Ahmed Tahsin Shams
Paying homage to the language martyrs, the 21st of February stood as the International Mother Language Day and the very month, February, turned out as one of the longest carnivals of Bangladesh featuring Amar Ekushey Grontho Mela 2015, a cherishing 28-days (unless Leap Year) festivity that seizes all writers, readers, publishers and the noticeable selfie buffs (a very recent invention of cybernetic residence). However, this year's special eye-catchy topic, talk of the town, is the fa?ade of several book stalls fruitfully becoming the background of selfie pictures clicked by the virtual inhabitants as within a blink these are uploaded in Facebook or Instagram. A well-thought promotional strategy indeed!
Giving a glimpse at the stalls at Bangla Academy and Suhrawardy Udyan premises, it surely seemed a landscape of post-modern Mela (fair). Flowery or innovative decors catch visitors' sight as good photo-corners, even food court does not lag behind. What is most surprising is the crowd of every day even In The Time of Hartal (Strike). Gabriel Marquez's days of cholera have gone. A new maxim is on the way: A book cannot be judged by its' stall. Yet, this initiative is praiseworthy. The idiosyncratic décor of The University Press Limited (UPL) - the book-cage, the open library of Pathak Shamabesh, Bengal Publication's antique style, Qayyum Chowdhury's memorial in front of Kotha Prokash, Shudhashar's simplicity, Anyaprokash's eulogical monument of the most-read writer Humayun Ahmed, Prothoma's intellectual gathering-in-the-evening prove that publishers of Bangladesh do possess the taste of art, do bear the title - connoisseur.
In this age of jack-of-all-trades, good ornamentations as well as good books are brought into light by many publications. The University Press Limited and Prothoma have bulks of Bangla and English write-ups, upon various issues, most of them belong to political and research genre, yet fictions took good space too. But Pathak Shamabesh's step is remarkable. By covering up gigantic digital billboards with their prominent book covers at major locations in the city, they proved the successful market of hard copies in this generation of pdf. Many of their advertisements, even in renowned newspapers, say a list of their books doing great business in Kolkata, which is a lighthouse for the book-buffs knowing the book-industry is flourishing. But striking matter is the taste of this generation which changed a leap than earlier. Few publishers are more interested in surrealistic or post- modern fictions or poetry, even readers' choice is not limited to cliché genres nowadays. For poetry they are peeping into Shudhashar's stalls, for travelogues - Utso Prokason, for science fiction - Zafar Iqbal Sir (as anyone would have guessed) - from Tamrolipi, the bourgeois intellectuals knock Prothoma, Pathak Shamabesh or UPL. Translated fictions are full to the brim in most of the publications, either English to Bangla or vice-versa. Adorn Publication is chosen by many professors to publish such translated works. Novels and collection of short stories, as usual, still make the readers at home and so preferred by the publishers of these Suhrawardy Udyan stalls.
Moreover, Bangla Academy premises - chosen by children book publishing houses and little-mag square - are full of heads in peak hours, mainly because of book-launching ceremonies or cultural programmes like music or stage drama. Lucrative famous muppet characters of Sisimpur - Tuktuki, Halum, Shiku, Ikrimikri - are sculpted along with scripted book-reading-morals to grab children's attention. On the other hand, two stalls at Suhrawardy Udyan, also formed the cartoon characters physically. One is done by Anindya Prokash with science fiction character - Ribit and another splendid eye-widening stall - Panjeri Publications Ltd - displayed Basic Ali, Babu etc along with a giant open comic book.
In addition, air of young intellectuals soothes the little-mag square at Bangla Academy premises. Tiny stalls with big thoughts, writers and readers or little-mag editors playing words or having chitchat, hands full of cups - are a pleasing sight, certainly.
The reason this fair can be considered as carnival - is not only because of the crowd or free access of mass - but also because of the ambient setting, the tea stalls, the products on sale like anklets, bangles, earrings and roadside bounty foods overcrowded with customers outside the fair- all these shape it a carnival-look.
Carnival is against capital, against power. Whoever has read Mikhail Bakhtin's "Carnival and Carnivalesque" knows well that such carnivals are eccentric refusal to hierarchical forms and so all classes unite at one point discarding any code of conduct (except violence). Carnivals represent freedom of individual as well as of the huge mass. The power of capitalism cannot supress such cultural celebration where hegemony works too less because "Power ? interplay of non-egalitarian and mobile relations" (Michel Foucault in "Method"). And in carnivals - free-access-off-all celebrates not only the very Day but also the equity. Pahela Falgun, Amar Ekushey Grontho Mela (Book Fair) are such carnivals where all colours merge into one and as "force will appear to be based on the consent of the majority," stated in Antonio Gramsci's "Hegemony, Intellectuals and the State". So, majority choose such days where the bourgeois as well as proletariats, without any inequity, fashion hair with garland or paint Shaheed Minar, on heads or hands.
However, the post-modern round-the-clock lifestyle is the central reason of life's ennui. And so any day-break to go out or hang out seems to stand as a perfect cause whether noble or not, whether the 21st of February or the 31st of December. People need a break to get relief whatever the cause is. In this stream, popular cultures derived, many even sustained in official or personal calendars. Such is the month of Ekushey Boi Mela, the month for book buffs, for writers, readers, publishers and also for roaming-out-visitors. Stuart Hall's "Notes on Deconstructing The Popular" though tells us the "power" relation to "popular culture". True in case - if supremacy is defined as - moral and intellectual leadership - so birds of feathers same or unlike will flock together as ideology, which also has a material existence according to Louis Althusser, is undoubtedly set by Ideological State Apparatuses. Nevertheless, merry-go-round has become a necessity in anti-Marx's age, money - the visible god booked all the rest of the days - so carnival colours such jovial self-rule and contact among all where people would not have to think of dress-codes, fake-smiles in front of bosses or proper accents. Above all such days can be termed as - reprieve from being someone else. Photo: Ahmed Tahsin Shams