A heritage walk at the crowded 41st International Kolkata Book fair? Yes, school-students are in for a real treat at this annual jamboree for book-lovers — they get to hear the story of the fair itself from their favourite celebrity authors like Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and anchorperson with a funny bone, Mir.
Every afternoon, children (Class V to Class XII) from the city’s best known schools are being taken around the fair ground by the organisers (Publisher’s and Bookseller’s Guild) and taught about the heritage of books — about how the fair originated from a simple Coffee House (College Street) meeting of young publishers in 1974 to a mammoth commercial trade and intellectual meet at Milan Mela grounds in 2016. Way back, the young publishers felt a book fair in the city could be modeled on the Frankfurt Book Fair and in 1975, the Publisher’s and Bookseller’s Guild was formed.
The story being told has its twists and turns as well. The first book fair was held in 1976 with 34 publishers participating, at the grounds next to the Victoria Memorial. In 1997,a huge fire almost destroyed the fair. It was also the year that the guru of de-construction, Jaques Derrida, inaugurated the fair.
“We want to involve children in the book fair and not just through children’s books. We are trying to educate them on the rich heritage of books that the city stands for and trying to make it appealing by holding a quiz competition at the end and offering prizes,” Sudhangshu Dey, director of the Publisher’s and Bookseller’s Guild told Millennium Post.
The story of the fair, like the fair itself, moves on to recent years. The fair moved out of the Maidan in 2007 at the last minute owing to litigation and the Salt Lake stadium on the E M Bypass became its makeshift venue. The 33rd International Kolkata Book Fair is also considered a landmark since it was held at the Milan Mela grounds for the first time and also had Dominique Lapiere---author of City of Joy-- as its guest.
“Things got better since 2011. The Guild got NGO status, entry was made free of cost and little magazines were given free space. The 2014 festival saw the first Kolkata Literary Meet---modelled on the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Edinburgh Literature Festival,” said Raju Burman, partner at Rupa & Co, Calcutta.
The 40th year, children are told, though has Bolivia as its focal theme, the year being the 50th anniversary of Che Guevara’s struggle against Imperialist forces.