There is never a dull moment while the Calcutta Book Fair is on. Since its inception in the 1970s, this annual carnival has faithfully provided Calcuttans with a chance to indulge themselves. From sinful culinary treats to ruining the greenest stretch of the city, the opportunities have been as varied as exciting. Understandably, people like to make the most of this hallowed symbol of culture, as does the state government headed by a chief minister who is a self-proclaimed patron of the arts. So it is a pity that such an auspicious event on the Bengali almanac should be organized with so little attention to crucial details — ensuring uninterrupted supply of power, adhering to safety standards (not long ago, the fair was reduced to cinders), having hygienic toilets, clean drinking water, and medical help on the premises are some of the basic measures without which a grand ‘international’ event like the book fair looks like a third-world amusement park.
The root of the problem, of course, has more to do with attitudes than with isolated mishaps such as the two-hour spell of darkness that engulfed the book fair at the Milon Mela premises on Saturday. Only last month, the floodlights at Eden Gardens went on a blink, stalling a one-day international match, and bringing shame on the city. But that, clearly, was not lesson enough. In this city, the so-called authorities are used to getting away with appalling standards of public service just as the taxpayers are resigned to being badly served by an administration that is run on their own hard-earned money. From potholed roads, which are veritable death traps, to polluting vehicles and the rickety underground railway network, daily life in Calcutta continues to be blighted by ineptitude and unprofessional behaviour. Until these systemic flaws are addressed, no amount of outrage would be able to solve niggling problems like power outage.