Kolkata loves books. And the city responds so well to cultural and literary events. So when the 8th edition of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2017 flagged off on the 6th June 2017, the event was well received by all.
The Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) reflects the vibrancy and culture of the city and it’s inauguration events are so arranged as to showcase the rich heritage of the city. It is also India’s only Literary festival that is held by a bookstore – the Oxford Book Stores. The Oxford Book Store in itself is a legacy of heritage. The brand “Oxford Book Store” started its journey way back in 1919 at Park Street in Kolkata and since then served as the mecca of avid and voracious readers. I remember walking down the Park Street road during my school days and peeping into the store. And now when I enter the bookstore that has been remodelled as a Gallery, I am rewarded with a resplendent treat of books and beyond. With such a rich literary and heritage behind it, the Oxford book Store seems to be the perfect organisers of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival.
This year the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (#AKLF 2017) was inaugurated on a river cruise that took for a heritage tour on the banks of the river Ganga and I was one of the lucky ones to be invited to attend the cruise arranged by candid Communication, the event partner of the AKLF 2017.
The cruise journey started from the Vivada Jetty, Millenium Park abroad the M V Paramhansa. The cruise itself was a beautiful one and the programme was arranged on the deck of the cruise. The sunny winter morning also cheered up the mood of the guests and hosts alike and the journey through the river as well as the literary world of Kolkata started.
The programme started with the inaugural speech by Ms Anjum Katyal and Ms Naina Bhagat and a host of other discussions followed. This year the theme of AKLF 2017 was inclusiveness in the field of literature including the entire spectrum of women, children and the underprivileged. AKLF 2017 also paid a deserving tribute to Mahasweta Devi who through her writing brought forth the marginalised section of the society.
Discussions started flowing and the cruise too started its journey towards the south and I was happy to explore the cruise along with other bloggers. It was a great opportunity to have Rangan Da among us without whom we might not have come to know the heritage around the river banks.
The cruise started and the first thing we noticed is the grand view of the Howrah Bridge. The river that flows through the heart of Kolkata is the lifeline of the city, and so is the iconic bridge. Soon the skyline of the city was before us. We passed the blue coloured New Secretariat building with the football shaped weather radar on it. Next to it was the Eastern Zonal Head office of the State Bank of India. This building stands in the same place where the Imperial Bank once stood. We passed by the Chandpal Ghat and the Gwalior Monument to reach below the 2nd iconic bridge of Kolkata – the Vidyasagar Setu or the 2nd Hooghly Bridge. Whenever I pass the 2nd Hooghly Bridge, I cannot help myself look upwards and admire the magnificence of the structure.
The cruise moved towards Budge Budge crossing the Lascar Memorial (the inauguration of the AKLF 2013 was held here) near the Hastings area. The memorial is dedicated to the memory of the lascars or sailors who died fighting for the British during the World War I (1914-18). Next, we sailed passed the Kolkata Memorial near the Khidderpore Depot. This memorial commemorates the thousands of indentured Indian labourers who sailed from Kolkata Port between 1834 and 1920 to lands far away seeking better livelihoods for themselves and their families.
As the cruise moved forward, we could see the BNR House, the residence of the General manager of South Eastern railways. Seeing BNR opened floodgates of memory. I had spent a large part of my childhood there and I was simply overwhelmed to see the white BNR House, the BNR Jetty and the Officers’ Club.
Crossing BNR we sailed past the Netaji Subhash Dock where the Surinam Memorial stands. The memorial is built in remembrance of the migrant workers who moved to the Caribbean, South Africa, Mauritius and Fiji Islands to work on sugarcane plantations during the colonial period. The indentured workers were recruited from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and the former Madras Presidency area. A total of 64 sailing ships carried 34,300 workers to the Dutch colony from 1873 to 1916 when the indenture system came to an end.
The vast stretch of the Indian Botanical Gardens stood on the opposite bank. The cruise then sailed towards the Garden Reach Ship Builders (GRSE) that happened to be the last point of our journey and the cruise traced back the same route. This time we got a better look at the Botanical Gardens. I again became nostalgic remembering the childhood days when we cousins visited the Gardens for a day out!
The cruise trip hosted by the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF 2017) was enjoyable to all, but to me, it held a special place. It showed me the glimpses of places that I had frequented so often as a child. Coupled with that, the meaningful information about the heritage of the city shared by Rangan Da was an added bonus. And finally, the wonderful people we interacted with would always be cherished. We hope to be connected with this festival for years to come.