Thursday, January 30, 2014

Presenting, Our Book Fair Veterans


Aantels, foodies, rockstars, kleptomaniacs, poets, Romeos — here's a dekko at some of the typical visitors at Kolkata's second biggest annual festival, the book fair.

For them, Milan Mela is amader woodstock! And they are the Rupams, Gabus and Sidhus in the making. They enter in packs and always sit in a circle. No, they don't care to check out the books. You'll spot them easily in a crowd — look out for greasy hair, rock tees, multiple rubber wristbands and headbangs! Still can't find them at the mela? Follow the besuro, purono guitar and the cacophonous singing. There's also an acrid smell in the air, but let's pretend we didn't notice that!


The only words they want to read are hidden in their beloved's eyes. So they sit on and lean against every available bench and wall — all shiny eyes, tremulous lips, silent gaze — lost in each other. For, the hustle-bustle and din of the book fair, they feel, is a far better backdrop for their intimate raptures to play out. Unperturbed by the tsk-tsk of elderly people or the kids stumbling onto their "privacy", the too-much-in-lou couples hog not the limelight but the darker konas for some buk (not book!) bhora bhalobasha!


Female foeticide. Global warming. Poverty. Consumer culture. These rhyme gurus have a verse to suit every mood. So beware, if you're accosted by a mild-looking guy with a book in hand, who smiles and says, "Didi, ektu shunben?" In a second, you're leafing through a choti boi, in five minutes he's drowning you in a barrage of bad rhymes. In 10 minutes, you've paid the ransom of `50 to escape from his clutches. Of course, you're carrying his collection of poetry under your arm!


Moi @ d buk fair!" Click. Upload. "Havn candy floss @buk fair". Status updated. Although the "literal" part of these messages remain lessons in cryptography, the highly abbreviated SMs with the selfies make it to FB and Twitter as soon as the wannabes enter the mela ground. What follows next? "OMG, this place is so crowded", "The fish fry is so deep fried", "I came to buy Hunger Games!" and "Hey, I like all the covers, which book do you suggest I buy?" What did you expect? Duh!


He's been around since the first book fair. Correction: he's been around since the first book. And what is a literary event without an aantel (non-Bongs, please forgive. The word is untranslatable)? With a jhola, nerdy glasses and panjabi, the aantels arrive at the book fair once they are done pointing fingers at the "shohor", "gorment" and "bhashar obostha". They make it a point to sit for the myriad seminars which are held at the venue. Why? Well, ei toh shohorer obostha...

Book addicts

They can't choose. If they do, they choose too many. If they shortlist five, they end up buying eight. Because boi poro na poro, kinte hobe bapu! While most in this crowd are real book lovers — the ones who smell the pages and feel the engraved font on the covers — there are a few others who like to stack up their racks (we mean book racks, dimwits!) with fancy covers and "hi-fi" authors. They might be downloading ebooks through the year, but they have to visit the Kolkata boi mela.


Phish phinger, butter phish, cutlet, bhejitable chop, pokoda, chikain rolls and phuchka — burp! Let's stop pretending. We all know that gluttons of all sizes make up at least 50% of the book fair crowd. So often, the biggest queues are not outside the best stalls but in front of the Benfish outlet. Sitting on crumpled newspapers (quite possibly, that very day's paper!) and tucking into dim sheddho and komlalebu, the khai-khai people rule the fair grounds. Books? Uff, agey kheye ni!


Ei, dobka meyeta ke dekhehish?", "Komor ta norchhe... puro Howrah Sealdah, Howrah Sealdah", "Hey, I think that guy's looking at you" — these are a few things you'll hear discussed at, yes, the book fair! But then, what's a mela without a healthy dose of flirting, or like they say in English, jhaari maara! Harmless glances, sneaky smiles, a li'l bit of following around, and if you're up to it, asking for a cell number. What the heck! The fair is a great place to play the game!


This is a brilliant book". Bhanish! "Arre, ei boi ta eshechhe bajaare!" Bhanish! "That book has a great cover!" Vanish (in English!) The book fair happens to be the haunt of that band of dushtu lok — the kleptomaniac — and there's nothing you can do to make her vanish. They're difficult to pick out in the crowd, but most of them would be sporting roomy jackets or voluminous shawls to carry out the job. While some of the culprits are nabbed by fellow shoppers and guards, a few continue to make their escape unnoticed. With the fair authorities imposing stricter punishment for offenders, here's hoping there will be less golmaal around.

Harried parents

The flustered 40s in the crowd, who keep screaming, "Edike na odike", "Ei boi ta na, oi ta" and finally, "Babu, eta Miss bolechhilo na kinte?" They frown on Harry Potter, can't stand Nonte Phonte and think Fifty Shades of Grey is a guide for budding artists! They want their wards to pick up the latest encyclopaedias and stuff like A Beginner's Guide to Basic Trigonometry. They're also the ones who haggle furiously for discounts and leaf through all the pamphlets on the latest releases. Only when the necessary books have been bagged do they give in to their kids' demands for ice cream and burir chul. And then it's a long bus ride home, with a pesky kid hanging from the elbow. Jak baba, abar next year!