The Bangla language has always been at the forefront of our national identity. Amar Ekushey Boi Mela (Book Fair) is a significant part of Bangladesh’s history, culture and literature. Every year, the book fair is held in the month of February. It is the biggest book fair in the country where publishers display and sell printed books under diverse categories. This fair offers great opportunities for the readers to meet their favourite writers, poets, novelists, and publishers face-to-face. Besides serving as a platform to encourage readers to read and buy books, the Boi Mela also works as a monthlong cultural hub – showcasing the diversity of Bangladesh. Let’s look into the history of the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela.
CHITTARANJAN SAHA: STARTING BOI MELA FROM A MAT AT BANGLA ACADEMY PREMISES
Chittaranjan Saha was born in the Noakhali district in 1927. His publishing house Punthighar Prokashoni, located at Banglabazar in Dhaka, was burnt down in 1971. Chittaranjan Saha left Dhaka after March 26. He took shelter in Agartala and then moved to Calcutta (Kolkata) during the Liberation War.
During the Liberation War, many prominent writers, artists, and journalists from Bangladesh had to stay in Calcutta as refugees. During that period, Chittaranjan arranged a meeting with some of the most prominent litterateurs residing in Calcutta. They decided to write and publish about the injustice and war in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). Thus, Muktodhara was born.
In February, 1972, Chittaranjan Saha laid a mat under the tree in front of the Bangla Academy building and put on display about 32 (33 according to some sources) books as a homage to the Language Movement martyrs of 1952.
Though Chittaranjan Saha initiated the Boi Mela from a humble beginning, according to some sources, he was not the first person who started selling books at Bangla Academy premises in February. Ruhul Amin Nizami of Standard Publishers started displaying Russian books. Those books were very popular at that time for their rich content and affordable prices.
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HISTORY BEHIND THE FIRST BOOK FAIR IN BANGLADESH
Though Chittaranjan Saha is recognised as the initiator of Ekushey Boi Mela, the root of the book fair goes deeper.
The first book fair in then East Pakistan was held in 1965. The initiative was taken by Sardar Jainuddin, who was born in 1918 in Pabna.
In 1965, he started displaying some children’s books on the ground floor of the Dhaka University Library. At that time, he was working on a project for UNESCO regarding children’s books.
In 1970, Jainuddin organised a book fair in Narayanganj in association with Narayanganj Club.
As UNESCO declared 1972 the ‘International Book Year’, in December, Jainuddin took initiative to arrange a book fair inside Bangla Academy. Since then, Bangla Academy got directly involved with book fair events.
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THE JOURNEY OF EKUSHEY BOI MELA
Chittaranjan Saha continued putting books on display and selling them at the Bangla Academy premises for a few more years. In 1976, getting inspired by this idea of selling books, other publishers came together and joined in. Bangla Academy merged with this initiative in 1978.
Ashraf Siddiqui was the director general of Bangla Academy at that time, and he had an active role in the association of academy with the book fair. Bangla Academy’s association took Boi Mela to another level.
In 1979, a book fair was held at the courtyard of Bangla Academy with the collaboration of ‘Bangladesh Pustok Bikreta O Prokashok Samity’ (founded by Chittaranjan Saha) and the Bangla Academy authority.
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