Whispers from the land of books

by Rummana Ferdous Fagun

photos by Abdullah Apu

ITH the beginning of a new year, starts the countdown for the month-long celebration that is Amar Ekushey Granthamela (popularly known as Boi Mela). Like the fresh spring breeze, it brings an air of festivity for bookworms and visitors alike. The best treasure of this book fair is randomly finding a piece that not only you relate to but get to cherish throughout life.
Although various small book fairs go on throughout the year, no one can deny the charm of Boimela’s Bangla Academy and Suhrawardy Uddyan and becoming immersed in a crowd of bibliophiles amid a sea of books. However, the first ever Boi Mela was not so grand. It was initiated by one good soul, Chittaranjan Saha. To commemorate the Mother Language Day, a week long programme was held in Bangla Academy premises and on February 21, 1972, Chittaranjan Saha decided to honour the language martyrs by sitting on a gunny bag under the banyan tree of Bangla Academy and sold 32 titles of his publishing house, Muktadhara. A few other publishers gradually joined him and every year the number started increasing. In 1978, Bangla Academy collaborated with Bangladesh Pustak Prokashok O Bikreta Samiti (Bangladesh Publishers and Booksellers Association) and officially arranged a book fair for the first time and the tradition has continued till now. It was named ‘Amar Ekushey Granthamela’ in 1984. Since then, every year the fair has been growing bigger and bigger, including more and more publishers every year flourishing into the grand celebration it is today.
The best thing about Boi Mela is that you can buy the books straight from the publishers and don’t have to roam around random bookstores to find your desired book. On top of that, you get 25% commission on any book you buy. There is also a ten percent cashback offer for paying with Bkash. So, this is the time to build up your book collection with classics like the Syed Mujtaba Ali Shomogro from Bishwo Shahitto Kendro which only cost around Tk 3000, or two of the Shahittokirti Gronthomala sets of 12 books each (collections of classics) from Adorn Publication for around Tk 3,000 per set. You can also treat yourself with the 14 part Humayun Ahmed Uponnyash Shomogro with the exceptionally beautiful covers from Oboshor for Tk 450-500 each.
Though you never go bankrupt buying books, you might end up spending more than you intended to. Books have a way of speaking to you as if they have a life of their own enticing you to take them home. There are thousands of books to choose from publishers like Ananya Publishing House, Onno Prakash, Pearl Publications, Batighar, Panjeri Publications, Bengal Publications, University Press Limited and the list continues. In the vast area combining Sohrawardy Uddyan and Bangla Academy, there are more publishers than you can visit in one day. There is a total of 455 publishers and organizations this year to be exact.
Publishers and writers try to bring out new books during the fair making it easier for readers to get a hold of it. This year the fair is teeming with both classics and contemporaries. Newer writers are given a platform to display their books in front of a larger audience, like Ayman Sadiq’s (founder of 10 minutes school) new book Never Stop Learning. It is also a way for celebrated writers to get word out about their new books as well; like Mohammad Zafar Iqbal’s new book CyClone published by Tamrolipi. If you’re lucky enough, you might even get to meet the writers personally. Boi Mela has been a hub for writers and literary enthusiasts for years now. Overall, it is a great place to be regardless of the time of the day. The only disheartening thing is that Boi Mela now opens its gates for visitors at 3.00 in the afternoon during weekdays and 11.00 in the morning only during Fridays and Saturdays.
The morning time of the festival is called Shishu Prohor, a time allotted specially for kids. Afterall, why should grownups have all the fun? There are a few stalls dedicated to only children. Publishers like Moyurpokkhi, Shishubela, Boi Pori, Ikrimikri, Shishu Grontho Kutir, Shoptodinga, Progoti Publishers and many more have come out with various kinds of story/poetry books, history books, activity books which are educational as well as entertaining for children. ‘Dhaka Comics’ offers a unique collection of their comic books for teenagers and the young adults. Other than the bookstalls, there is a Shishu Chottor (kids’ zone) for children to play around, giving them an opportunity for some fun filled activities.
The shishu chottor is located at a place much like the bot tola with colourful wind ornaments hanging from the tree. Moreover, the ambience of the fair is very tranquil. Kids tottering about holding the hands of their parents or grandparents are a sight for sore eyes. One of the reasons behind such peaceful environment is the spacious arrangement of the stalls. In the past, the Bangla Academy premise was too congested. However, a few years ago the area was extended from only Bangla Academy to Suhrawardy Uddyan.
Two third of the fair is already over and only a handful of days remain till it closes its magical canopy for yet another year. The sapling planted by Chittaranjan Saha has now flourished into a green giant now. Its branches have touched all of our lives in one way or another. As the fair carries on its duty as the elixir that stimulates the Bengali intellect, our dream of a better future inches closer to fruition.

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