According to a recent Hindu article, Kolkata Book fair 2021 may be held in June, once the situation stabilizes. But this isn’t the first time that the event is canceled! In the meanwhile, the districts are organizing mini book fairs for avid readers. But, how fulfilling are they?
A Bengali proverb goes like this – “Bangalir Baro Maashey Tero Parbon” which means the Bengalis celebrate 13 festivals in 12 months. Bengalis love celebrating their culture, traditions and age-old rituals in a grand way so much so that every month we end up celebrating some festival or the other with food, fun and fiesta. The Kolkata Book Fair happens to be one of these Bengali festivals.
Not only religious rituals, Bengalis dearly love reading and discussing literature with each other. With the International Kolkata Book Fair, we grandly celebrate our affinity with books every year, listing it as the 14th Parbon or festival of the Bengalis. How did it all start? Let’s trace back to the history of the fair and see how far the fair has come.
History of Kolkata Book Fair
Back in 1974, a few young publishers met in Coffee House for their regular Adda session. They discussed about organizing an annual meet up of the book lovers from near and far which can boost up the sales of the books as well. In 1975, keeping the meet up in focus, The Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild was founded.
In 1976, the first book fair which would be later known as the ‘International Kolkata Book Fair, was organised by the Guild. It set up 56 stalls and 34 publishers participated in the fair. The venue was the ground opposite the Academy of Fine Arts. In the same year, The Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild participated in the World Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair. The latter was the primary inspiration behind the organisation of the Kolkata Book Fair.
The year 1983 was an eventful year for the Book Fair here. Visitors like the delegates from the International Publishers’ Association, Frankfurt Book Fair attended the fair with thousands of visitors from different countries. In the same year the Kolkata Book Fair got international accreditation.
Gradually, the size of the fair grew thanks to the increasing participants. To accommodate a large number of stalls and book lovers, the venue was shifted to Maidan in 1988.
From 1991, the book fair started to have a focal theme. Initially, Indian states became the focal themes and since 1997, a foreign country started becoming focal theme every year. The literature and culture of the focal theme state or country was highlighted during the entire span of the event.
Another major cultural development occurred simultaneously in the Maidan grounds during the Kolkata Book Fair during the 90s. It was the development of the concept of ‘Bangla Music Band’. In the early 90s, talented singers spearheaded by ‘Mohiner Ghoraguli’ founder Goutam Chattopadhyay could be spotted performing impromptu songs in the Maidan ground when the book fair was underway. They would sit with a guiter and go on singing the numbers they composed.
Crowds would gather around maybe with their just bought books in hands and spend hours mesmerized with their performances. The songs told about the common livelihood, common joys and sorrows. The Bangla Band members instantly struck a chord with the fair-goers. Gradually, the Kolkata Book Fair became synonymous with everything the Bengali Culture is all about – Books, Adda, Music, Tea and Food.
The year 1997 was a catastrophic year for the book fair. On the 6th day of the fair, a fire broke and almost all the book stalls got destroyed. Each publisher incurred heavy loss due to the fire. As phoenix rises from the fire again, the book fair was reorganized with the undying initiative and determination of the Guild, book lovers and the State Government. Huge discounts were available on the books. Many visitors bought books in huge numbers just to support the publishers and lend a hand in solidarity.
However, in the year 2007, the Guild lost the ongoing case filed against them by a few environmentalists. The venue had to be shifted to the Salt Lake Stadium within a day. The footfalls decreased due to inclement weather and poor commuting facilities but the book lovers braved against all odds to attend the fair even in such circumstances.
The Guild organised book fair did not happen in 2008. The Calcutta High Court ruled against the Park Circus Maidan as the prospective venue. The Guild members decided to postpone the annual fair and move to the Supreme Court for legal assurance regarding the book fair venue. Another group organized a smaller fair named ‘Book Fair 2008’ but its efficacy was questioned.
In 2009, the Calcutta Book Fair got a permanent address in Milan Mela Fair Ground. A theme song, “Oi Daakche Boi (Books beckoning)” was made. The organization created different pavilions for the visitors. And the book lovers loved the arrangements. The turnover was huge.
In 2011, the Guild decided to make entry to the book fair free for all.
From 2014, Kolkata Literary Festival was started getting organized during the Book Fair. The eminent writers started to join in the event to discuss the latest trends in literature and take part in healthy criticisms.
In 2018, the address of the Kolkata Book Fair changed again. As the Milan Mela Complex was under renovation, it was held at the Central Park Mela Ground.
Since 2018, the Central Park Mela Ground had been witnessing a considerable number of footfalls of book lovers, writers, publishers and the likes. Just when people have started to think that physical books are a passé, the crowd gathering in different stalls to buy their favourite books, meet their favourite authors and join listening impromptu musical performances have started proving them wrong, in the Fair fortnight, like every other year.
However, due to the current pandemic situation, the Kolkata Book Fair 2021 had been postponed indefinitely. We would be revealing the Kolkata Book Fair 2021 dates after the Guild fixes them.