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Mahfuz Sadique on the Ekushey Boi Mela…

Here is a thought, or rather a suggestion, which has long been in circulation: instead of the prime minister, why not have national or international literary personalities inaugurate the Ekushey Boi Mela? Like an annual re-run of a bad sitcom, the prime minister came, and with equal mediocrity the student wings of opposition political parties protested, and the first day of the Boi Mela went down the drain with a zillion police personnel and their ‘Black Overlords’ trampling up and down the same rough, dry soil of Bangla Academy where Chittaranjan Saha had spread a single sheet of cloth one Phalgun afternoon thirty-four years ago with the the fruits of one of our greatest struggle — books, books in Bangla!

Browsing between stalls, which have quite lost their aesthetic edge as was seen even a few years back, one genre clearly caught attention, at least in terms of quantity —translation. Major publishers have stacked their early releases with a lot of translations of everything from Marquez’s In Evil Hour (Shomoy), new translations of Shakespeare by Syed Shamsul Huq (Anyaprokash) to science fiction volumes of Asimov and Arthur C Clark (Oitijjhya). Not just from English, titles such as Kaifi Azmi’s Seleted Poems (Mawla Brothers) have added flavour to the offerings. But original works are plentiful. While the regular Mela warmers are all geared up, poetry has also seen a rejuvenated comeback on the shelves with major publishers all carrying significant numbers of poetry by young poets.

In retrospect, Boi Mela is the same as it has always been. I gather that that is good, considering that everything else seems to be in a degenerative slide. For one thing, there is less hype about publications of commercially successful authors which is in turn giving healthy space to other genres and off-track work that deserve attention. And there seems to be a genuine attempt from the side of publishers to put forward good work.

Children’s fiction has for long remained the orphan in Bangla literature. But quite a few titles on children’s themes have been published this year. Adorn Publication has come out with several good titles. But one sad casualty of placement has become the much-hyped separate children’s book arena. Completely pushed to a corner, it generates little attention, let alone excitement.

Though the first few evenings at the Mela always make it seem like an abandoned school playground, this time the first Friday came on the third day, thus generating early crowds; the lines snaking all the way to TSC indicating better days in late February. But for the second time, metal detectors and archways were slowing down entry of visitors. And here is an interesting observation, not necessarily on the Mela: we are quite an adaptable bunch. While last year saw a hue and cry over the massive security setup, this year all parties involved seem to be content with it. The latest addition is CCTV at major corners of the Mela. How perspectives change!

As for publishers, the regular complaint at including non-publishing houses at the Mela premises is still there. With prices of paper at an all-time high, publishers have had to hike prices. As a safeguard for maintaining good sales at the Mela, and invariably throughout the year, regular commission has been increased to 30 per cent. Eventually, readers will not feel much of a pinch from the price hike.

Here are some of the released titles last week that came to my attention: Dushyopner Jatri by Anisul Huq (Shomoy), Mohammad Zafar Iqbal’s Ruhan Ruhan (Shomoy), Thai Thai Nonajal by Moni Haider (Oitijjhya), Rashtrer Ghunpoka O Bibidho Galpa by Towhin Hasan (Oitijjhya), Shey Raate Bristi Chilo by Himu Akram (Oitijjhya), Shinga Bajabey Ishrafil by Wasi Ahmed (Oitijjhya), Ekatturey Ronangoney by Nizamuddin Laskar (Oitijjhya), Poth Choltey Ja Dekhechi by Ahmed Rafique (Oitijjhya), Kaifi Azmi’r Nirbachito Kabita (Mawla Brothers), Nirjonota Thekey Jonaronney by Shamsur Rahman (Mawla Brothers), Tin Pakhnar Projapoti O Onnanya Golpo by Abid Anwar (Mawla Brothers), Amader Boi Mela by Humayun Azad (Agami), Nobboi Dashake Bangladesher Chhatra Andolon by Dr Mohammad Hannan (Agami), Chomironer Ekattor by Shamoly Nasreen Chowdhury (Agami), Raman by Jahid Hasan (Agami), Amader Shangskritik Andolon O Muktijuddhyo by Taher Uddin (Agami), Nandini by Anisul Huq (Kakoly), Ek Odbhut Aroj Ali by Mina Farah (Annanya), Dhaka Hariye Jaoa Chobir Khojey by Muntasor Mamoon (Annanya), Bhalobashar Dipgulo by Rafiqul Islam Chowdhury (Annanya), Chotoder Kamrul Hasan by Dr Syeda Mahmudul Hasan (Annanya).

The inseparable sibling of the Boi Mela, the Jatiya Kabita Utsab (National Poetry Festival) saw a handsome gathering this year. With both kicking off on the same day, and the Festival continuing for two more days, many visitors ended up enjoying a double-delight.

The lazy stroll at dusk around the pond of Bangla Academy, through stalls stacked with books that still had the smell of paper, ink and glue on them, made me realise last Monday that the Ekushey Boi Mela is one of those mirrors of the everyday. Enjoy Ekushey, enjoy Phalgun!

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