Roy. From the library I used to go to the Coffee House. Those bohemian cum anarchist days of mine were really the best days of my life. In those days I voluntarily chose to live in poverty. There is a certain romanticism involved in indulging in a penniless existence. I used to remember these lines by Nachiketa

E Sob-ee Thak Tomaader 
Aami Boro Chai Na Hotey 
Dhulo Makha Poth-ee Amaar 
Tumi Choro Joyo-Rothhey...

However this was only a temporary phase. Everybody secretly wants to live life King size, including yours truly and obviously including Nachiketa himself. The TEARS FOR FEARS song Everybody Wants To Rule The World is so very true. Everybody understands the universal language of Money. The golden rule is that he who has the gold, makes all the rules! And the worst breed of humanity are those "so-called" self sacrificing, hypocritical and pretentious bastards. These four lines by the great Kabir Suman from his song Somoy Taakey Kaamrey Dhoro say it all : 

Tomar Jonnyo Aamar Jonnyo 
Chinta Korey Dhonnyo Jara 
Tader Gupto Pocket Gulo 
Dhonodhannye Pushpey Bhora... 

Anyways, coming back to the topic, this year I bought all the books of Sandip Dutta which were on display at his table. Also had a lovely chat with him. Here is the great man sitting peacefully at the Little Magazine Pavilion at this year's Book Fair : 

The area behind the toilets become temporary smoking zones. People gather there to smoke everything from bidis to cigars. Sometimes the smell of marijuana mesmerizes the air too. I do not know about the Ladies' Toilets, but the Gents' Sections are always overflowing with urine and most of the time the Urinals get clogged. From afternoon onwards one has to stand in a queue to take a leak. It gets so crowded. Sometimes one has to pee on a mini-pool of other men's urine. And the walls are decorated with the abstract art of gutka-pan-masala-spit-stains. Also many people love to booze inside the Book Fair grounds. They carry their poisons mixed with soft-drinks inside their bags. Whenever their throats feel thirsty, they quickly and quietly quench their thirst with a rapid sip of their mixtures, like vodka with Sprite and rum with Thums Up. Some people do carry Country Liquor too. I myself used to consume Country Liquor regularly at Khalasitola and Baroduaari at one point of time. Whenever I used to consume Bangla-Mod, I used to remember Shilajit's lines - 

Bangla Mod er Dokaan guloy 
Masher shesh eo Bhir beshi 
Edin bodol kortey geley 
Bodli hoben Local O.C. 

Back then one could also booze on the roof of Khalasitola. Me and my friends used to discuss poetry there. These days however the roof has been closed for general public. Back in those days FARRINI was our choice of poison. These days it is no longer available there and DADA has taken its place. Nip (180ml) for twenty, Pint (300ml) for thirty and Bottle (600ml) for fifty five bucks, all 60-UP. My friend Krishna Chandra Saha alias Kesto da works at the Counter. He is a lovely human being and is working there for many years now. Khalasitola started around 1942 and is still going strong. It is closed on tuesdays. Someday I will write a separate Blog Post on all the Bars/Pubs/Theks where I have boozed over the years, starting from Khalasitola to Chota Bristol to Olypub to Some-Place-Else. Over the last fifteen years I have boozed at almost each and every Bar, Pub and Thek in Calcutta. This year I bought this lovely book titled KHALASITOLA from the Kourab Stall. Also bought Ladley da's book KOLKATTAIYA NESHAKORCHHA :   


The Food Court is always crowded too. Due to the huge demand, the quality of the food goes down with every passing hour. It is almost next to impossible to find an empty chair in the Food courtyard. People consume everything from Biriyani to Bhelpuris. We Bongs just love to eat. And obviously sleep! Back in the days of the Maidan Book Fair, the BenFish Stall used to be a huge hit each year and the heaven-ish smell of frying fishes was simply ethereal. In those days the BenFish Stall used to attract more customers than most medium sized Book Stalls. These days however BenFish has been overtaken by Fish-Fish! Though for the sake of nostalgia I have to eat a fish fry atleast from BenFish every year. Here is this year's BenFish

Outside Gate No. 4 there erupts temporary pice-hotels and food stalls which sell chowmein, fried-rice, chicken, mutton and egg rolls, egg-toasts, kochuri and alur dom, phuchkas, churmurs, jhalmuris, bhelpuris etc. Those who cannot afford the Food Court prices, they eat here. Also some people sell net-masks outside the gates and many concerned citizens really buy them to protect themselves from the dirt and dust. Some young men and women sell Encyclopedias, National Geographic books, Dictionaries etc. at discounted rates. The discounts get doubled on the last day of the Book Fair. One old woman sells cookery books also. Young women buy those books from her and also discuss recipes with her. Inside the Book Fair some men secretly tries to sell tea for just five bucks. When the Police catches them then they are thrown out of Milan Mela. On those NESCAFE and GEORGIA kiosks, the price of tea/coffee starts from fifteen bucks. I love those Cellophane-wallahs who will wrap one's newly bought books with cellophane for a small price. A few blind men also approach book lovers for charity. Inside the Book Fair water pouches are available free of cost. I just love sipping on those pouches. Squeezing them mildly feels like squeezing something else! 

Some Stalls sell old and rare books. I am friends with the owners of one such Stall. Their whole family is in that business. A very warm family indeed. A special breed of people flock to these type of Stalls every year in search of ancient treasures. The famous Shantiniketan based SUBARNAREKHA Stall attracts hundreds of people. I myself have a fascination for old magazines and books and I try to collect as many as possible. Once I luckily got a huge set of Stephen Spender's Encounter magazines in good quality from this Stall. 

The concept of Montmartre (Art Village) at the Book Fair started from 1997. The Montmartre area is another fascinating place. Various kinds of activities take place there. One could spend hours just in that place only. From having your own portraits done to your names being written on rice, all kinds of creative activities happen here. Unknown artists sell beautiful paintings, pottery, terracotta stuff, t-shirts with lyrics of famous songs printed on them, beautifully framed photographs and various other kinds of knick-knacks. And every evening there is some cultural programme happening on the open stage, from poetry reading sessions to performances by bangla pop/rock/metal bands. 

In 2009 the Calcutta Book Fair had its first Theme Song - Oi Daakchhey Boi - produced by Cozmik Harmony. The lyrics were by Sugata Guha, music by the popular percussionist Bikram Ghosh, and the song was performed by Pratik Chowdhury, Ruprekha, Rupam Islam, Lopamudra Mitra, Srikanta Acharya, Bikram Ghosh, Shubhamita, Pulak and Rupankar Bagchi. The song became an instant hit. Enjoy the video here : 

Another charm of the Book Fair is checking out beautiful women of all ages. There is also this stupidity and foolhardiness of following a beautiful woman for miles throughout the ground. After a certain point of time she realizes the presence of her Stalker/Secret Admirer. (I personally believe that one woman's Stalker is another woman's Secret Admirer). Its how you look at things which are looking back at you! I have always believed that the pleasure of the hunt is not in the kill but lies in the chase. Anyways so many times I myself have fallen in love with a woman on the Book Fair grounds and have followed her for hours. Generally I failed to summon up the courage to walk up to her and talk to her. But only on rare occasions I managed to perform the seemingly impossible feat and those interactions blossomed into lovely affairs later. Whenever I see a beautiful woman, these lines by Joy Goswami from his poem AMAAR DOTAARA keep playing in a continuous loop inside my head : 

AaNdhar Korechhey Baairey, 
Naari tey Douriye Morey Mon, 
Khodaar Emon Sristi, 
Khodaa Nijey Dekhben Kokhon?   

Here is a poem which I had written in 2009 :


During 2010 Book Fair I met Ranjon Bandopadhyay. I am a big fan of his writings. I also love the way he speaks. On Tara Music I have seen each and every episode of his AMAR RABINDRANATH. Also I love the way he tries to discover or invent a sexual connotation to each and every issue in this universe. I just love it. And I also love it when while talking about the matters of the heart, he slightly blushes like a teenager. At the Book Fair one gets to meet so many interesting people. 

Here is another poem which I had written in 2009 :

Alice in Wonderland 

She is an Alice in Wonderland 
I like Her soft-spokenness    
I wish I could hold her hand 
A magical Enigma, by God's Grace 

Life itself has made Her Stronger 
Still She is weak like a Rose 
I really want to Love Her Longer 
Lets see, where this Emotion goes 

She is a Paradox, both Hot and Cool 
A Sense of Belonging I always get 
Am I rushing in as a Smitten Fool 
Wish I could take Her out on a Date 

A Date together from Dawn till Dusk 
From the far North to the South Pole 
What is the Meaning of Life, I ask 
We are All just going down the Rabbit-Hole 

The White Rabbit is showing Us the Road 
Though We are separated by a few Years 
This is nothing but Information-Overload 
We are All swimming in our own Pool of Tears 

But what about the Hypocrites of Society  
We both belong to an entirely different Class 
I don't care about the High and the Mighty 
We are All trying to look Through The Looking Glass 

But somehow there is a Layer of Sadness 
In Her soft serene gentle Eyes 
Though She gives me a Sense of Madness 
I wish She could have heard my Cries 

But it is True that She doesn't Love Me 
It is True that She doesn't really Care 
The Tragedy is out there for All to See 
This is my Life, this ain't No Truth or Dare...

Only at the Calcutta Book Fair, USA and Vietnam exist peacefully side by side. After all the American Consulate in Calcutta is on Ho Chi Minh Sarani! Kolkata Boi-Mela tei USA aar Vietnam ek ghaatey jol khay! I have been a member of the American Library for many years now. During the Book Fair they give special annual membership offers for just hundred bucks. Only this year they increased it to two hundred bucks. Whenever I get some free time, I try to visit the American Library. I just love its atmosphere. And the Staff members are very friendly. 

The Calcutta Book Fair traditionally starts on the last Wednesday of January and ends on the second Sunday of February. The chill is still in the air and the weather is pleasant and romantic. Usually the Bengali Valentine's Day (Saraswati Puja) falls during the Book Fair. Its so nice to see young couples roaming hand in hand. Boys wearing kurtas and jeans. Girls wearing yellow sarees and green blouses with flowers tucked in their hair. The smell of love is in the air. These days however more than the smell of love, the smell of Kamasutra deodorant is stronger! This year as I was gallivanting at the Book Fair, I saw people around me with eyes full of yesterdays. Even my own eyes were full of the jpeg, png and gif images of yesterdays. As I saw couples walking hand in hand, I remembered past Book Fairs where I used to do the same thing with my girl-friends. Being in love is the greatest feeling on earth. This year I was remembering the 2005 Book Fair. That year I also used to roam in the Maidan hand in hand with my then girlfriend. We were madly in love with each other and our bodies were virtually inseparable most of the time. She was five years older than me and I was then in first year of College at St. Xavier's. That year France was the Theme Country. The French had constructed a replica of the Pyramid from the Louvre Museum. I really liked it. It looked beautiful from the outside but inside the Pyramid it was suffocating. The same thing is true about my relationships with women. From the outside everything seems beautiful and lovey-dovey, but after a certain point of time from the inside I generally start feeling suffocated!  

I love those people who dress up as cartoon characters and roam throughout the Book Fair advertising their Stalls. My secret wish is to do something like this. I really want to dress up as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy or even Doraemon and lose all my inhibitions and interact with children. I just love children. They are the only purest things in this world. I also wish to dress up as cartoon characters and walk up and down Park Street during Christmas week. Some day I will definitely do it. Its a promise. Nobody will know. Only later I will post the pictures on Facebook and then everybody will know that I was that character. 

During the Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh Movement I got involved with Prasun Bhaumik's BIJOLPO Publications. Someday I will write a separate Blog Post about my involvement in this historic and revolutionary Movement and all my first hand experiences from 2nd December 2006 to 13th May 2011. From participating in Moshal Michhils from College Square to Esplanade to organising Mouno Michhils inside the Book Fair, when it took place at Salt Lake Stadium, I did it all. Anyways every year we used to set up our BIJOLPO Stall at the Book Fair. Supervising the construction of our Stall was a thing which I loved the most. It felt great to create something magnificient from scratch. Television News Channels used to come to cover the construction of the Stalls. Once the Stall was constructed then we used to fill it up with books, audio cds, documentary dvds, posters, anti-CPM leaflets etc. Apart from the literature supporting the Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh Movement, we used to sell all the books of Joy Goswami. I used to arrange those books from Ananda Publishers, Pratibhash and elsewhere. From 2007 to 2011 our main agenda was to overthrow the evil Left Front Government. Inside our Stall I used to play Kabir Suman's albums namely Nandigram (2007), Rizwanur Brityo (2008), Protirodh (2008), Chhotrodhorer Gaan (2010) and Lalmohoner Lash (2010). My association with BIJOLPO continues till today. Prasun Bhaumik has become like my elder brother. Here are some of my pictures over the years at the Book Fair : 

Back in those high voltage days we also used to indulge in various innovative forms of protest against the then Left Front Government at our Stall. Just for the sake of fun I used to go to CPM's Gonoshokti's Stall and examine the books in our enemy camp. In those days all anti-CPM minded people used to drop in at our Stall, from common folks to the so called Buddhijibis. But whenever Rupam Islam used to come then the area in front of our Stall used to get over-crowded. I still remember that in the year 2007, Fossils had performed at C.U. Institute Hall for the aid of Sonachura Hospital of Nandigram. The show was organised by Soho-Nagorik-der Mukto-Mancha. I am a big fan of Rupam Islam and he is a true youth-icon. Here he is sitting inside our Stall and signing autographs. 

Inside the Guild House the Bank provides small-change to the Stall Owners. In lieu of currency notes the Bank provides freshly minted coins. We need these small-change to run the cash at our Stall. People usually give hundred rupee notes even when they buy something for, say, 20 bucks. Therefore the Bank inside the Guild House really helps us a lot. Our Stall used to get very crowded. Even today it does so. When Celebrities dropped in, then the crowd used to become unmanageable. Here is another picture of Rupam Islam sitting in front of our Stall and singing his famous numbers. 

Once I was managing the counter at our stall. A middle aged man from a middle class background desperately wanted to buy all the four volumes of Joy Goswami's poems but sadly fell short by Rs. 300. The look on his face saddened me. I decided to sell him the books anyway and asked him to come and pay me the balance later. From my own pocket I put in 300 bucks into the cash-box. On the very next day that man came back with the money. Not only that, he bought a packet of sondesh for me too, which we all shared inside the Stall with our staff and also with the customers present there at that moment. This is the beauty of Calcutta! Another time when it was too crowded inside the stall and I was managing cash, I somehow made a mistake in basic mathematics and gave an extra Rs. 100 to a woman. Hours later that woman returned to return me the money! I was pleased with that woman's honesty and gave her a free greetings card. Here is that card : 

In the 2012 Book Fair we at BIJOLPO decided to dedicate an entire Stall only for Joy Goswami. We named the Stall HRIDI BHESHEY JAAY. It was a huge success. His fans loved the idea of browsing through all his books from different Publishers under one roof. From BIJOLPO MUSIC we also recorded an album which consisted of his poems, recited in his own voice, and songs which were written and sung by Sudip Bandopadhyay. The musical album was also named HRIDI BHESHEY JAAY. The album was launched at Music World. Sudip da is a journalist by profession. He is a hugely talented singer with an awesome voice. Here I am uploading two pictures of our Stall, our album cover and also a very old picture. On that picture Sudip da is standing second from left. 

Every evening Joy Goswami used to come to our Stall and stay there for a few hours. He used to sign autographs to his fans and interact with all of us. He is simply a living encyclopedia, not only on poetry but also on different forms of art as well. He possesses an unique sense of humour too. Generally I wear kurta and jeans at Book Fair. Joy Goswami has been seeing me like this for many years now. Once he jokingly asked, what would Raj Gaurav be called if he wore a shirt, suit, trousers and a tie? I did not know the answer. He replied, Ingrej Gaurav

Writing poetry is considered to be therapeutic in a condition of extreme romantic agitation after one has being infected with the Love Virus. In the 2012 Book Fair at our HRIDI BHESEY JAAY Stall, every evening a very sweet girl used to come. She used to work in Salt Lake and every day after office she used to drop in at the Book Fair. She was a huge fan of Joy Goswami's poems. As usual I developed a soft corner for her. We became very good friends. I introduced her to the great poet and she got all the poetry books signed by him. And obviously as per my own tradition, I came back home and composed a poem on her. Here it is : 

The Book Fair is not complete without Calcutta's very own urban legend and underground astronomer named K. C. Paul. (Please do not confuse him with Umbrellas). He believes that the Sun revolves around the Earth once a year, and roughly for the last forty years, he has been trying to persuade everybody and every institution, including NASA, about the validity of his theory. Though he has not met with any formal recognition and probably only very few like-minded folks believe in his theories, still he is a lovable character of the Book Fair. People buy his pamphlets out of sheer curiosity and ofcourse charity. Older generations point him out to their next generations. I have been seeing him for many years now. I have seen his graffiti on many walls and lamp-posts throughout Calcutta. Whenever I see him at the Book Fair I usually go and talk to him. He loves the attention. This year also I had a wonderful adda with him. I even bought his documentary dvd for hundred bucks. Also bought a cup of coffee and biscuits for him. I just simply love him. Here I am with the one and only Kartik Chandra Paul : 

There is another man who sells Calenders for the next 300 years. Plus he sells mathematical formulae and English Grammar Charts. And he also sells booklets on Ayurveda. His name is Dilip Poddar. Here are his pictures : 

Another man sells little magic tricks for twenty bucks only. His name is Ashoke Basu. He has been showcasing his magic tricks for the last seventeen years. Here are his pictures : 

One man fascinates me the most. His name is Aloke Kumar Dutta. Every year he is there at the Book Fair with a smile on his face and a placard hanging from his neck. His famous sales-pitch is Kinben Du-Takay, Porben Kuri Minute, Hasben Aadh Ghanta. I have been seeing him since my childhood days. Nowadays I have become good friends with him and have even visited his house at Durgacharan Doctor Road. Last year on the morning of Mahalaya I went with him to Kumartulli. Again during Jagadhhatri Puja I went with him to Chandernagore. He is an unique man and I really enjoy his company. Men like him are really very rare in our city. If more men were like him then this world would have been a better place to live in. Here are his pictures : 

Another interesting man is Swapan Biswas who writes poetry under the pseudonym Akshaychand. I have bought all his books over the years. He makes a living out of just selling his poetry books. He is a great friend of mine. I have even visited him at his house at Chandi Ghosh Road. Usually he is seen at the Nandan Chattor, requesting people to buy his poetry books. Since my teenage days I have been noticing him at the Book Fair. We became good friends around 2007. Here I am with him in front of Hari Da's Tea Shop at Nandan Chattor during last year's Calcutta Film Festival

This year I visited the legendary artist Rathin Mitra's Stall and bought all his sketches on post-cards. I had a lovely chat with him. He even signed his autograph on one of the cards. From childhood I grew up on The Telegraph Colour Magazine and have always loved his Heritage page there. Here I am with him : 

Whenever I see a hungry dog I really feel sorry for it. That is why I always carry Parle G/Sunfeast biscuit packets in my bag and I always feed them. Here is a little dog who found a few bones from the Garbage inside the Food Court. 

Here is another one who is resting peacefully in light and shade on a lazy Sunday afternoon inside the Food Court. The dog was enjoying the best of both the worlds. Sometimes we humans switch on the ceiling fan at the fullest speed, but also cover ourselves with a quilt. I guess the dog was in his own way trying to do something equivalent to that. 

Saw this green Ambassador parked at this year's Book Fair. Immediately it reminded me of Lalmohan Ganguly. Immediately it took me back to my childhood days. I really wanted to meet the owner of this Ambassador. I just love Ambassadors. One day I really want to buy a brand new Ambassador. After I was born, I came back home from the hospital in my father's Ambassador. I just love everything that has a connection with Ambassadors.  

This year I loved the Kolkata Police Stall at the Book Fair. I bought their heritage post-cards and also a black cap with the Kolkata Police emblem on it. Leafed through the latest issue of the Kolkata Police magazine PROTECTOR. Not many people know that Kolkata Police have their own magazine. Citizens can also subscribe to it and it gets home delivered too. I myself am a subscriber. Also loved the vintage Dodge car which was parked outside. 

My first poem on Nandigram which I had written on the night of 14th March 2007 was published in Nabarun Bhattacharya's magazine BHASHA-BANDHAN. For the last so many years I have been visiting Nabarun da's Stall. I used to buy all his books and magazines and get them instantly signed by the great author. He used to sit in front of his Stall and interact with everyone. Only this year he was not there. Though a big poster inside the Stall made me happy. It felt that he was still there sitting inside his Stall and signing autographs. 

Another Stall which I love to visit is Saurav da's Saptarshi Prokashon. I have bought each and every book of Kabir Suman from this Stall. I am a huge fan of this great singer-songwriter-musician-author-actor-activist and I have been to all his concerts in the last fourteen years. Someday I will write a separate Blog Post on Kabir Suman where I will mention my first hand experiences at his concerts. That Blog Post will be full of details about his eccentricities and his idiosyncrasies. Kabir Suman's first book of lyrics was published by Swotontro Prokashoni. In those days he was known as Suman Chattopadhyay. Swotontro Prokashoni was started by three women named Indrani, Aparna and Moushumi. The first edition was published in the 1993 Calcutta Book Fair. Each and every copy was sold out within days. In the next few years Swotontro Prokashoni published another three books. From the fifth book onwards Saptarshi Prokashon took the reins in their hands. Till now all together eight books of lyrics have been published. Kabir Suman is my Prophet. His songs have given me the inspiration to live, struggle and fight back. Otherwise I would have committed suicide long time back. Still today whenever I am sad, depressed or feeling suicidal, I switch off the lights in my bedroom, put my cell-phone in the silent mode and then I listen to Kabir Suman's songs. The day he will die, on that very same day I will shave off my hair as a mark of respect. He is more than a father-figure to me. Even today whenever I go to the Book Fair, these four lines of Kabir Suman ring in my years : 

Tomakey Dekhchhi Boi Mela Chottor-ey
Tomakey Dekhchhi Swotontro-r Stall 
Anushtup-er Thela-theli Bhed Korey 
Asholey Kintu Tomakey Dekhar Chhol... 


More than a decade back I had listened to an interview of Kabir Suman on Akashbani. In that interview he had said that in the late 80's he used to record his own songs in blank cassettes and then go to the Book Fair and distribute them among random people. He used to tell them to listen to his songs and then pass over the cassette to their friends. In those days he was part of the NAGORIK musical group. He also said that sometimes he used to drop his recorded cassettes at random people's letter-boxes with a note attached requesting them to listen to the cassette and then forward it to others. I had the good fortune to observe this legend from close quarters during the Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh Movement. In the 2008 Book Fair he was sitting in front of our Bijolpo Stall and was chain smoking. Someone remarked, Suman da, eto cigarette khaben na please, aapnar shorir bhalo nei. He replied confidently, CPM-er mrityu na dekhey aami morbo na. Someone else remarked, Ekdin emon asbey jedin CPM ke sara raat JAPANI TEL-ey chubiye rakhleo aar khaara kora jaabey naa! Here is Kabir Suman's picture in front of our BIJOLPO Stall : 

In the year 2010, Kabir Suman had composed the songs for the album CHHOTRODHORER GAAN. However each and every music company was shit-scared to record those songs. There was a huge controversy regarding those songs. Then our BIJOLPO MUSIC came forward and brought out that album for the general public. We sold each and every copy at our BIJOLPO Stall. People came from far away places just to buy this album. No matter what, Kabir Suman's dedicated fan base was, is, and will always be intact. I especially loved these mindblowing lines : 

Rashtro Maanei Left 
Rashtro Maanei Right 
Kuchkaowajer Tolay Achhey Gaaner Dynamite 
Bebaak Dhorpakor 
Choluk Aaro Tobey 
Birsaar Bhoot Somoymoto Bishforoni Hobey...

Last year at Kabir Suman's concert at Kala Mandir, I saw a woman and immediately fell in love with her. There was an angelic radiance in her face and her beauty was simply divine. The first time I saw her, I just could not take off my eyes from her face. And when she smiled, she looked ravishing. I just fell in love with her mesmerizing smile. A mutual friend suddenly introduced us. I had a wonderful conversation with her. She was really well-read and intelligent. Simply with the spark in her eyes, she captured my imagination. She was twelve years older than me, but it seemed to me that I have known her since our last twelve lifetimes. From that day I could not take her off my mind. At this year's Book Fair I suddenly saw her again walking with her husband. My heart really wanted me to go and talk to her, even in front of her husband. But I just could not gather the courage to do so. Then after a few seconds I finally gathered the required amount of courage, but by then I already had lost her in the crowd. You see, in these matters, even a split second matters! I searched for her everywhere but sadly could not find her. With a heavy heart I came back home at night and composed this poem : 

On the last day of the Book Fair, from around 8pm, the members of the organization SAPPHO start celebrating. They sing songs and have a lot of fun among themselves. SAPPHO is an activist forum for lesbians, bi-sexual women and transmen's rights. Every year I buy their tabloid named SWOKONTHEY. Here is this year's issue :

On the last day at 9pm the famous BELL is rung and everyone present inside the Milan Mela Prangan starts clapping. This is a very beautiful sight as everybody, and I mean everybody, where ever he or she might be, simply starts clapping instantaneously. This thunderous clapping signals the end of the Book Fair and the wait begins for the next year. Every year on the last day this man named Durga Shankar Roy comes to the Book Fair wearing a new white kurta. He asks everybody to sign their names and write some comments on his white kurta. He is a good friend of mine and is really a very nice human being. Here are our pics from last year's Book Fair and this year's : 

The next day after the Book Fair gets over is equally interesting with stalls getting dismantled and huge quantities of unsold books going back to the place where they were before. There is this frenzied activity all around the ground. Nails and wooden-planks fly here and there. Television News Channels again come to cover the dismantling of the Stalls. Some Publishers have made profits. Some have suffered losses. But there is always the hope of a better performance next year. Thus the Book Fair goes on year after year and generations after generations. I am capable of writing a never ending Blog Post on the Calcutta Book Fair. There is simply so much to write. And I have an infinite stock of stories, anecdotes and gossips about the Boi Mela. But I have to draw the line somewhere. So at this point I am trying to end this Post, as of now. Lastly here are the latest theme songs of the Calcutta Book Fair in both bengali and english. Enjoy! 

P.S. : If anyone wants to read my poems then here is the link

P.P.S. : If anyone wants to see Calcutta Book Fair's pictures over the years then here is the link

P.P.P.S. : I will keep on adding new paragraphs and pictures to this Blog Post in the coming months. 

P.P.P.P.S. : Here are two pictures from the 2004 Book Fair. The second one is with my then best friend Abhishek Mukherjee...

P.P.P.P.P.S. : After reading this Blog Post twice, a female friend of mine got furious and asked me how could I fall in love so many times? She demanded an explanation. I did not feel like justifying my life-style to her and therefore in reply I simply quoted Nachiketa's lines : 

Songkirno Moner Manush Jara 
Taraai Toh Bhalobashey Ekbar 
Jar Mon Boro Joto 
Dekhey Bhalo Obiroto 
Taraai Toh Bhalobashey Bar Bar... 

Bhalobasha Kono Pacemaker Noi 
Kono Ek Bukey Nebei Ja Ashroy 
Bhalobasha Toh Mukto Hawa 
Bohu Mon-ey KhuNjey Pawa 
Nana Rongey Komol Gandhaar... 


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