The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fair bonus with twin icons

Noorjahan Begum will not forget Wednesday afternoon in a hurry. The burkha-clad woman from Park Circus was lost in the world of books on the Maidan when her reverie was broken by a curious crowd of onlookers in front of the People’s Book Society (PBS) stall and a shout: “Taslima Nasreen eshechhe (Taslima Nasreen is here).”

Galvanised into action, the middle-aged woman jostled her way into stall no. 151. “I want to take a photograph of yours,” she screamed, aiming a fixed-focus camera through the collapsible gates at the new-look author in white shirt over white tank top, dark trousers and dark glasses.

Circled by six lady constables and an army of officers from the Special Branch, Taslima obliged with a smile and Noorjahan went away with a prized possession — the photograph of an author condemned for her “crusade for women and freedom”.

Two months to the day after the Bengal government banned her Dwikhandita, the author ruled the Book Fair — till a fictional female from the small screen dethroned her for around half-an-hour — as she released Shei Shob Andhakar, the fourth volume in her Aamar Meyebela series.

From the minute the convoy of three white Ambassadors and a pilot jeep rolled into the fair grounds at around 3.55 pm, the Bangladeshi author was the centre of attention and the 10ft-by-10 ft PBS stall was the place to be in or around.

Then, enter a show-stealer in purple salwar suit, braces and thick glasses. Jassi, secretly known as Mona Singh, took no time to steal the spotlight from the “research scholar” in Harvard University.

Cries of “Jassiiiii, Jassiiiii... drowned the talk about Taslima, as the small screen icon of Sony’s mega soap success, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin, breezed through two stalls and hundreds of frenzied fans.

Every step she took and every stop she made, every wave of the hand and every handshake was greeted with shouts and screams, as the young and the far from young tripped over each other to get close to today’s TV idol.

“We expected something like this and so we have arranged for our private security, apart from what was provided by Calcutta Police,” said a Sony official accompanying Jassi, who left the fair in a flurry.

If two celebrities stole the show on Day II of Calcutta Book Fair, the organisers didn’t seem to mind. “We have always hosted celebrities in the fair. If they can draw more people to the fair, who end up buying books, it’s good for everyone,” said Kalyan Shah, secretary, Publishers and Booksellers Guild.

Jassi’s presence was fleeting, but Taslima promises to be a permanent fixture at the Book Fair. “This is the real Calcutta and it is this love of the common people that keeps me going,” said Taslima, brushing aside a strident demonstration against her earlier in the day in the city centre. “Only a handful are against me,” emphasised Taslima, promising to be back at the Book Fair “every day”.

And from Thursday, there’ll be no gawky girl in glasses to steal the spotlight from her, either.

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