Kolkata is a city of booklovers. Literary greats and education reformers have made the city their home for more than two hundred years now. The cultural gene, so to say, can be found in abundance in Bengalis, and so it’s natural that Kolkata, the city where the Bengali culture can be experienced at its best, is home to one of the largest book fairs in the world.
The International Kolkata Book Fair (the ‘International’ was added later on, though in terms of the range of books available, it has always been as international as it can be) was started way back in 1976 at Maidan to enable people to buy the best of international and Indian books. Well, that was the aim, but it has always been much more than that. A meeting place for people, a place to indulge in adda, literary and otherwise, a place to spend some quality time in, a place of cultural programmes, of food stalls, of small-time artists selling their art on the ground, of singers entertaining people, or just to wander around, marveling at the thousands milling around and wondering at the literary appetite that a city can have. It can easily be described as a melting pot of sorts.
A few years back the book fair shifted to the Milan Mela grounds opposite the Science City complex, and it has been held there since.
The largest and the best
The International Kolkata Book Fair is the world’s largest non-trade book fair. It is also Asia’s largest book fair and the most attended book fair in the world. There are other bigger book fairs (the Frankfurt Book Fair is the world’s biggest), but they are aimed at publishers, a place where they can come and check out books and strike deals. However, Kolkata’s book fair has always been for the masses. Rich or poor or anywhere in between, it is the people who have defined the character of the fair. To enable greater participation, for the last few years, the entry ticket has also been done away with.
Theme country, a unique aspect
A unique aspect of the book fair is the fact that every year a country is chosen as the theme country. Books from that country are displayed and sold, famous authors and other personalities from that country come and participate in various programmes, and cultural programmes related to that country are held. The theme country part has been a part of the book fair for a long time, and thanks to this, visitors have had the chance to see, hear and interact with famous people from various countries. Usually, a famous author from the theme country inaugurates the book fair.
Peru in 2014
The 2013 book fair had Bangladesh as the theme country. The 38th International Kolkata Book Fair is going to have Peru as the theme country. According to Tridib K Chatterjee, honorary general secretary of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, which organises the book fair, “Through the International Kolkata Book Fair 2014, the golden jubilee of the Indo–Peru diplomatic relationship will be celebrated.”
Flag of Peru
The fair would be inaugurated on January 28 by noted Peruvian poet, Carlos German Belli. Belli is known for his unique blend of precise classical expression and contemporary themes. Among his well-known poetry collections are Dentro & fuera (1960; 'Inside and Out'), Por el monte abajo (1966; 'Through the Woods Below'), El pie sobre el cuello (1967; 'The Foot on the Neck'), Canciones y otros poemas (1982; 'Songs and Other Poems') and En el restante tiempo terrenal (1988; 'In the Remaining Time on Earth').
Carlos German Belli
According to the Peruvian ambassador to India, Javier Paulinich, who announced the Peruvian theme at a press conference in Kolkata recently, apart from a huge exhibition of books on Peru, there will also be performances by Peruvian dancers and singers. That is bound to draw in lots of enthusiastic visitors as well.
Diablada dance of Peru
Marinera dance of Peru
Apart from the presence of ten famous authors from Peru, noted Chilean film-maker Miguel Littin, Mexican author Carla Faesler, Fernando Denis and famous Indian novelist Shashi Tharoor would also be present at the Book Fair. And that’s not all. For the football-crazy Kolkatan, there’s the legendary Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita to come, as well as the famous Indian-born American physicist, Mani Bhaumik.
Rene Higuita and his scorpion kick
Business as usual
With all the brouhaha over cultural programmes, addas and food, the primary aim of the fair is still to sell books. And it does not disappoint most booksellers; in fact, for most, it generates a lot of revenue. After all, this is one time of the year where they can get so many people to come to their shops, that too for almost two weeks. While not everyone buys books, the sales still notch up good numbers. To attract buyers, all shops give a standard discount of 10% on all products. As per Publishers and Booksellers Guild data, books worth Rs 21 crore were sold at the 2013 book fair.
Dates to note
January 29, 2014 - February 8, 2014 >> 1 pm - 8 pm
February 9, 2014 >> 1 pm - 9 pm
The book fair proper would begin on January 29 and continue till February 9. That is twelve whole days of literary extravaganza. The timings are from 1 pm to 8 pm, with the fair open till 9 pm on the last Sunday, which is also the last day of the fair. This has been done to accommodate the huge rush that takes place, as people throng in from far and wide to get a last glimpse of the fair for the year. This reminds one of the rush on Navami evening during Durga Puja, when people must go out to revel in the Puja spirit, come rain or shine, for after that it is over for the year.
Kolkata Language and Literature Festival
From 2014, an interesting addition would be made to the book fair. A three-day Kolkata Language and Literature Festival (KLLF) will be held during the book. The Kolkata Literary Meet, which was a major attraction the last time, has shifted to the Victoria Memorial.
The Booksellers Guild has decided to arrange 14 sessions of KLLF from January 30 to February 1. It will comprise of sessions spread across genres such as language, literature, cinema, drama, sports, music and dance. According to Sudhangshu Dey, president of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, "This will become a permanent event from this year.” He also said that the KLLF is "going to be a challenging initiative."
Amartya Sen and Sharmila Tagore at the 2013 KaLaM
From far and near
So come January 29, 2014, lakhs would again rush in to take in the flavour of the book fair. And it is not just people from Kolkata. People come from places all around Kolkata - they come by train, they come in buses, or in their personal transport.
People even come from far corners of the state to experience this cultural extravaganza. The footfall was 1.8 million in 2013.