First Calcutta Book Fair In USA Held In Acton, MA
The first Calcutta Book Fair in USA was held on March 15 at the Luther Conant School in Acton. Organized by Calcutta Club USA, it was an innovative approach to recreating a microcosm of the annual mega Kolkata International Book Fair in India. The event replicated the intense passion and excitement of bibliophiles, prominent authors, scholars and book vendors - a mood that one commonly associates with the Kolkata Boimela (book fair).
The vision of the Calcutta Club book fair was to present, within a single hall, a confluence of Content, Culture, Communications and Cuisine, all of which were critical to evoke a nostalgic throwback to the original event. The leading South Asian writers embraced the concept and supported the book fair by video-conferencing in to the event from their faraway locations, even at inconvenient hours. The world class author and Parliamentarian, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, who once was the UnderSecretary General at the United Nations, held a lively conversation with engaged fans on diverse topics, ranging from tenets in his bestselling book "The Great Indian Novel" to his views on beauty, freedom of journalists, Incredible India campaign and the Kashmir saga. Later, Seattle's Indu Sundareshan mesmerized the audience with a tale of mystery and history, reading through her new book called "The Mountain of Light" based on the Kohinoor diamond. Veteran Indian author and activist Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni came on screen from her home in Texas, amidst thundering applause from her wide readership community in Boston.
Around the hall were vendor booths armed with an arsenal of books from past and present, in multiple languages, including English, Bengali and Hindi. The stalls did brisk business and book lovers grabbed the recent titles. The top sought English books were Palace of Illusions and Oleander Girl by Divakaruni, along with Half Girlfriend by Chetan Bhagat and some Bangla oldies. But the indisputable box office king of the Calcutta Book Fair was the English translations of acclaimed foreign language novels by Arunava Sinha, who sent 9 different books, 8 of which were sold out. At a round table near the back, a group of Bengali writers actively debated the content of their upcoming challenging panel topic - "Authors making Political Statements - should it be a responsibility or personal choice or undesirable". Nearby, several artist from RISD provided caricature and face painting services to the young visitors of the book fair, while just outside the hall, Bollywood Grill served up hot Kolkata delicacies - from Chicken/Paneer rolls, Hakka Chow and Fish Fry to Veg Chop, Beguni and Langcha. "It's a wonderful event", said Gauri Bhalakia of Tulika Books USA. "We need more of them to promote multicultural authors."
As typical of the book fair - a number of leading South Asian playwrights, authors and thought leaders participated in 4 panels - Hindi, English, Bengali and Drama. Said Dr Rahul Ray of Wayland to the organizers - "A very big and heartfelt congratulations to you to pull off the boimela the way you did." Dr Samit Bhattacharya of Waltham felt it was a great beginning. The office of Dr Shashi Tharoor reported that "he absolutely enjoyed his interactions at the Calcutta Book Fair and will definitely look forward to more such events". Hindi poet Sunayana Kachroo, who recited at the opening and saw quick uptake of her book Waqt Se Pare, emphasized that Calcutta Club should "make the event annual - like Boston Literature Festival of India".Agreed Hindi panelist Maneesh Srivastava of Chelmsford - "Can't wait till next year - honored to be part of this bookfair."
Their sentiments were echoed by Calcutta Club co-founder Chitro Neogy, who announced that "the success of the debut book fair and the show of support from the entire community has galvanized us to do the BoiMela every year, with even greater impact". He described the club, which just started in Dec 2014, as a small private group of contributing individuals, who wish to nurture and cultivate the creative ethos that Calcuttans are well known for. "I am very proud of our members", said Neogy, "Within a month, we have planned and delivered a high quality, complete and professional book fair". Seema and Harsh Kapoor, club founding members, added - "We are a club that relate closely to the spirit of Calcutta, and enjoy activities like debates, intellectual or scholarly discussions, sports, reading and of course, great food." Observed Ruma Neogy, another club co-founder - "it's all about reliving your nostalgic favorites and doing interesting, somewhat off-beat, member-led activities."
The bookfair started at 12:30 PM and ended on schedule at 5 PM after the English language panel, in which Mish Michaels, the former well known WBZ channel meteorologist, took part as an author of children's books. A brochure, containing all the names of books sold at the event, was given to all registrants.
The Calcutta Club meets once monthly. More information on the club can be obtained from www.calcuttaclubusa.com or by writing to calcuttacluboffice @calcuttaclubusa.com.
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