The Kolkata Literary Meet,the promise of rubbing shoulders with dignitaries and the general attraction to the book fair drew crowds by the thousand on Sunday,the first weekend after the fair started. However,with new restrictions placed on pedestrians,the crowd comprising hundreds walking in files along the Bypass,to get in and out of the fair,started to get restive. “You have to walk almost a mile to get to the bus stop. It wouldn’t be so much of a bother if the pavements and roads were properly maintained. There’s so much dust and sand even on the pavements that my son is coughing endlessly,” said Rakhi Mitra,a housewife from Tollygunge who was at the fair with her 8-year-old son. The construction of the east-west Metro corridor added to the pedestrians’ woes. Another visitor was overheard,saying,”Eto College Square er pandal er moto bhir (The crowd’s as huge as the ones during Durga Puja at College Square pandal)”. The footfall at the fair on Sunday evening was 2,50,000.
Despite all the passes for the meet being booked days in advance,the first couple of days didn’t register packed houses at the various sessions. The meet was opened to everyone thereafter and started drawing the crowds. While the crowd was a healthy mix of fans,literary enthusiasts and journalists,there was also a large number of weary book shoppers who had just come to cool their heels – literally – at the air-conditioned literary meet and UBI pavilions. “There are a lot of people who have come in just like that. It is very embarrassing when people get up noisily with shopping bags and leave the hall when a discussion is on full swing. This doesn’t reflect well on the reading culture of the city,” said Rahul Mitra,a US-based techie who was in town for vacation and was attending the literary meet.
One of the stalls that attracted the most number of visitors was the sleek stall set up by the Income Tax Department. The stall,equipped with flat screen TVs,computers etc,was set up to dispense knowledge about tax structures,tax savings,among other details. Sit-and-draw competitions were organised for children at the stall so that parents could read brochures and pamphlets on IT at ease. Consultants,including a receptionist who directed people to the right consultant,were also present. “We are here to increase awareness about the necessity to file IT returns on time and also help people with their queries. A lot of people think government departments take ages to answer queries. We are here to dispel such myths,” said a consultant at the stall.
While booklovers deliberated over books,which ones to buy or not,at the stalls set up in the fair,books were also up for grabs right outside the fair. On the pavement running along the Science City,a bunch of booksellers grabbed the opportunity to make a few bucks. There were some with neat pirated copies of bestsellers like Chetan Bhagat,Harry Potter,the Twilight series and Amitav Ghosh,among others. While Bhagat sold for anything between Rs 40-50,the most expensive was Harry Potter (Rs 100). However,their takers were few and far in between. “We sell more copies at our pavement stalls on Park Street,” said Raju Ghosh,who had arranged his books on a low wall for sale. But others didn’t have to offer the same fate as Raju. Mostly because their books sold for anything between Rs 3 to Rs 10. “I am giving three 10-page colouring books for Rs 10. I have sold 50 copies in two days. My most expensive book is a collection of 100 best love sms-es. That has been selling too. Mostly the young people pick up the books,” a vendor said.