Friday, February 01, 2008

To be or not to be ...

For last five-six year, each year there's a rumour the Kolkata International Book Fair will shift its venue from Maidan due to the environmental issues. But it never changed, until last year, when it shifted to a stadium, Jubabharati Kringan. Then this year when the authorities decided to hold the fair at Park Circus Maidan, a place at the center of the city, a new row of disputs were generated and finally, on 28th January, when all the preparation for international inauguration of the book fair on 30th January was almost complete at the Park Circus Maidan, Kolkata High Court ruled that the huge fair can not be held at Park Circus Maidan. With no backup at their hand the authorities announced, the 33rd Kolkata International Book Fair stands cancelled.
These are the facts. I haven't been in Kolkata for last coupl of years, I've heard these from some newspaper, friends, etc. I am just quoting from memory, there are some more facts.
The authorities responsible for holding the book fair, the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, were served notices almost five-six years ago for shifting their venue. The reason was environment. The Maidan is the biggest source of fresh air in the city. And ten days of fair (Asia's largest book fair) was not fair on Maidan's health. It left a huge amount of pollutants in the neighbouring area destroying the gree grass shields on the ground of Maidan, this damage takes almost half a year to recover. Added to that was the poulltion caused by dust in the air to the local people and the morning-walkers. Finally one environmentalist, Subhas Dutta lodged a Public Interest Litigation for change of venue to protect the green heart of the city. And after a fierce legal battle the environmentalists won. The Guild was told to choose another venue for the fair. The Govt. promised guild another venue as it was planning to build a permanent fair ground at one side of the city. Days passed, notjing happened and as the next year came, the book fair came. Guild started to build stalls at Maidan, the environmentalists and the Army, who are the legal owner of that ground, took offence and again went to court. Guild pleaded that they were out of time, so couldn't locate a proper venue. The court graciously granted Guild to hold the fair at Maidan for the last time. The book fair was over and everyone forgot about promises. Came the 2007, Guild again started to build stalls on Maidan, the oppositioners again went to court and this time court showed no mercy. The Court ordered Guild to shift it fair and repair the damage caused by its installations. Guild, again out of time, was in hurry to find a better place. Finally they shifted to Salt Lake Stadium. Supporters of book fair at Maidan raised a hue and cry for problems of traffic and space. They said that there are so many polluting issues in the city, why only to take a toll on book fair, which is at its best only at Maidan, becuase it is Maidan! But reportedly 2007 book fair recorded maximum number of visitors. Then came 2008. Guild had already selected Park Circus Maidan for its venue. But the moment they selected Park Circus, there was protests. Park Circus is one of the most crowded part of the city. The traffic is horriblly sloweven in weekends, leave alone weekdays. Traffic jams are regular. Its a highly populated and congested area. Everyone was afraid what will happen if the largest book fair of asia is held here? How will traffic move and how will the local residents live! All these were sometime in the mid-2007. Guild answered to all questions saying, its the duty of police and civic authorities to maintain discipline in that place during the fair. They have nothing to do with it. So came another PIL. And the ruling I have already mentioned came out two days prior to the opening.
There are two fronts of people in Kolkata now. A big chunk of the intellectuals, writers, publishers and book-lovers are against the court ruling from the begining. Because Maidan is the best venue for a fair of such grandeur. So much of open space, so easy traffic and most of all, its been the venue for last 30 odd years! How can you think of any other venue when a venue becomes synonimous to the occasion! Pollution? Well, agreed that it causes a lot of pollution but, is it the only event that cuases pollution? Then why don't curb down other events first and let this great intellectual pride of Bengalis be in its place for awhile. Damn with you environmentalists, you can't control other events that is why you are so revengeful on book fair.
The other front are mainly the environmentalists and some of the commoners. They say, well, we are telling the authorities to shift the venue from quite a long time. They should've arranged for a different permanent with all the facilitites of Maidan venue by now, and the migration from Maidan could have been smoother and hassle-free. The fair, as the statistics show, is indeed on of the biggest source of pollution in the city in that locality. Why should we let it go, when you have been given other choices? Just because it is about books?
And then there is the Govt., the head of which is an intellectual, a writer (eventually his office is in Writer's Building!). They promised of a permanent fair ground near the Salt Lake long ago. I don't know how far has that gone. But surely that is still not yet ready for book fair. So it seems their agenda is more on to arrange make-shift venues for the book fair instead of giving a permanent home to it.
So that is the situation, as I see it. Even with all the warnings and notices, Guild did not even think of a backup venue. They shifted from Salt Lake stadium to the heart of the city without any backup. And when they are served with the ruling they just back off saying, enough is enough, we are not doing book fair! In this scenario I do not know who to blame! But blaming the environmentalists is just escapism. I consider myself a book lover. Though I'm out of Kolkata for last couple of year, I miss the book fair very much. Those little magazine pavilions, selling our little magazine, literary gossiping, gettign up and close with readers and authors, I miss all those. That is the reason I don't want to get the book fair go down. But it seems for the authorities some intellectuals the venue is of more importance the the fair itself! They stick to their emotion of having book fair at its old venue in spite of difficulties. I know, if book fair is not in Maidan, it might loose some its charm for sure. But that isn't enough to sacrifice the book fair itself. I belief there is game of ego and politics underlying here. And as usual a group of intellectuals who are of typical bengali talk-much-do-nothing type are supporting these egoistic stance of having book fair only in Maidan, and no where else. Some of the intellectuals are selling books at Maidan under some temporary tents, marking a protest against the demonic ruling of the court (not against the egoistic approach of not having the book fair itself, I guess). But honestly having or not having book fair is not a matter of life and death for them, its a passtime, may be a passionate pass-time
But think about a whole industry who survive on this book fair. I'm talikng about the printing and binding houses and small scale publications. They make their earning for the whole year in this ten days. There are a bunch of literary enthusiasts who wait for this ten days to get an exposure of the literary world, to meet old friends and to hear first hand reaction of their creations in some small time publication. They will definitely miss Maidan but not as much as the book fair itself.