Let There Be Light

Religious bonhomie at Kolkata Book Fair

Kolkata: Kolkata has always been known for its ability to soak in all kinds of forces positive, negative and also neutral. It is unique. On one hand it has been the hotbed of social activism, where homemakers and students are protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Population Register (NPR), which tries to draw religious lines in the social firmament of the country. The 44th International Kolkata Book Fair, on the other hand, has proved to be a platform to exercise religious harmony and an understanding for other religions.

Showing no signs of any religious divide, the book worms are thronging the fair with renewed gusto.

Many famous book stores have put up stalls, either standalone or inside one of the two halls. Competing with them are stalls, which are of religious nature, propagating their faith or of the government stalls like the government of West Bengal, department of mass education extension and library services etc, or of the religious variety, like the Sri Krishna Chaitanya Seva Sadan Trust, Sri Sarada Math & Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, The Bible Society of India.

One can easily get an abridged free copy of the holy Quran or the holy Bible, being distributed by the faithful followers of Islam and Christianity.

But in these turbulent times, one of the stalls, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamat, (No. 401) instantly draws attention for its position. It is placed opposite Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stall (No. 370). One wonders if their placement is by design or plain coincidence. This, at a time when there is so much social upheaval over religious prosecution of minorities in neighbouring countries or targeting of minorities within the country over CAA.

But the stall occupants do not think so. They are not much perturbed with their placement. In fact, one of them thinks that it is good that they are placed opposite each other. If a visitor is visiting one of the stalls, he or she will be drawn to the other stall out of curiosity.

Talking about the stall, which has been a regular feature at International Kolkata Book Fair over the years, Mubashir Ahmed Munir, a missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, said the special feature of them has been the wide subjects on display. “Apart from our regular books, we have a prominent section of our wall dedicated to the Quran. Here we have showcased the holy Quran displayed in 56 languages. Though we have the translation of the holy book in 76 languages, we could not put up all on display for paucity of space,” said Munir.

Ask him about the placement of the stall, raising eyebrows of visitors, opposite to the VHP stall, who follow a very different ideology, Munir is not bothered. “This is not in our hands and I do not think this is deliberate. We have all been allotted spaces through lottery. But, there is no harm if the two stalls are facing each other. The placement can be beneficial for us as people visiting one stall will also visit the other out of curiosity,” said Munir. Later, the missionary was seen explaining to the handful of visitors at the stall about the ideals of Mirza Gulam Ahmed of Kadian, whose principle the sect follows.

Munir was joined by other missionaries, who said, “The stall and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad have gained significance more so in present times as the country is in turmoil. Islam has been projected wrongly and we have to understand the religion better.”

On being asked about his organization’s stall facing the Ahmadiyaa Muslim Jamat stall, Sourish Mukherjee, spokesperson, state VHP, said, “The state government has given the stall through lottery and we had no say over it. Moreover, the BJP is completely prepared to tackle any inadvertent situation caused by anyone. The people’s response to VHP despite all odds by the state government and other opposition is noteworthy as people in large numbers are visiting our stall. Even the student and resident of Burdwan, who had misbehaved with Union minister Babul Supriyo visited out stall on Wednesday.”

In keeping with the religious bonhomie, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh, who was visiting the VHP stall on Thursday, also visited the Ahmadiyaa Muslim Jamat stall and was presented the book ‘World Crisis and the pathways to Peace’ by Mirza Masroor Ahmad.

Coincidence or not, book lovers will not mind the placement and cut across ideologies to just concentrate on the teachings of the faith and unity in diversity theme.

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