The Telegraph
Sunday , August 10 , 2014
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Bookends and new friends


Calcutta is synonymous with books and booklovers. To celebrate this eternal bond and create a platform for aspiring writers, a group of bibliophiles has got together to start the Readers’ and Writers’ Club.

The club — a joint effort by Circle Art 360, AHAVA Communications and 40A Creative Studio (Gallery Suchitra) — will also give booklovers an opportunity to interact with their favourite authors.

An evening of storytelling and bookreading marked the launch of the club, attended by Nabaneeta Dev Sen and other authors. “This will bring different generations together,” said Dev Sen while actor Jayant Kripalani found the initiative “splendid”.

Actor and author Barun Chanda urged all members of the club to go to the living room and read a poem out loud first thing in the morning. “It has a cathartic effect,” said Chanda, who read an extract from his book Coke.

Saikat Majumdar, assistant professor of English at the Stanford Humanities Center, was amused by the idea of such a club. “Reading isn’t isolated and when something is read out, it’s like watching a play. It’s communal. Calcutta in the 90s was a giant reading and writing hub. This is a profoundly changing world and we have noticed that every crisis has been a moment of great enrichment. I would like to think the same for this,” said the author and academician.

Anjum Katyal, author and editor, read out her poem inspired by Chapal Bhaduri. “It’s about a transformation of a man into a woman and then to a goddess,” she said.

The club hosted its first session on Thursday, when filmmaker Bedabrata Pain spoke about the journey from a story to a script. The director of Chittagong cited examples to explain how actors and audience play an important part in the making of a script.

The club is open to registration and donation of books.

Tiger tales

Tales of tigers and forests marked the launch of Anjana Basu’s In the Shadow of the Leaves that coincided with Jim Corbett’s 139th birth anniversary.

Basu’s story is a fictional tale of two kids, who, with the help of Corbett’s ghost, stop poachers from killing a tiger in the Kumaon Hills.

“When we were younger, we would tell each other ghost stories. A friend with whom I had gone to Nainital once told me that the guards at the Corbett National Park believe even today that Corbett’s ghost walks around in the jungles and people see blue lights all around. That inspired me to write a children’s story as it has ghosts and tigers,” she said.

The author thanked everyone who had believed in her, especially friend and filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh.

The book was released in the presence of filmmaker Anik Dutta, actor-director Vinay Sharma and wildlife expert Rishin Basu Roy.

Sharma read out thrilling extracts from the book, while Dutta shared with audience his introduction to Corbett. “My mother had got me a membership at a children’s library in Golpark and it was there that I had searched for Man-Eaters of Kumaon. I borrowed the Bengali translation and the cover fascinated me. The book’s title was written on a white patch on the black-and-yellow striped cover, just like a tiger’s hide. This white patch was like a hole with burnt edges. The back cover of the book had a similar design, that exact white patch, and I realised the circles were concentric. It was as if a bullet had been fired through the book. It was much later that I learned that the cover had been designed by Satyajit Ray,” the filmmaker said.

Roy narrated his experiences of spending nights in the jungle with tigers on the prowl nearby. More importantly, he spoke about the hazards that people living near the forests face and the increasing problem of poaching tigers. “People should be given their basic needs to curb poaching. To them tigers are a problem, as also their livelihood,” he said.

The Hunted, a film on tigers made by the British Council and shown by WWF-India and WBSO, was also screened. The film documents the problems faced by the forest department and tigers because of poaching.

Letters and lost era

In times of WhatsApp, text messages and emails, a discussion on letter writing, romance and the Calcutta of yore made for a nostalgic and relaxing evening. The occasion was the launch of Saheli Mitra’s first novel in English, Lost Words, at Oxford Bookstore, held in association with AHAVA Communications.

Lost Words is a novel about love and lust, spanning across two generations. One of the central characters, a young woman called Geet, discovers a bunch of old letters hidden between the yellowing pages of old books a few days before her marriage. The revelation leads to much upheaval.

“Handwritten letters and diaries are like pieces of literature. Personal on the surface but with an undercurrent of audience awareness. When we preserve a letter, maybe we want it to live on. Most of them are powerful evidence and have some tales to tell,” said Saikat Majumdar, one of the speakers in a panel discussion coordinated by Oindrilla Dutt, the director of Open Doors Event Management Company.

Iftekhar Ahsan of Calcutta Walks shared how the art of cursive writing is lost forever.

From letter writing, or the lack of it in today’s world, the conversation veered towards the changing face of Calcutta. “I regret letting go of the leisurely Calcutta full of old-world charm. Even enjoying a snack at Flurys is very different now. I have tried to capture that old-world flavour in my book,” the author said.

Is romance still in the air in this fast-paced digital world? “Romance is still there. Maybe the way of serenading is different but men, and women, still do serenade,” said writer and theatre actress Baisali Chatterjee Dutt.

Two letters from the novel were read out by Baisali and Reetasri Ghosh, the director of Ananta Aspen Centre.

The discussion ended with the panelists listing what they liked best about old and new Calcutta. “The Calcutta of the past had less traffic and noise but the warmth of the people remains the same,” said Reetasree.

A book-reading session at the inauguration of the French section at Oxford Bookstore. (Rashbehari Das)

French connection

Oxford Bookstore inaugurated its French books section on August 5.

The guests included authors Amit Chaudhuri and Alka Sarogi, consul-general of France in Calcutta Fabrice Etienne and Institut Francais en Inde (embassy of France in India) director Max Claudet.

Starting out with over 100 French books, the bookstore boasts both classic and contemporary fiction and non-fiction as well as French translations of the works of famous Indian authors such as Chaudhuri and Sarogi.

“This section is targeting students as well as tourists. A lot of students in Calcutta speak French. So it was necessary to make more French books available to them,” said Claudet. Etienne also congratulated Oxford Bookstore for branching out, French style.

The Delhi branch of the bookstore had opened its French section in October last year. Chaudhuri and Sarogi released the French translations of their books Freedom Song and Kali Katha, followed by a book-reading.