A Festival of Its Kind
Most Bengalis would assert Durga Puja is their most favourite festival of the year. I’d beg to differ slightly on that note. My heart always went out to Saraswati, the younger daughter of Durga, and the goddess of art and knowledge. She appeared to me a loner, lacking the grandeur of Durga or the glamour of Lakshmi. Nonetheless, I waited eagerly for her Puja each year since it involved books.
Born and brought up in and around Calcutta, Saraswati Puja meant the onset of spring and arrival of my favourite festival of the year, the International Kolkata Book Fair. I’ve been visiting the book fair from as early as I can recall. My father has been instrumental in inculcating the love of books into me from a tender age. He would take me to visit the book fair every year, until I was old enough to carry the shipload of books home on my own. Book fair was synonymous with a plethora of emotions for me during childhood – gearing up on a late winter Sunday afternoon to romp around the terribly dusty Calcutta Maidan , waiting in the queue to visit the esteemed publishing house stalls, taking a break with tea or ice cream and amazing savoury fish fries, gazing lovingly at thousands of books( most of which I couldn’t afford to take home) and boarding the overcrowded bus back home.
The Kolkata Book Fair occupies a sizeable chunk of my memory, spanning more than two decades now.
It is older than me in years, and it has been almost like a sibling. I used to look forward to those few days annually when I could be alone in an ocean of books.
Book fair meant love to me – love of reading, love of brushing through the glistening covers of unheard books, love of turning the pages of classics, love of filling my lungs with the aroma of freshly printed paper. The Book Fair is still growing old with me, perhaps changing a little in character as all of us ought to.
Yet it still remains my most cherished festival, the one I can’t afford to attend each year, living away from Kolkata.