My wife was going to take the morning flight and my father was to return by the afternoon flight, so it was my duty to see off one and receive the other. Well my wife was carrying lots of make up material, she being a professional make up artist. My father is nearly 80 though he is still ramrod straight and very agile and fit but age makes you dependent on someone or other. So there was lot of time between one departing and the other flying in which meant a travel of nearly 30 km to and fro from the city. To add on it being a Saturday I had a lot of time to myself. I decided the most fruitful way to spend that amount of time is to be with books, so fro Airport I went to International Kolkata Book Fair Grounds.
One of the favourite places to be in the spring just after mild winter of Kolkata is Kolkata Book fair. The fair was earlier organised in Heart of the City which is also known as Lungs of Kolkata, the Maidan. Then it shifted to Milan Mela near Eastern Metropolitan Bye-Pass and now it is in Salt Lake, Kolkata or better Bidhannagar. The fair is organised by Publishers and Book Sellers Guild and is the Worlds Largest Book Fair with this year’s Theme Country being Guatemala. This book fair concept started in 1974 and has continued to grow into the biggest Book Fair in the world with 2 million footfalls and with 600 book stalls and nearly 200 little magazine stalls. It did a business of nearly 24 million rupees. Different countries participated wither Stalls mainly from USA, UK, France, Japan, Russia, Vietnam, Nepal, Latin American Pavilion, Bangladesh and for the first time Iran too participated.
I was roaming from one book stall to another in the mazes between the stalls. You always need a map of the Book Fair to be handy with you otherwise one can get lost amongst the stalls. Most difficult part with nearly a dozen Gates to enter and exit, you may get out from a wrong gate then one will have to walk for nearly 2 -3 km to reach the Parking Lot. The smell of new books is something every youngster enjoyed in the growing up years. Then we only had bulky books to read and no Kindle to make it easy for you. I still enjoy reading books rather then reading it on Kindle. The best part of Book fair is that you can see renowned Authors signing their copy, folk music being presented in open air theatres and of-course fragrance of freshly cooked food from some demarcated stalls. I was loitering around when I saw in front of one stall one well known author was just standing outside and signing the copies of his book for whoever cared. Understandably he was just visiting the Book Fair on his own and had been cornered by his readers. I had read some of his works so I also wanted a signed copy.I rushed into a stall to get his book and then went to the Author. By then a long queue of his book lovers had been formed, I stood patiently. After nearly 10 minutes my turn came and he took the book from my hand to sign the copy. I just said to him you are the reason I learnt the language, he looked up. Actually I was born in north Part of India and other English, Hindi was the language I studied in linguistic. However when I came to Kolkata Bengali was the lingua-franca. My classmates, who later became good friends, were very interested in one Bengali Novel and there were no translations available then. So I learnt the language to read and understand. It opened to me different flavour of literature where one could just describe mundane daily life with such great ease without being elite and yet have that elitist style. I told him all the same and he gave such a shy smile and instead me saying ‘Thank You’ for signing my copy he said, “Thank You.”