Friday, January 13, 2012

Book fairs: 26 years ago in Calcutta versus now in Chennai

Twenty-six years ago, when I was gainfully employed and living in Calcutta as a freshly minted engineer, I went to the book fair there.  (I think it was during that time, and not during my second work-related stay there, which was for a week much later that year.)

1986 feels so old now.  The world was very different then, and the book fair reflected that old world.  One of the booksellers was the USSR's Mir Publishers.  Thanks to the Soviet government underwriting the costs of publication, and the propaganda goals, the books at Mir's booth were bloody inexpensive.

I picked up a bunch from them--those were the only books that I bought at the fair.  I think it was then that I purchased Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov," which is one of the few books that I thought were ever worth retaining and are safely at home in Eugene.  I have not re-read them after the initial reading, but that doesn't matter.

And, of course, I bought a copy of "The Communist Manifesto."  After all, those were the last days of my own commie leanings. Yes, this copy, too, is safe in Eugene :)

Anyway, true to the stereotype, Calcutta's population showed up in huge numbers at the fair.  I had plenty of rasagollas and pani puri and then I walked back to the tiny room I had.  (I wonder where the fair was held then for me to have walked back!)

It is now 2012.  A vastly different world, and an equally vastly different me.  As I figured out what I wanted to do in life, I shed my pink colors, well before the wall tumbled down.  Having made myself at home in the arch enemy of the old Soviets, I spent hours in the US, in front of CNN on television, watching the wall come down, and then the USSR disintegrate.

Now, I am more of an outsider and observer when in India.

It is the book fair in Chennai, which is no longer Madras.  Calcutta, too, has undergone a name change.  The USSR is, of course, long gone and, therefore, there was no booth of Mir's at the Chennai fair.

Unlike the old me 26 years ago, I was not in search of anything too literary and philosophical.  Not because I have lost interest in them; they are very much alive.  But, I was not planning on picking up anything that serious in the Tamil language. 

However, there was one publication for which I was on the alert: a collection of Madan's "Ananda Vikatan" cartoons from the old days.

Sure enough, there was a Ananda Vikatan booth.

I zoomed into the humor section, and there they were: collections of Madan's cartoons, in three volumes.  I picked them up, paid, and exited.

What a contrast over the 26 years: the old me at the book fair was excited with Dostoevsky and the current me is thrilled with Madan's cartoons at a book fair!

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