Sheer Melody

A mole's eye-view of the Cosmos


The Kolkata Boimela (anglicized, Calcutta Book fair), is one of those events in the Bengali calendar which every Bengali, rather Kolkatan finds tough to extricate himself from. It’s an event similar to the Durga Puja, and for some, more auspicious. There are people who have incidentally traveled miles to actually be at the exhibition, sometimes reaching Kolkata a day before it ended. The charm, beauty and sheer innocence of this attachment to an institution which celebrates literature, arts, and the sciences is something which makes me forever indebted to the city.

The boimela is organized by the Booksellers and Publisher’s guild mostly during the month of February. My memories of the boimela date back to a time when I was in the fifth grade and my appetite for books had just about taken a voracious turn. I remember a misty afternoon, serpentine queues in front of the ticket-counters, innocent wonderment at the fact that such a lot of people had actually come over to an exhibition of books. I remember subtle joy at the realization that a love for books was something to be cherished, not something which a lot of the dude-guys in school thought of as geeky. I remember my mom insisting on me wearing a monkey cap even with a full sun working wonders with the strangely chilly Kolkata afternoon. I remember my dad insisting on me buying some Bangla books, in spite of my rather limited proficiency in my mother-tongue (this I always hate to admit); and I distinctly remember caving in to his earnest requests. I remember the mad craze for Enid Blyton’s short stories and the Adventure series, spending hours in the Rupa stall, hoping and praying that the entire Adventure series had been released as one grand omnibus. I remember exulting when I did find that my prayers had been answered. I remember strolling through the food stalls, wondering at all the people who seemed to be eating more than actually shopping for books. I remember not liking the fish cutlet from Benfish, but eating it nonetheless. I remember pestering my dad for one more Tintin, making my collection half-complete. I remember coming back to our Lake Gardens’ flat, satisfied, happy, and in a mad rush to start on the Adventure series before dinner. I remember going to sleep with happy dreams of wondrous adventures, and unparalleled popularity.

Those were days of innocence; things changed as I grew older, and supposedly became a little more mature. Boimela changed from being an annual outing with parents to an event which was meant to be enjoyed in the company of friends, and a few members of the opposite sex from the sister school. I remember hoping in spite of hope that one of them would take a fancy to me. I remember a few of my friends reaching the fair drunk and stoned, me getting embarrassed and promising myself never to take to such habits. I remember desperately wanting the buy the illustrated Kamasutra, also browsing through the stalls, casually flipping the pages of the complete sex-tutorial, and finally keeping it back on the rack after disapproving stares from an old gentleman with a Charlie Chaplin mustache. I remember liking the Benfish cutlet a little more than fifth grade, and having some melted ice-cream thanks to the girls from Pratt Memorial. I remember a chance meeting with one of my dad’s friends, desperately urging my stoned friends to behave, failing miserably and finally behaving as if I had met them for the first time. I remember returning home with the collected stories of Oscar Wilde, Roald Dahl, and M.R.James, feeling sad about the same old routine of school and incompetent teachers the next day, getting depressed. Going to sleep.

College leant the book fair a charm of its own. It became a day for mass-bunking, and sometimes for mass-drinking, with the entire batch coming for one day-long binge, in which everyone got stoned, stood in front of book-stalls window shopping, had hour-long addas with the publishers of the Little Magazines, lay down on the green Maidan grass, looking up at misty grayish skies, as the scent of spring and fresh flowers mixed with that of freshly cooked food enthralled him, and the virgin dust blew in gusts over the tired bodies. It became a day for togetherness and simple pleasures, of talking and socializing, of catching up with people who you felt had become distant, a day for forgiveness and healing old wounds, and most important of all, it became a day when you realized the depth of the friendships that college had blest you with. A day long outing frequently ended with a little food and several drinks at Someplace Else, finally catching the last local back to the little village of Kharagpur, back to the hostels, back to Maity-da, all the commotion, and all the excitement of a large hostel.

Boimela means different things to different people, for me boimela and the pleasures associated with it, changed as I grew older, and never became mature. I felt changes in my personality in the way I reacted to different stalls, and different authors, and there wasn’t a better place to realize this than the Kolkata Book Fair. It was the place to be on a mildly sunny spring afternoon, with your friends, with your parents or with your love. For me the Kolkata book fair, is more than just an event. For me, it remains and will forever remain, a place to rediscover yourself, your loves, your passions and your secret dreams, and having discovered them, to take pride in those dreams and passions.

2 Responses to “Boimela”

  1. # Blogger NightWatchmen

    Hey man you brought back lot of memories. Remember going to the Hyderabad Book Fair in the Nizam grounds(and those really were days on innocence), though it was nowhere as big as it is in Kolkata. Also went to the Kolkata Book Fair once when I was in Kharagpur. The Kolkata one was huge man.  

  2. # Blogger Abhipraya

    I've been only to the ones in Chennai and that too during not so innocent days. But it was fun nevertheless. After reading this post Boimela is one more thing I have to do in Kolkata, besides being there being Durga Puja and visiting Shantiniketan.  

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