With over 700 stalls, the Kolkata Book Fair offers a wide range from publishers known and little-known.
The year-long wait for the 35th chapter of Kolkata Book Fair ended on January 26 with 220,000 people turning up at the venue on the first day.
The theme this year is USA, which explains the elaborate white pavilion designed on the lines of the Capitol in Washington DC that stands taller than all stalls around it. The entry to the fair, which was inaugurated by Pulitzer award-winning American novelist Richard Ford, is free this time round to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. The decision to do away with tickets has cost the organisers, Booksellers and Publishers’ Guild, a revenue of Rs 40 lakh. But the West Bengal government has helped by giving the Guild an NGO status and slashing rent from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs 76 lakh.
Spread over 18.9 acres at Milan Mela ground, the fair, known to be the biggest in Asia, has 522 book stalls and over 200 little magazine stalls. Fourteen countries are participating this year. “The purpose of the fair is to reach out to readers,” says Tridib Chatterjee, general secretary, Booksellers’ & Publishers’ Guild. “And we try to encourage both new and established publishers.”
“Kolkata Book Fair is a great opportunity to attract buyers,” says Manoj V Neemkar, deputy sales manager, Sage Publications. “We come with a vast stock of books which readers can flip through or buy,” he adds. Debashree Bhattacharyya, publicity executive, Oxford University Press, says, “Most of our authors are from the eastern region. Our presence at Kolkata Book Fair is aimed not just at sales and visibility, but also to connect with our readers.”
Harvard Business Press, which is participating for the first time, has come with a range of management books which are being offered at subsidised rates. “The response is very encouraging,” says Pranab Sinha from Harvard Business Press. “Both management students and faculty are coming to our stall to buy reference books,” Sinha adds.
But not everybody is pleased. “We come every year from Delhi and we cater to Hindi readers. Our market is limited,” says Prakash Jadav of Bharatiya Jnanpith Publishers. “Even after paying Rs 54,000 as rent for the stall, we don’t get proper facilities and have to hire stands and tables from local decorators,” Jadav rues. Debananda Dam from the Tripura-based Jnan Bichitra Prakashani adds, “Despite repeated appeals to the Guild, regional publishers are always allocated stalls at obscure locations. Publishers from within West Bengal get better locations.”
Despite the hurdles, both publishers and visitors say they wouldn’t miss the fair for anything. “For us, this is like an annual festival. We save money through the year to buy books at the fair where we get attractive discounts,” says Sharmishtha Dutta, a college student.
(Kolkata Book Fair is on till February 6)