Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Happy fish fries dipped in purono kashundi....

I realised for the umpteenth time that life is like a Subway sandwich (the one in which you put all the veggies and the sauces). No matter how meticulously you try to eat the thing, without the sauces or the vegetables being dropped on the tray, all you meet is heartbreak. A drop of sauce will fall down, break its crown and a slice of lettuce will come tumbling after. So what? You will still gobble up the entire thing, burp and feel happy in the end. Right. In the end, we do things that make us happy.

I did many. 

I am also writing after many many days. That makes me happy.

In the midst of the smoke and soot, one of the happiest things that happened was the Kolkata Book Fair. I visited boi mela with my parents. Just the three of us (I wish the sibling was here too).

Baba had an unusual way (unlike most parents) of Book Fair visits. He would take me along with him, we would be together for some time and then he would ask me to explore on my own. This started very early in my life and so far as I remember, I was in class 6 or 7 when this ritual started. He would rummage through his favourites while I would be left on my own, choosing and picking what I liked. Since there was no cell phone, he would fix a time when we would meet near the Guild Office. Baba’s mantra was: “If you ever feel you’re lost, just find your way to the Guild Office and make an announcement. I will find you.”

We were there in the Book Fair for more than 6 hours that day. The Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Guild office was still there. But not a single missing-person-announcement could we hear! “Bansdroni theke eshecho Babloo; tumi jekhanei thako, Guild Office er shamne chole esho. Tomar Baba–ma ekhane opekhha korchen” has disappeared into oblivion. When we were very small, one such announcement and the grip around my father’s fingers would tighten. Where have all these announcements gone? Mobile phones picked them everyone.  :(   

In addition to the Eiffel Tower of new books he would buy every year, Baba also bought used and old books and magazines. His children turned out non-exceptions. I remember my brother buying a second-hand Shakti Chattopadhyay book from College Street which was author-signed!! At the book fair, I find old magazines fascinating. Every year, I make sure I buy some. More than the articles, what amaze me are the advertisements on print. This is this year’s favourite of them of all (an advertisement by the Central Tea Board) published years back. Someone was right. In simplicity, lies the ultimate sophistication.

There were a few more. While Keo Karpin and P.C. Chandra still exists (the animated woman in the latter replaced by Deepika Padukone and the likes), this simplicity and warmth has gone hibernating. Similarly, ‘Lungi’ advertisements and ‘biscuits in tins’ are obsolete (Of course, fancy cookies in tins are still available, but I am offffviously not talking about them). And, you know what! All these magazines were published at a time when my parents didn’t even complete the first decade of their lives (between 1960 to 1964, that is) :D 

Old books also remind me that some of the publishers have come out with reprints of the originals. The original covers, fonts, size of the book are all kept intact and published afresh. ‘Pagla Dashu’, ‘Toontoonir Boi’, ‘Haw Jaw Baw Raw Law’ are some of them. Preciousness!  

Baba used to buy books. And buy more books. When his arms gave in, he would keep the packets in one particular (friendly) book stall and say “egulo rakhben, ami aro kine phirey shob eksathe niye jabo” (Take care of these books, till I come back). Packets would be deposited in several installments and in the end, those would be distributed among all his family members who would carry 6 to 7 packets each and come back home. This year, he was not the only one who did that. Genes!

Genes! In at least 4 shops, Baba and I discovered, while billing, that we have chosen (separately, of course) the SAME books. What goose-bumps-filled coincidences they were!  To add to the thrill, ALL those books were rare/unusual books. I was about to keep them away, when Baba pointed out, “Don’t. Keep one for your house as well”. So we bought one copy each. While, we secretly felt happy at the concurrence of our choices, I think we both gobbled up the lumps in the throat at the thought that we live in two different houses.

But then, Book Fair always has happy things in store that dilute all lumps in the throat. In one of the stalls, I found this book on Gorky. The picture instantly reminded me of Apur Shonshar. And, that drew a smile.

I also feel immense joy in discovering small pockets of ‘entrepreneurship’ in the midst of these huge events. Every time there is a match at Eden Gardens, there are people who make quick money by painting Indian tricolor on the cheeks. Five for a single cheek, ten for two. One such at the Book Fair is covering the newly bought books with cellophane (read molat). People dump their bags full of books and these gentlemen constantly put jackets around them. (picture on bottom left).

The huge display of art on the ground also makes a very happy sight. The dominance of Rituporno Ghosh and Suchitra Sen over Ma Durga, Rabi Thakur and Uttam Kumar in terms of portraits was this year’s highlight. I make it a point that alongside books, I buy at least one piece of art from the fair. The umbrella (picture on top left) was this year’s loot. Hand-painted patachitra on ‘K.C. Paul-er chhata’.

I did not notice the Benfish stall this time. I saw ‘Fish Fish’ selling like hot cakes, sorry fish. One fish fry was for 80 Rupees. Baba whispered, “Had it been Benfish, I would have said, ‘What will you eat?’. The prices at Fish Fish make me say, ‘What!! Will you eat?’“. :)

Because Book Fair and Valentine’s Day are next door neighbours, I didn’t miss the chance of impressing that special someone. “Shohag” is Artist Ramananda Bandopadhyay’s personal diary of words and art on print. “Protikhhon” (the stall from where I bought it) had a Pandora’s Box of collection. Rarest of rare books, diaries, and paintings. Abanindranath Thakur’s diary in which he penned anecdotes for his grandson was also on print. He used the diary as a scrap book and each page had either paper cuttings or self-sketched pictures to make it interesting for the grandson. The print is an EXACT representation of the same. *put-me-into-the-ventilator-moment* 

To make my situation worse, the owner decided to offer a discount of 35% on the books, instead of the usual 10% for some his chosen customers. ;)

To add to the happy things, a slice of “chhelebela” made its entry into my book shelf in the form of Nonte Phonte Somogro. :D

 Good things come to an end. So does the Book Fair. What remains is the Kolkata Police placard which guides you with right ‘directions’….towards the book fair.