Awkward moments at the Book Fair

The salesperson after a while returned and said, “We don’t have Shubhash Chandra Third Reprint.” When I corrected him the name of the book is Shubhash Chandra, third reprint is the number of time it was reprinted, he again said, “We don’t have third reprint, we only have fourth reprint”

Cultural practice is an integral part of a progressive society, This little girl came to the book fair clad in a saree and a tiara on her head. The photo was taken at the Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela on 13 February 2018
Quamrul Hassan

Amar Ekushey Boi Mela (Book Fair) has returned to its old glory as the pandemic ends. Bookaholics await the month with bated breath. Over time, the fair sprawled over to a vast area, now organised in Suhrawardy Udyan as well for the past few years.

The fair turns into festival with the girls wearing sarees, crowned with flower-tiaras, men wearing panjabis, kids with faux tattoos on their cheeks, carrying balloons. You might feel little underdressed if you just go there in jeans and tees.  But who cares?

It was the fourth day of the fair on Saturday. Crowds poured in as it was the weekend. People roaming around outnumbered those actually halting at the stalls and buying books. Unlike me, some may liberally say, at least they are in close proximity of books and who knows, someday people will buy and read more books.

There was construction work still going on at Suhrawardy Udyan on Saturday. Children at the kid’s zone were busy demonstrating Darwin’s theory! Right beside that were stalls of children’s books where salespersons were showing the books to parents. Most of the comics in Bengali were about ghosts. The word 'bhoot' (ghost) was written in bold on the covers. I hardly believe children of this era with their smartphones and computers as if they had a crash-course on gadgets, would really believe or be interested in funny ghost stories.

The man totally destroyed in front of his female friend says, “I am not quite a fan of old books” and leaves

Jokes apart, first we went to the Batighar publication stall. While we were looking through their brochure, a couple came up. The young man picked a copy of ‘Damaru Charit’ (Epic of Damarudhar) by Trailakyanath Mukhpadhyay and asks the salesperson, is he a new writer? The brutally blunt salesperson replied, “No he died in 1920 (actually in 1919).” The man, totally destroyed in front of his female friend, retorted, “I am not quite a fan of old books” and leaves. The awkwardness will linger on, for sure.

Whenever I go to bookstalls or the book fair, I like to get the salesperson’s opinion of any particular book. I expect, maybe most of readers do the same. The person on the other side of the counter should have a minimum idea about the content. This year in Ekushey book fair, I came across a significant number of salespersons having no clue of what they are doing in a book fair. For instance, in a notable publication’s stall, I asked for a book on Subhas Chandra Bose listed in the catalogue. There was mention of reprint number beside every book title in bracket. The book I was looking for was the third reprint. The salesperson after a while returned and said, “We don’t have Subhash Chandra Third Reprint.” When I corrected him, that the name of the book is Shubhash Chandra, and third reprint is the number of time it was reprinted, he again said, “We don’t have third reprint, we only have fourth reprint.” By that time I was brain-dead!

Besides, every time I asked for bookmarks after buying books, either the salespersons were giving me catalogues or giving me a blank look, having no clue until I verbally explained a bookmark is a piece of paper to keep track of the pages. Now I knew why dog-eared books exist! No wonder I never lend books!

While passing another stall, I saw many new faces, some of them new poets, emerging fiction writers and so on. I halted and started checking some of the books. A salesperson said, this one has really good poems, ma'am, please check. I turned the page and found out it was fiction, a thriller maybe. I asked, “Really, which one did you like the most?” Again, that blank face! I felt bad for the poor boy and instantly scolded myself for being so mean. Before I could make amends, I looked at his face and I knew he was cursing my forefathers in his head!

After being rather rude to many others, I was finally leaving the ground. I was parched and looking for hawkers selling mineral water. Then I encountered a little scuffle between a man and a couple. Jars of drinking water by WASA have been installed in the fair for visitors as hawkers are barred inside. There was a plastic mug tied with a string lest it be stolen. A man filled a bottle, kept it by the tank. Meanwhile the couple came and the woman started drinking from the bottle thinking the bottle was also provided by the authorities. The owner of the bottle came running and started shouting. Such an awkward moment for the water-bottle, the rest were busy fighting with no time for being awkward!

Book fair is not only about selling and buying books, or about publications and writers. It is about stories, stories about humans-some printed, some manifested. The awkward moments are some of those stories come with darker sides, discrepancies and deep-rooted problems we happen to ignore mostly. Above everything, Book Fair means emotion, love for language and emancipation. Let's cherish that!