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Kitaab Khareedna BookFare Ka Dastoor Hai !
Feb 06, 2009 12:30 PM 8273 Views
(Updated Feb 06, 2009 12:34 PM)

I love the smell of yellow paperbacks. I still do even if I dont get time to read too many of them these days. So every time there's a book fare in my city, I look forward to visiting it a couple of times; if not to buy books then to simply relive old memories.

I've visited the Kolkata Book Fare all the last four times now. Initially when it used to be held at Maidan, last year at the Salt Lake Stadium and this year at Milan Mela Grounds opposite Science city. Compared to Maidan editions, others are definitely underattended, one because of lack of enough space and two because of inaccessibility of other venues in comparison to Maidan.

This year the arrangement of stalls in Milan Mela Ground is a bit strange. Most large publishing houses have stalls in the row of 4-5 "pucca floored" raised platforms while the regional/local publishers occupy the balance of the site. So if you are not into regional publications, most of your time would be spent on the "pucca floored platforms". Most of my favorite publishing houses like Macmillan India, Orient Longman (now Orient Blackswan), Penguin, Rupa, etc were present but I couldnt find some others like TTK and Frank Bros.

One thing that has stood out in recent Book Fares, Kolkata or otherwise, is the utter lack of good deals or bargains for book hunters. Gone are the days of 40&50%. Today, if you get anything like 20-25% off on your paperbacks you should count yourself lucky. The 10% rebate offered at most bookstalls is something you'd get from your neighbourhood bookstall too. Perhaps more than that ! I bought two Grey Penguin paperbacks "Decline & Fall (Waugh)" and "On the Road (Kerouac)" for Rs.150 apiece which would otherwise have cost me Rs.400 in the Penguin stall. Another stall was retailing "Down & Out in London & Paris (Orwell)" for Rs.65 which I left for another day. Other than this couldnt find any Bargains. Surprisingly, the cream coloured 1 pound penguin paperbacks which had become quite popular recently were seen less often & with lesser choice of titles.

Membership for both the British & American Libraries is available, the former for Rs.1900 (Classic) while the latter for something like Rs.250. Yes, you read it right. Never mind Obama and his exploits, when it comes to libraries, people still swear by the British. The British Council Stall is named "Scotland" this time round with LCDs showing Scots of every hue saying - "I'm Scottish" in every conceivable way. I dont mind that a bit. Even I'm British, aye. ;-)

There is something to be said about the selection of books offered at all major retailers like Starmark, Oxford, Crossword, etc. Most of the selection was rather shallow or superficial with large sacle showcasing of topical/contemporary titles which are even otherwise very easily available. So if you are into Arvind Adiga, you'd get your books on every stall but if you want to buy "Wilt" or "TTK Pocket Atlas" (like I wanted) or worse still something like "Mapp & Lucia", you will have to return empty handed. Maybe I shouldnt blame the retailers, maybe the situation is a reflection of our own reading habits (or the lack of it !).

If you are a book lover it better to start early at 12 and finish by 5. If you are a crowd lover it good to start at 5 and finish at 9. And if you are particular about food, you had better take some tiffin with you as the stalls mostly provide substandard and stale food and you seriously run the risk of food poisoning.

Everytime I go to a book fare I return sadder & sorrier than ever before, seeing the farce it usually turns out to be. Had Daag Dehelvi, my favorite poet been a regular at Book Fares, I guess he'd have signed off by saying something like -

"Riyayaten hain kam aur intekhaab fakat majboor hai

Kitaab khareedna magar ae Daag, BookFare ka dastoor hai"

(Riyayaten - rebates; intekhaab - choice)

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