Millennium Post

Lit meet and book fair can co-exist, happily

For one used to the melee of the world’s biggest book fair (the celebrated Kolkata Book Fair that is), a theme country, one lakh visitors a day, whiff of oily fish fries and endless cups of tea served in earthen cups, the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) might seem like an alien factor in a city known for its poets and bookworms. But take a second look (attend a couple of sessions a day at least) and it becomes clear that the fest attempted to connect the written word with the world of arts--music, dance, theatre, cinema, fashion and visual arts.

The festival director, Maina Bhagat explained how the fifth edition of AKLF had grown in content and range. ‘We had authors representing 12 countries this time around. There were promising young writers from the European Union as well as eminent writers on women’s issues like Urvashi Butalia and Salima Hashmi attending the fest. Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan’s book, My father, Our Fraternity: the Story of Hafeez Ali Khan & My World was an important book launch at AKLF’, she pointed out.

Interestingly, the AKLF has always celebrated a personality through its festival and this year, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the focus. The year being the 125th birth anniversary of Azad, the festival got off to a glamorous start at the Victoria Memorial with Aamir Khan, a great grandson of Azad, delivering the keynote address on the secular ideals of the freedom fighter.

On Day 3, after attending an extremely informative session on the little magazine tradition in India moderated by Prof Swapan Chakravorty, I had the pleasure of interviewing the veteran Hindi poet, Ashok Vajpeyi. We couldn’t help watching the people in the lounge flitting about us. It hardly seemed like a book-oriented do, with delegates in rustling silk sarees and well tailored suits, sipping tea from the finest bone china in the corridors of a swanky five star hotel on Park Street. Vajpayi had done a session on Hindi and Urdu poetry on that morning with Mrinal Pande and Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. ‘On some occasions I did feel that the content wasn’t discussed enough.

I’d have liked to know what’s going on in Bengali poetry after Joy Goswami or the latest trend in Urdu and Hindi poetry. What are the subjects that the poems are throwing up? What are the debates? What is the energy like in Assamese, Oriya and Malayalam poetry for example?’ asked Vajpayi.

But there were heartening aspects too. Sandip Datta, an archivist of little magazines outlined the story of the Bengali little magazine (now about 1,500 in number) for the audiences, which interested luminaries like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Rabindranath Tagore right down to modern writers in Bengali like Buddhadeb Bose and Sudhin Datta. Interestingly, he chose to speak in Bengali.

Even as the six day festival wrapped up with young writers from the EU discussing trends in writing and some ‘fashion’ talk by Kallol Dutta, writers from the city seemed to look forward to the annual Kolkata Book Fair, beginning end-January. Veteran Bengali poet Sankhya Ghosh says that the book fair gives you an opportunity to browse through thousands of books, which any literary meet can hardly expect to.

‘There can be academic discussions too in a book fair so a lit meet and a book fair can also happen side by side. There is no clash as I see it’ he said. Ghosh is looking forward to four of his books getting published this year, including a diary which he wrote during his stay in the US at Iowa.

Raju Barman, partner at Rupa & Co and Joint Secretary of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild also pointed out that there were differences in scale. ‘The scale of the two events are very different. The book fair is also about the book trade. There are buyers from other countries and booksellers and publishers do brisk business at the annual event’, he pointed out. So far as the city’s booklovers are concerned, the picture couldn’t get any rosier.
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