Boi Mela 2010 | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 29, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 29, 2011

TANGENTSBy Ihtisham Kabir

Boi Mela 2010

Advertisement in Last Year's Boi Mela. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

The February afternoon's golden light glowed softly as I walked into the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela (Book Fair.) I had taken many photos at the Mela over several days but was still looking for one good photo on my last day there.
Most people go to the Boi Mela for books; I went to take pictures. Along the way, I discovered other reasons middle-class Bengalis went there. An elderly couple read a book together, revisiting their younger years. A father and his daughter shared a storybook. A mother held her two children captive on her knees while reading a fairy tale to them. A family ate ice cream together. A struggling artist earned twenty taka by painting the flag on a well-to-do girl's cheek. A boy met a girl. A wife posed in front of a patriotic poster as her husband photographed her. Then they switched. Vendors sold everything from peanuts to soap-bubble blowers.
On a narrow alley lined with bookstalls was a boy blowing bubbles at passers-by. The reclining sun's light reflected rainbow colours from the bubbles. A young woman stopped to take the boy's picture. She tried this way and that to frame the boy in her camera but somehow it was not right. Then I suggested to her, try from this angle, with the crowd behind the boy. And there, I think, she found her photo.
When I walked by the bookstores with people poring over the books, it struck me what an equalizing force the Mela is. The charm of books captivated everyone: young and old, religious and fashionable, rich and poor. Sometimes the charm was shared; other times individuals entered their own world.
I would soon learn how wrong I was.
As the light faded I moved out of the Bangla Academy grounds into the street. I walked towards the TSC, my eyes scanning the streets, the traffic island, bookstalls, searching for photogenic moments and opportunities. On the island, I saw a bare-chested Tokai boy with something painted on his chest. Several other unfolding dramas competed for my attention: another boy was shooting a Gulti (catapult) into the air; three mean-spirited college kids roughly teased a flower girl; and a couple loudly argued with a Burkha-clad woman holding a sign berating Western civilisation. Knowing that the light would be gone in minutes, I quickly went to the Tokai boy, took my picture and moved on to the next drama.
Only later did I pause to read the boy's chest. It was an advertisement for a book. Despite all the happiness and excitement I had witnessed at the Boi Mela, it filled me with an unfathomable sadness. Will this boy, who was advertising books on his own body, ever read one? Will he ever enjoy the pleasure of the written word? Will he ever know the power of books and their pivotal role in human civilisation?
(Note: A Tokai is a child who collects things for recycling.)

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