Serpentine queues outside book stalls, crowded little magazine arena and static traffic outside — the first Sunday of the 46th International Kolkata Book Fair, being held in Salt Lake’s Central Park in northeastern part of the city, saw readers celebrate their love for books like the pre-pandemic days.
Members of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, organisers of the fair, attributed the turnout to two possible reasons.
First, the spectre of Covid, which loomed during last year's fair, is almost completely gone. Secondly, the East-West Metro service between Sealdah and Sector V has brought the fair closer to many from suburbs, who would have otherwise struggled to reach the venue.
“The ease of reaching the fairground by East-West Metro from Sealdah has made a huge difference. Book lovers from suburbs and even places farther away are turning up in larger numbers this time because of East-West Metro,” said Tridib Chatterjee, general secretary of the guild. “Besides, the fear of Covid is gone, and readers are back with a vengeance.”
Around 11 lakh people visited the fair between Tuesday and Saturday. The turnout on Saturday alone was 4.5 lakh. The organisers were certain than Sunday’s footfall would be even more.
On Sunday, the gates opened at noon. By 3pm, roads around Karunamoyee, which are usually empty on Sundays, were chock-a-block with vehicles, prompting the police to bring in additional forces for traffic management.
Among the visitors were a large number of young people, many of whom were carrying a list of books to be bought.
Amitava Dasupta, from Rabindranagar in south Kolkata’s Santoshpur, walks on crutches, but that didn't deter him from visiting the crowded fair on Sunday. He made a two-hour trip on two buses to reach Central Park.
“I wanted to see the crowd and reassure myself that the power of printed words is not all lost,” Dasgupta said. “I will come again.”
Kaberi Bhattacharya, from Singur in Hooghly district, visited the fair with her family members, including mother Basanti Roy.
“I decided to bring my mother along with us to the fair. She was hesitant at first because she needs a walking stick, but later agreed.... The Bhattacharyas stayed away from the fair last year because of Covid. This time, they hired a car to be at the fair.”
On the fairground, the crowd kept swelling by the hour leaving booksellers joyous. By late afternoon, it became difficult to move inside the pavilions. The zone earmarked for little magazines was abuzz with readers from all corners of the state.
“It has been very promising so far. The sales are already up by almost 25 per cent compared with last year’s fair, and we still have a week to go,” said one publisher.
“Ours is a new publishing house and we weren’t sure about participating in the fair since we don’t have enough titles. We were quite apprehensive while applying, but now it seems the move has paid off,” said another publisher.
His stall stands in a long row of new entrants in the world of book publication. Many of them switched to publishing books in the aftermath of the pandemic-induced job cuts.
Each of them has been allotted a small stall measuring around 50sq ft, but no one is complaining.
The Metro Railway authorities said East-West Metro’s footfall crossed 50,000 on Saturday, for the first time since the line became operational.
For the convenience of the book lovers, additional Metro services are being run from January 30, said an official.