Bangladesh Slideshow

23 February, 2008

Ekushey Boi Mela

The month of February is probably when Bangladeshis feel most Bengali. It is when we pay homage to the language martyrs who gave their lives on a bright spring day in 1952 defending the right to have Bangla as the state language. This unprecedented sacrifice to defend the mother tongue was the turning point in the political history of the country, and led eventually to the War of Independence in 1971. Since 2000, the day has been observed as the International Mother Language Day throughout the world.

This month is commemorated in Bangladesh by various academic and cultural programs and a month-long book fair organized by the Bangla Academy in Dhaka. Flowers are laid on the language martyr’s monument on 21 February by people from all walks of life. The Ekushey Padak is awarded to distinguished personalities. The Ekushey Boi Mela had initially started as merely a book fair, but it has evolved into a national festival which reflects the cultural spirit of the modern Bengali nation. It is an event much looked forward to by writers and readers (not to mention publishers) alike. This year there are 362 book stalls!! And as you can imagine, hundreds of new titles. This year, the count stands at 1,445 today. And there is still a week to go!

I am an avid reader and for me the Boi Mela is a literary fest where I gorge, literally!! I buy newly published books, as well as ones from my childhood, and the classics, of course. In short, most everything that takes my fancy (Yes, I'll take these three, and those five, please.). I usually get to visit the fair only once (sob sob), as other demands on my time make it near impossible to make multiple visits. I make a wish list on the eve of my much anticipated visit. It is impossible to visit every stall and look at every book, but this year there is very helpful “wall” - listing new releases by publisher, as well as a diagram showing stall locations. Moreover, the stalls are numbered this year.

So I sallied forth with husband, and a big canvas bag. The RAB personnel at the entrance cast a wary look at the empty bag (well, we have become a bit paranoid about security, and it was a really big bag!), and then smiled when I explained it was to hold my purchases. I had just that morning been repaid a loan, and it seemed a sign from above to spend, spend, spend! Two hours later, we left the fair with a bulging bag (and lighter wallets) and on my part, a happy, happy heart! Oh the smell and crispness of new pages, the nail-biting indecision which to read first, and the eagerness to read them all! This year, 53 titles were added to my shelves from that first foray.

Yes, first foray is what you read. For I was fortunate enough this year to make a second trip. On which I bought 50 more books. Oh yes, I do look like the cat who ate the cream (it may actually be the ‘swallowed the canary’ look, but I prefer the non-violent version), but who can blame me? And before I forget, the tale would be incomplete if I did not admit that on an earlier trip to the Etc. Discount Store, I had picked up 23 half-priced English books! It was a most generous gift from the husband (he had offered to buy me a dress, I asked for books - as I usually do).

My bookshelves look so beautiful with the glossy titles. With many-a-promise between the covers, they twinkle at me, singing the siren song, beckoning me to drop everything else and pick them up… I hoard new books like a miser, lest I be left with nothing new to read (that sad occasion eventually arrives, but is offset by more happy trips to the bookstores). However, with a total of 126 new acquisitions this month, that sad day is far off. I am indeed a happy trouper this month.

P.S. I've read 8 books already! Yikes!!

No comments: