The spacious white tent sprawls under a darkening evening sky, the chill sweeping through the grounds even as we walk quickly towards the hum of conversation. I’d just watched a convoy of cars- conveying, presumably, the Honourable Chief Minister of West Bengal herself- zoom past through the gates. My companion (Arjyak, of Kolkata Bloggers) is nervous; I wasn’t at first, but his anxiety seems to affect me as much as the chill.
It’s a big deal, I realise, lengthening my stride: it’s a big deal to be here, under the winter sky, waiting for the inauguration of the 40th edition of the International Kolkata Book Fair.
Somehow, it hadn’t really struck me before.
Sure, on a personal level, the Book Fair had been my annual fairy land every time the season of sniffles came creeping into Kolkata. A childhood of glazed blue skies with the showers of red krisnachura blossoms springs to mind, combined with a bone-deep memory of the spine-thrilling cold the City of Joy would experience in those days.
I remember the warmth of the Book Fair washing over me like a balm every time I stepped into those grounds- a warmth that combined the heady smells of roasted badam and chatter of an excited crowd and the whipping noises of the wind rushing by. I remember hopping from stall to stall- Oxford Bookstore to those with now-forgotten names packed to the rafters with magic lands, big and small, funny and scary, real and not. I remember having my indulgent mother buy literally dozens of volumes, all for me. I remember the excitement of waiting to go home, of seeing what lay in wait for me in those pages. I remember that one Chinese man who had asked me about my “Christmas holidays” and the 5 repetitions it had taken for seven-year-old me to understand him.
It is a big deal for me to be here, back in the city after all these years, to become woven into the fabric of this fair. I have become a seamless part of the background, an invisible part of the story that makes this fair what it is, and thus this city what it is, and thus, to a great extent, my youth what it was.
Well done, seven-year-old me. Who’d’ve thunk we’d get this far.
But I’d almost forgotten that I’m not the only one this Book Fair has affected.
Somewhere, dotted here and there all across Kolkata, are little children just like seven-year-old me, excited, waiting to rush into the grounds and see what it has to offer. These children of all ages- some much older than the child in them, some not, have all been a part of the story of this fair.
And the grounds have thus become a kind of Neverland, a place where readers, writers, artists, singers, actors, teachers, lawyers, businessmen- people from hundreds of different places, people from all walks of life- go to rediscover the child in them. They try to find once again the feeling of standing at the edge of a new frontier, just about to discover the unknown and unexplored once a year in their busy lives.
That is the weight of expectations we feel, as we stand at the edge of the dismantled fair grounds looking at a deconstructed fair, the stalls still in pieces, the decorations yet to be put up. And the buzzing- the buzzing that grows louder- is that of people coming together from all parts of the city, the country and the world, coming together to celebrate the joy of reading.
I will be there too. Will you?
Read the International Kolkata Book Fair’s official blog, with regular posts about books, book lovers and more at: http://goo.gl/b2whSm
Tweet with the hashtag #boimela to spread the bookish love.
Follow Kolkata Bloggers on Twitter and Facebook for live updates from the Fair.
See you at the Milon Mela grounds.