Cal trio charm book lovers - Over 200 show up at scotland fest to hear writers

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By AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 16.08.08

London, Aug. 16: Three writers from Calcutta had their moment of glory last night at the Edinburgh International Book Festival which describes itself as “the world’s biggest public celebration of the written word”.

What appears to be different about Edinburgh is that the people who throng the tents set up in Charlotte Square each year for the literary festival are drawn, not merely by the celebrity status of some of the authors, but because they are genuinely interested in books.

Last night, the main tent was nearly packed with 200 book lovers who came to hear the three writers from Calcutta — Alka Saraogi, Srijato and Rimi B. Chatterjee — and listen to readings in Hindi, Bengali and English.

Saraogi described the audience as “very receptive — I have done readings in Germany, Italy and France but the quality of the audience in Edinburgh was the best”.

Chatterjee, who was returning to a city where “my father came to study FRCS 50 years ago”, told The Telegraph today: “The people here are incredibly literary. It reminds me of Calcutta; ordinary people come (to book readings) and are incredibly clued up.”

Srijato, who was today “being a good tourist and touring Loch Lomond”, an area of outstanding beauty, was billed as “a popular poet of the Bengali younger generation”. His readings included a poem, Bombay to Goa.

Remarkably, it was at the request of the audience, which wanted a “flavour of the language”, that Saraogi read in Hindi from her 1998 novel, Kalikatha: Via Bypass, and Srijato a poem in Bengali, Bombay to Goa. They also read translations in English.

Chatterjee’s contribution was from her English-language novel, City of Love, published last year.

During the question-and-answer session that followed, Saraogi’s humorous observations about upwardly mobile Marwaris and the apparent snobbishness that separates Burrabazar from the more exclusive paras of south Calcutta provoked laughter from the Edinburgh folk who appeared all too familiar with the UK’s “north-south divide”.

At the conclusion of the formal sessions, the three managed to sell all the books they had managed to bring from Calcutta.

The three writers are guests of the British Council Scotland, which has brought them over from Calcutta to take part in Edinburgh Bookcase, a biennial showcase, in partnership with the Arts Council of Scotland, for contemporary literature. Earlier yesterday, the Calcutta authors presented their works at another function, known as the Word Power Festival.

The links will become stronger when Scotland becomes the “theme country” at the Calcutta Book Fair early next year.

Roy Cross, the director of British Council Scotland, said: “We are delighted to have the writers at the Edinburgh Bookcase. With India choosing Scotland as the theme country for the Calcutta Book Fair, this visit is the perfect opportunity for our two nations to begin long-lasting cultural partnerships.”

The three are accompanied by Samarjit Guha, from the British Council in Calcutta, who confirmed: “Calcutta is bidding for the Unesco City of Literature title. Last year, Scotland sent a lot of authors to Calcutta and although the book fair did not take place, we had many events at the Bengal Club, the Oberoi and so on.”

As part of the bonding process between Scotland and Calcutta, three authors — Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Bani Basu and Nabarun Bhattacharya — were also invited to Edinburgh last year, said Guha.

Among the writers British Council Scotland is intending to send to the Calcutta Book Fair in 2009 are Daljit Nagra, Andrew ’Hagan, Ruth Kirkpatrick, Jane McKie and Matthew Fitt.

Asked whether there was “Scottish literature”, as distinct from British literature, Malena Malbaek, who works for Edinburgh Bookcase at the British Council Scotland, responded: “Oh God, yes!”

It has also been announced that India will be the “market focus country” at the London Book Fair in April next year.