Kolkata Book Fair - a potpourri of memories

My association with the Book Fair goes back to the days when I had just started bearing the idea of what books were. I was born in a typical Kolkata family where books are valued and archived. This is one of the many common things which run in the households of my city, the others being a compilation of Tagore’s works, immense love for all culinary delicacies  and an album of Mohiner Ghoraguli.

“Book Fair! So it is an entire fair dedicated to books?”

“Yes, lots of books from home and abroad.”

My father had a rather simple way of explaining the concept of a fair dedicated completely to books to me.

That was many years ago. Since then, many things have changed -“Calcutta” is now called “Kolkata”, the venue of the fair has moved from “Kolkata Maidan” to a much more organised and environment friendly “Milan Mela grounds” and I have outgrown a grey hair or two.

In between all that, the book fair has managed to become something that I look forward to, every year. Not only because it is about one of my favourite things – books, but also about a few of my favourite people.

The Book Fair was not just a matter of a few days; it was months of preparation and hard work for the the organizers as well as the writers. Way back in the late 90s, when Facebook and Twitter were a near future, the writers and translators depended on these fairs as a platform to get known to the world.This annual cultural event is actually potpourri of books, friends, nostalgia, music, food, people and of course, ‘adda’.

My first memories of the book fair relates to buying “Nonte Phonte” comic books or Chinese short story books translated in Bengali while holding my father’s hands. He was the one who introduced me to the world of 'Calcutta' Book Fair. During those days, the fair used to be held at Kolkata Maidan. I was barely six or seven and the mighty gates, huge crowds and the sight of the imposing Victoria Memorial nearby, sketched a picture of molten warmth wrapped Kolkata winter in my mind. Somehow, that is one imagery of Kolkata that has remained with me always.

I used to stare at the huge volumes of “Sarat Rochonaboli” or works of Sunil Gangopadhyay on the racks while my father said – “Ogulo na boroder boi, boro holey porbey, kemon?” (Those are books for grown-ups. You can read them when you are a grown-up too.)

Time, they say, waits for none. While ‘growing up’ I still visited Book fair religiously with my father every year but I also went back several times every year along with my friends. I progressed from Feluda to a more mature Byomkesh or the complex Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot on the ‘detective’ stories front.

My annual trips to book fair also gradually turned out to be ones where I would buy new novels of Suchitra Bhattacharya, get acquainted with the classic works of Jane Austen and Ashapurna Devi.

I was not living anymore in Kolkata when the venue shifted to Milan Mela grounds. As I read the news, my heart longed for the the Benfish stall right in the middle of the fair. Okay, I confess. I ate all of them. Because one should never book-hunt on an empty stomach. Or discriminate between the Coffee House laddoo, the Rollick ice cream, the Fish Fry from Benfish and the Paan from Mantu’s.

I did not attend the fair for many years in between. When I returned to live in Kolkata again, many a fancy new book stores had opened up in the city while the eternal College Street was always there, yet the joy of smelling a bag full of fresh new books bought at the book fair had not waned a bit. Just the way, the ritual of holding hands with your first love and gathering at the book fair to share your story with a set of trusted friends never gets old.

The eternally youthful city the continues to discuss which stall has the biggest queue, which new author is asking the most uncomfortable questions through the pen or just breaks into a new song of hope, every now and then.

Kolkata Book Fair is actually a celebration of our lives, of good old charm of Kolkata, of winter afternoons, of books and old friends and first loves – first loves which were about old Bengali classics and the fragrance of the ‘forbidden’ hidden inside the first read Saratchandra novel.

Body Shaming – The Ugly Humor

I’ve come to terms with my body: I will never be skinny.

I was never naturally skinny. My bones are huge, I’ve had big muscles since I was five years old, and I put on weight eating anything that enters my body, healthy or unhealthy. Over the years, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. I’m not skinny anymore, but I’m also not fat. I’m just normal ME.

I’ve done it all: exercise and diet, only diet, diet pills, water bloat pills, only exercise, starving, starving and exercise, and eating like a completely normal person.

I’m tired of fighting my body. It’s a constant battle to fight how it wants to look with the way I want it to look. I could sit here and name hundreds of celebrities that I wish to look like, but I will never look like them. I won’t give up on eating healthy, I won’t give up on exercising, I won’t give up on taking care of my healthy, but I will give up on false hope, false imagine, and false goals.

Being judged is never nice. It is harsh and cruel and can lead to so many lasting damaging results; you wouldn't call someone an asshole to their face because you understand how hurtful this could be, so why is it any different to see someone over weightweight and say the same thing?

My answer? society. On a daily basis we are inundated with juice fads, new diets to try, new instagram filers and apps to remove any flaws. We are bombarded with ways to make our lives, our bodies and our social media accounts 'perfect', without giving a second thought to what 'perfect' actually entails.

I’d tried

to look like people that I will never be. Telling myself I will look like someone if I eat this or do that is just a lie I keep telling myself to validate my actions. I want to look like the best version of myself, not anyone else. I’m going to stop posting “inspo”, or “fitpiration” of other girls. I could eat the same diet, do the same workouts, but I will never look like them. Everyone’s body is different and we forget that sometimes. We just get upset with ourselves when we don’t reach goals or see the results we hoped for.

A number, whether on a scale or on a measuring tape, cannot quantify the value that you have. It cannot count all the ways this world needs you. It can't define your health or project your success. Your weight does not measure your worth.

Fat-shaming is the reality of the world we live in. There are still huge numbers of people in the world who feel good about themselves by shaming other people’s bodies.

And, when a woman’s body is in the question, the majority have their own view of the “perfect body.” Unfortunately, the definition of the perfect body has no room for what the body-shamers like to call, “the ugly fat.”

A fat woman, a thin woman, a short woman, a tall woman, a fair woman, a dark woman, you have left none outside your body shaming loop. If a woman is fat, you say she is very fat, if she is thin, you say she is very thin. If she is fair, you say she shouldn’t have been that fair, and if she is dark, you say she can’t be seen in the night! But you have made it certain that your comment has to be passed on every woman you encounter. And when I say “passing the comment,” it doesn’t necessarily imply eve-teasing. It also includes you judging her, solely on the basis of her body, albeit in your own minds, or whispering it to friends of yours.

It’s as if we as a society are not happy with the way women are. We always try to find flaws in her, however trivial or imaginary the flaw may be. It seems that we are searching for something out-of-the-world, some imaginary “perfection” in women’s bodies. And if a woman doesn’t possess this imaginary “perfection” in her body, she is not considered as “beautiful”. This herd mentality of judging a woman, based on her height, skin colour, body shape and size, has grown into a mass hysteria wherein young boys and girls, not older than 12 or 13 years of age, start having these notions of the ideal body and pressurize themselves to the extent of going into depression, just because they are constantly mocked at by their peers, or the society in general.

The next time you see a friend stressing over a couple of extra kilograms, offer her a compliment. Tell her about how beautiful her smile is or how her strikingly pretty eyes are a dream. Or put your arm around her shoulder and rave about how sharp her dressing sense is, would it be possible to snag a consulting session? The way we talk to our girls will go a long way in defining what they grow up to be like, it’ll matter, it’ll leave behind an everlasting impression.

Banter of a Lazy Mind

Poo-nah became Pu-nay. Along the way, the hobbling pensioner town turned into a dancing, trancing, blond sanyasin, and then a preening IT girl.

Getting on the map now also means getting into the jihadi’s crosshairs. Pune recently learnt that there are many ways of being global. Just as Mumbai did, or Bangalore, Hyderabad, Jaipur, or any in that bloodied litany.

In the simpler ‘Poonah’  times,  if you were a Parsi growing up in Bombay, you treated this salubrious little town as your  ‘monsoon capital’ much as the Presidency colonials had done. You played amidst the ancient trees in your getaway bungalow, pigged out on high teas at the Club, or later, in as obligatory rite of passage, varroomed up the
ghats on daredevil motorcycles.

But even in faraway Calcutta, the loveliest mothers of my friends had all been ‘Poona girls’. Little did we know of its Peshwa glory, its literary fame. Less did we care. ‘Poonah’ was a state of mind before the big C’s of commerce and concrete ate into the idyll with carcinogenic greed. And ruined the climate too.

I had a Wordsworth moment the other day.

It was a warm, sleepy Pune afternoon at my society's park. With my headphones on, I went for a lazy stroll. Everybody in the park was happy, mellow and relaxed. Even the icy expression on Aunty Victoria's statue seemed to have thawed a bit in the afternoon breeze.

The sunlight filtering through the treetops made beautiful dappled patterns on the duck pond. It reflected off the oiled heads of a lone couple under a sprawling banyan, and brought the bald pate of a man asleep on a bench, into dramatic focus. A bunch of burqa clad women were busy picking fallen leaves out of their lunch boxes as they sat in a circle, giggling.

Everything was just as lazy as it could get. Then it suddenly took me back to my...well Calcutta days.

I still remember those lanes that led to my school, and a friend's house next to the school, where I've spend hundreds of lazy afternoons. I used to wait for the school bus, standing in front of a shop that sold hot "kochuri" in the morning, and it was always crowded. The school bus gave a short tour through the crowded South Calcutta streets as it picked up my friends waiting at different stops.

And then, stepping out of school and landing up in University opened the door to a completely new world for me. It was during my college days that I actually started exploring the city, got closer to her, and fell in love with her every now and then.

Walking down from college to home was something I loved, and I had numerous reasons for enjoying the walk...The friend who accompanied me and the conversations we had, the Benfish bus that offered Prawn cutlets in front of Dakshinapan, the Elaichi-chaa at Gariahat.

There were countless days when I bunked college and roamed around Nandan, or took a walk around the St.Paul's Cathedral. Tibetan Delights, a shabby restaurant in the dingy Elgin Road lanes, serving excellent momos and soup was my favorite. A friend, who came from a far away land, used to insist me to get my books and to sit and study at the gardens next to Victoria Memorial. We hardly read a line, and spend the afternoons laughing and gossiping. It seemed that she knew Calcutta more than I did, and I often used to wonder how she knows all the details about the places. Perhaps that's the way things unfold - we are always more eager to know about things that are distant to us. Surprisingly, she showed me a lot of Calcutta that was unknown to me. It was more fun to explore with her because people (autowalas, shopkeepers mostly) got amazed when she used to speak in Hindi and at times broken Bangla.

I think am aging. Wait. No! I think there's so much that Calcutta has to offer, I guess I can never pen-down everything... Now that I've moved out of the city, I look back and cherish all of that. All the memories are intrinsically weaved with certain people - those people who added colors to my life. May be it is only when you cease to do the things you have to do, and do the things you like to do and you want to do, that you achieve the highest value of your time.

Last time when I was in Kolkata – which I still think of as Calcutta – and am glad to report that it’s much as it’s always been. The old Howrah bridge is there, and the Victoria Memorial, and the Maidan with its vendors selling spicy jhaal moori flavoured with mustard oil, and puchkas – what north Indians called golgappas – flavoured with something you really don’t want to know about. But what pleased me most was that the most Kolkatan thing about Kolkata – or indeed, all of Bengal – was not just in evidence but was obviously going from strength to strength: the institution of the adda.

Other communities pass the time in idle chatter and gossip. Not so the Bengali. There is nothing idle about his chatter or gossip, which goes by the local name of ‘adda’. For the Bengali, adda is not mere time-pass; it is a timeless passion. It is a conversation devoutly to be wished, and the Bengali spends hours at it, convinced of the profound truth that adda is not a waste of time, but rather that time is a waste of adda. What is the topic of discussion at an adda? Anything and everything, from mountains to molehills, from the sublime genius of Manikda (Satyajit Ray to you) to the stepmotherly treatment meted out to Sourav Ganguly by the raskails (rascals) who run the IPL.

Oh! Calcutta.

Snap! Back to reality. As I turned back, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Nothing quite prepared me for what I was about to see. An ocean of roses. Of every colour and shape. Some as big as two palms cupped together. All in bloom, all at once.

I spotted the old favourites that my grandmother had taught me to name: The baby-pink Eterna, the lavender Whiskey, the delightfully fragrant yellow-and-red Double Delight, the blood red Prince Edward. And hundreds of nameless but astoundingly beautiful others. Absolutely breathtaking.

Like "Amchi Mumbai", there's "Apla Pune". There's nothing more beuatiful than a quiet spring afternoon in Pune. The city has its own charm. So I put on my headphones back and start humming...

"I'm sitting here in the boring room
It's just another rainy Sunday afternoon
I'm wasting my time
I got nothing to do
I'm hanging around
I'm waiting for you
But nothing ever happens and I wonder."

Why you need to be present for a reading

I have been contacted by many to do readings over the phone. Well, in this virtual world I guess it is justified. However, what I believe, it takes focus and concentration while picking up the cards for a better reading.

The more focused and concentrated you are when you ask your question and the more emotion behind the question before your tarot card reading the better answer you will receive. Your subconscious will help you choose which cards you most need to see at that moment in time. You may not like the answer, but you will receive an answer.

I have also had experiences where the same cards will come up in a reading multiple days and even weeks in a row. This is because you haven’t addressed the issue in your subconscious mind. Take some time to research in more depth the meanings of the specific tarot cards and really think about how it applies to your life.

Tarot is a great method and way of learning about your life and what would be a good idea to be concentrating on right now. Learn about the things that are affecting you at this point in time. It gives you a good feeling to get some answers and gain security and knowledge of positive knowing. Even if you don’t like the response, at least you can know how to deal with what the cards are telling you and what is coming up in the near future if you stay on your current path.