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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

inside the fair grounds

(in continuation to Kolkata Book Fair posted on 24/1/2005)

The Kolkata Boi Mela, like any other fair, is a vast multitude of men, women and children and, of course, books of all shapes, sizes and weights, Yes, there are something called ‘mini books’ – the size of a couple inches by a couple of inches, I possess several samples! Side by side, there are the real heavy weights like the Ramayana, the Dictionaries, the Encyclopedias and the Rabindra rachanabali – collection of the complete works of the Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore in several volumes. Then there are the little magazines – fruits of hard work by dedicated Bengalis to whom poetry is second nature. Unfortunately, with so few magazines in the market and so many aspiring poets waiting to board the bandwagon, competition is intense. Only a selected few make it big, others take this annual event of Boi Mela to print their poems with borrowed finances and approach the visitors to buy them.

There are also artisans who come to the fair to sell their handicrafts – some even set up easels and paint your picture then and there. They have the abilities but lack opportunities.

Since the stalls are erected by the Publishers themselves, one can see variety everywhere. The entrance to the fair grounds this year is a replica of the Eiffel Tower. Some stalls are real big ones, some are decorated artistically, and some stalls have special sections for children. Practically everyone offers discounts because this annual event allows publishers and booksellers to clear their inventory of large outdated holdings.

The innumerable tea stalls, fast food joints and snacks counters lend an air of festivities all around. There are also stalls set up by the fisheries department of West Bengal offering various types of fish preparations apart from stalls displaying sweets from specific parts of Bengal. They are all there with their products – to rekindle old memories in the older generation and to let the younger ones saviour long forgotten tastes. This year, the Eastern Railways is setting up a stall where visitors can purchase tickets for returning to their local destinations instead of waiting in queue in the railway stations.

The fair doors are thrown open by 1.30 pm and continue to remain open till around nine. Since this is invariably held in January-February, there is always a chill in the air at pack up time. In the day one has to bear with the heat, dust and stuffy atmosphere. The authorities arrange for sprinkling water on the makeshift roads and passageways but, when so many people trample their way all over the fair grounds, organizers have to remain as mute spectators.

For the ten odd days of the fair (from the last Wednesday of January to the first week of February) all roads lead to only one destination – the Kolkata Boi Mela.

(to be continued…)

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