Fair's first pullout - Publisher cites Maidan damage, defers grand return after two years

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By ANASUYA BASU in Chitrakar
  • Published 20.01.07

The Save Maidan campaign has drawn first blood — Seagull Books has decided to boycott Calcutta Book Fair 2007, protesting the environmental damage that it causes to the greens.

Seagull shot off a letter to the Publishers and Booksellers Guild on Friday, announcing its withdrawal “as a gesture of protest”.

“While we feel that the Book Fair is of undeniable cultural value to the city… we feel that the environment is a much larger concern, affecting the well-being of the city far beyond the fortnight of the fair,” wrote Publisher Naveen Kishore of Seagull Books.

“We have not received the letter yet... As an individual publisher, he has every right to withdraw. We do not mind,” said Tridib Kumar Chatterjee, secretary of the Guild, when contacted on Friday evening.

“As of now, 99.9 per cent publishers have confirmed and paid,” claimed Chatterjee.

In its 25th year of publishing, Seagull had big plans for the event, as it was returning to the Book Fair after a gap of two years. But the government’s determination to keep the mela on the Maidan, while shifting out all other fairs on environmental grounds, prompted the pullout.

“We would greatly appreciate it (Book Fair) being held in a location that does not result in damaging and scarring a prominent and increasingly precious ‘green area’ of our city,” wrote Kishore.

Seagull is eager to try out new venues, even if that means lesser fair space and lower footfall. “At least let us try to hold it some place else and see how it fares. This complete lack of effort to find an alternative venue smacks of indifference,” says Kishore.

The Book Fair boycott will cost Seagull not just in terms of sales, pegged at around Rs 13 lakh, but also in terms of visibility, publicity and interface with readers and authors.

“We had a lot of plans for this year’s fair. There were launches planned for 21 new titles, including Tariq Ali’s The Leopard and the Fox, Srirupa Roy and Amrita Basu’s Violence and Democracy, Chitrakar: Binode Bihari Mukherjee and others. Special imports worth £20,000 had been brought in for the fair.

PeaceWorks, a cross-border initiative marking 60 years of Partition, stands cancelled. “We were planing to kick it off with kite-signing at the Book Fair,” said Kishore.

The kite of peace has been grounded by the war on the greens.