Next winter, the New Town Boi Mela will begin on December 28 and continue till January 7, 2024. The announcement was made on the concluding day by fair committee president Urmila Sen.
The biggest highlight of the just-concluded edition iof the fair was the presence of Shankar on stage at the inauguration on December 22.
The author, who turned 89 on December 7 and came accompanied by his long-time publisher Sudhangshu Sekhar Dey of Dey’s Publishing, was felicitated on the occasion.
He started with a self-deprecating tale on the “worth” of authors. “In our time, parents did not want to marry off their daughters to professional writers. The family of an author, who went on to make a name later, was having a tough time in searching for a bride for him. Once he made it to a shortlist with a supervisor of manually scavenged toilets as competition. Even then he lost out, such is our lot,” he said, as the audience burst out laughing.
In those days, Shankar added, the word boi referred not to published texts but to films. The reason could possibly be because so many works of fiction were adapted for the big screen, with Ray's Pather Panchali being a prime example.
Shankar repeated the account of Ray's debut film being sponsored by the state government at the instance of the then chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy. “He heard the film's title and ordered for the money to be made available from the government's road development fund. But when the film was ready, word reached Ray that the chief minister was unhappy with the ending. Apu leaving the village after a storm wrecks his hut would show the government in a bad light. 'Why don't you ask the writer to have a bullock cart coming from the opposite direction, with the rider bringing corrugated sheets to repair the roof and Apu going back with him?' a minder suggested. Thankfully, Ray escaped by pointing out that the writer (Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay) was no more and he could go ahead with the original ending.”
Ray had made films out of two of Shankar's novels, Seemabaddho and Jana Aranya, which are part of his Calcutta trilogy (the third being based on Sunil Ganguly's Pratidwandi). “Before the release of Jana Aranya, I was warned that since the print of the film had been sent to the Central government, a scene or two might be deemed offensive and I should be mentally prepared to be turned in for a few days. That was during the Emergency. Thankfully, no such thing happened.”
Bangladesh being the theme country of the fair, deputy high commissioner Andalib Elias was present on stage. He pointed to similarities between the language and culture of the two peoples on either side of the border and urged the audience to read Bengali books. Dey pointed out that the pandemic had helped revive reading habits.
Hidco managing director Debashis Sen asked visitors to make the most of the warm-up session before the World Cup. “The Kolkata Book Fair will start in Salt Lake from January 31. This is your chance to buy books at great discounts without jostling in that crowd,” he told the audience.