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Book fair

Kolkata book fair in full flow with top authors like Shankar, Sanjib & Sirshendu

Some queued to collect autographed copies, many admirers also walked up to click pictures with the 88-year-old author

Sudeshna Banerjee | Published 11.03.22, 12:20 PM
stalwarts in sight: Author Shankar signs one of his novels at the Book Fair on Saturday. (Right) Sirshendu Mukherjee addresses the audience at the SBI auditorium as Sanjib Chattopadhyay sits next to him.

stalwarts in sight: Author Shankar signs one of his novels at the Book Fair on Saturday. (Right) Sirshendu Mukherjee addresses the audience at the SBI auditorium as Sanjib Chattopadhyay sits next to him.

Picture by Sudeshna Banerjee

It was a welcome sight at the Book Fair to have top authors brush shoulders with readers and sign books at stalls.

Shankar visited Dey’s Publishing on Saturday to promote his Eka Eka Ekashi, an autobiographical account which earned him the Sahitya Akademi award in 2020, and his new book Satyajit Satabdi. A table was set up outside the stall with a separate counter for the sale of his popular titles. While some queued to collect autographed copies, many admirers also walked up to click pictures with the 88-year-old author.

“I have been coming to the book fair for 45 years now, which is as long as the fair has been held. My publisher did not participate in the fair in the first couple of years but I did visit a couple of stalls which were selling my books. They had invited me. I am in no physical state to walk around the fair any more but it did feel good to meet readers of Bengali literature. I have no count of the number of books I autographed,” he said.

His latest title Satyajit Satabdi includes not only the two novels Seemabaddho and Jana Aranya which Ray adapted on film but also his memories of interactions with Ray and his review of Pather Panchali. “I had written that for Anandabazar Patrika. The request came from the editor, saying that Satyajit babu wanted me to write one on the occasion of the silver jubilee year of the film. I had watched the first show of the film on the first day at Bina cinema on Cornwallis Street by sneaking out of office. When I said I did not remember the film in detail, a show was arranged for me at a small theatre upstairs. It was quite a feeling that a film was being screened only for me! However, midway through, there was a creak of the door opening and a second viewer came in. When the lights came on at the end I realised that was Satyajit Ray himself!”

Shankar left after spending a couple of hours at the fair.

On Sunday, not one, but two veteran authors — Sanjib Chattopadhyay and Sirshendu Mukherjee — attended the fair. For both, it was the second visit to the fair. And it was the first place that either of them was visiting after the pandemic.

Chattopadhyay, as reported earlier, had attended the Book Fair inauguration on March 7. That day, he and Mukherjee were on the same stage at SBI auditorium for the 54th anniversary celebration of the children’s magazine Kishore Bharati.

“I forgot my age and came over. Day before yesterday when I stepped out of the fair, I felt like I was returning after inhaling extra oxygen,” said Mukherjee.

The 15-minute monologue by Chattopadhyay, witty, deliberative and philosophical, that concluded the hour-long programme must have similarly oxygenated the audience.

The 87-year-old author started out by reflecting on the war ravaging Ukraine, without naming the countries involved. “Brilliant research, writing of great books and showering them with Nobel prize is not stopping war. As we are holding a book fair here, a war is on in Europe. What books will they read? What literature will serve them? Do we, authors and readers, have a say or even the right to live? It seems only the muscular have to seem to have cornered those rights,” mused Chattopadhyay.

Listeners got a taste of his typical self-deprecating humour when he described himself as a safety valve of a pressure cooker. “I used to wonder why publishers print my books when they do not sell. One told me that they needed to show some losses in the audit books to reduce taxes on profit. ‘You are that valve that is shown as loss. Don’t you think of yourself as a big author,’ he told me,” said the author of umpteen best-sellers, causing laughter all round.

Someone asked me recently: ‘Apni ekhono achhen (Are you still around?)?’ I replied: “Ekhono toh chhaya pore,’” referring to the belief about a tell-tale trait of ghosts who are said to lack reflections.

Appealing to people to buy books, he lamented that the heat and dust had a telling effect on the longevity of printed texts. “One of the four legs of a bed at home was wobbly. A carpenter took a hard cover book of mine and pushed it underneath, making it stable. I was thrilled to see some practical use of my writing finally,” he said, to uproarious laughter.

There was by then a crowd gathered at the edge of the stage, clicking the authors. And after the programme when they retired for refreshments, admirers queued up outside the VIP chamber in the hope of getting copies of their works signed. Which the two veteran authors did, patiently and happily. After all, they too had been denied this pleasure by the Covid-enforced break that the Book fair had suffered last year.

Last updated on 11.03.22, 12:20 PM
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