Kolkata: There’s a stand dedicated entirely to Fyodor Dostoevsky at the Russian stall and 28-year-old Samiran Mondal couldn’t be happier. A big fan of one of the greatest Russian novelists, Mondal has read his works — Crime and Punishment and The Idiot.
Russia is one of the 20 countries participating at the 45th International Kolkata Book Fair at Salt Lake’s Central Park. But you won’t notice police posting in front of any of the foreign countries but Russia. And we all know the reasons. Amid the Russia-Ukraine war, the book fair authorities have taken extra precaution to avert any kind of untoward situation outside the Russian stall.
There have been more than 350 civilian casualties in Ukraine since Russian forces invaded the country on February 24. But at the Kolkata Book Fair, which is considered a melting pot of culture and literature, the tensions of war hasn’t managed to have much effect. So, you would notice readers happily entering the Russian stall, enjoying 25 paintings of Konstantin Poliakov and leafing through the children literature, contemporary Russian books, and history. You cannot miss a painting on Mahatma Gandhi and three paintings on Shivratri by Poliakov.
When we entered the stall on March 3, we saw Russian space journalist Anna Moreva informing about Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who is the first man to enter the space and orbit the earth. She also spoke about Russian space engineer Sergei Korolev, who is known as the father of Soviet space program. Ana also found space enthusiasts in Kolkata, who listened to her carefully.
Some looked at the Russian books on display, while others enquired about the English-translated books.
Ana is in Kolkata for the past few days and so far, she had a good experience at the book fair. Describing Kolkatans as “beautiful people,” Ana said, “We did not have any problems with the visitors. They come here for Russian culture, painting and literature. The Russian stall is a place for thinking and will improve India and Russia’s relationship.”
Ana is also happy with the books and paintings on display. “We have come with the greatest collection of books from Russia. Poliakov’s paintings also depict India’s culture,” she said.
That doesn’t mean she hasn’t received queries about Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine. “People have discussed the issue but nothing aggressive. All the discussions have been calm so far,” she said.
For Anandi Chakraborty, a third-year college student, war doesn’t hold any significance at the book fair. “This is place to discuss books and literature. Why bring war into it? To the readers, all stalls are the same,” she said.
At the inauguration of the 45th International Kolkata Book Fair on February 28, Mamata urged all to maintain peace. She said that the war is on and she does not want to speak in favour of any nation.
“I am in favour of world peace. India has always rooted for peace. I have written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking India to lead and resolve the crisis. We have already been fighting the Covid-19 war for two years. So, let there be no more wars,” she said.