Guardian Angel At Kolkata Book Fair

Have you ever been in a bookshop looking for a title and ended up buying a different one? Or does it ever happen to you when you visit your favourite library that some books in particular stacked in open shelves placed at the far corners hidden from your immediate visual range silently beckon you to pick them up and carry them home and cohabit with them for a few weeks? Or, for that matter, you visit a book fair with an ardent love for books that have sustained you through a rather difficult time—having no idea what to expect?

I went to this years Kolkata book fair (2017) at Milan Mela ground on the penultimate day for a few hours and had absolutely no plan to visit any particular stall. With no map in hand I just let myself go. As I entered the fairground I surrendered myself to the reigning spirit of the place and let it guide me through the maze of public not all of whom were aware of the power of a good book to turn one’s life around.
I found the arrangement of stalls this year somewhat different. A large number of both Bengali and English book stalls were put indoors in covered exhibition space in the spacious halls, while in the open paved area there were not as many, some of which catered to a different taste and interests of the public, for instance the quiz contest, or the one featuring themes like how long it takes for a man to wear a saree, the baul singing, space reserved for budding painters etc.

The first stall indoors I was made to stop at belonged to Isha Foundation. Of all the living tech-savvy mystics, one’s been influenced by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev more than any other. Over the years I have had my share of woes and been drawn to the spiritual world. I once dreamt having a conversation over the phone with Sadhguru who could always impart a soul-lifting response to any question pertaining to both physical and metaphysical world. It’s a delight to listen to him replying to a question on the spot with candour and authority as if always plugged into cosmic consciousness. The lady at the stall, with the video of Sadhguru’s speech running by her side, stood up from her seat and for a while talked animatedly about their Foundation as I bought a copy of Sadhguru’s latest book: The Inner Engineering.
I came out of one hall and got into another. It was sheer by chance I found Westland Books indoors and Rupa outdoors—my publishers. I could not help sneaking a peek at my books People Who Meet People at Westland and Rusty And I at Rupa. They’re not really under the pile. They’re not on the top shelf either. I didn’t take them out of their given nook and put them on a spot at the eye level. I just let them be where they were before leaving for other pastures. Along the way I bought a collection of Short Stories published by Book Club.

At this point what intrigued me was that no matter which hall I entered, whether it was Neil O’Brien or Umberto Eco, and visited a number of stalls, I ended up getting back at the place I started from, where the Halls of Bangladesh and Costarica were situated! Instead of being pissed off, I looked for another opening in the outdoor area. As I was about to make a move in a different direction, a stall selling jute bags caught my eyes. There were all sorts with different price tags. I opted for the hardiest one costing Rs200/- lying under the heap because the fanciful and the cheaper ones were making brisk sales. Little did I realise then that I’d need this bag in particular a little while later.

My few hours stint was coming to a close and I started moving slowly towards the SubWay to go to the other side of the road and catch a Howrah-bound bus when the blow-up image of Paramhansa Yogananda at the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India stall celebrating one hundred years of its existence appeared just around the corner. His Autobiography of a Yogi I had read years ago and was profoundly impressed by it. What has endeared him to millions of people around the world is that his words unfailingly appear from a depth where lie the still waters, so that whenever you come in contact with them, you invariably enter into the realm of serenity. I just gravitated towards the hall.

There was a scanty presence of people inside this neat and tidy stall with sections earmarked for different topics subjects under the head of Religion and Spirituality. The vibes here was quite different from the other stalls. The lure of commerce was absent. As if guided by an unseen hand, I chose a volume titled Journey to Self-Realisation. A gentleman then appeared by my side and politely suggested if I was interested in getting the complete works Of Paramhansa Yogananda having three volumes: Man’s Eternal Quest, The Divine Romance, and the one in my hand. How to carry these three fat volumes in an overcrowded bus, I wondered. Just for a second, the just-bought jute bag slipped out of my mind. The books fitted perfectly inside the bag.

Over the years I have learnt how not to plan too much for the future. Things have a way of their own. They don’t pan out the way you expect them to. It was only in hindsight, when I got back home, it dawned on me how, unguided by any map, I could come across a few, just a few, bookstalls of my choice among innumerable stalls scattered over a very large area and buy the soul-stuff for the journey ahead, unknown and uncharted.

First Published in Cult Current

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