Born in 1935, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay is a Bengali author known for his stories for adults and children. Some of his books have even been made into successful movies. His books have reached the newer generations in the form of English translations and comics.
Shirshendu Babu was kind enough to have a quick chat with us over a cup of tea and take us down his memory lane.
What are your memories about Boimela?
Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay: There are lots of memories about Boimela, and if I start telling you about all of them, it will actually take up the whole night (Laughs). But to start off, I have been attending Boimela since its inception, when it used to be held next to the Victoria Memorial. It was really not so popular back then. Shops were few in number; and I was not popular yet. Back then, I used to go to Boimela for “adda” (hanging-out) with friends. Nobody used to hog me for my signature back then (laughs). The addas were what we used to look forward to the most. The memories of those days are still etched in my mind.
How has Boimela changed since then?
Boimela back then was really nice and homely. The publishers barely made profit as there was no such “craze” for Boimela. Books didn’t sell much then. It was all so very different. Today, we don’t see that any more. Nowadays, participating in Boimela almost guarantees profits for the publishers who set up stalls there!
I remember Boimela shifting to Park Circus afterwards. I can still remember being overwhelmed with the magnitude of Boimela there when I went to this new venue for the first time! It was not so homely any more. On the other hand, we were just beginning to get popular at that time. I was not going to Boimela out of my own will anymore; it was more at the behest of publishers who wanted me to appear there.
So many changes have happened to the Boimela since then. The PILs (Public Interest Litigation) filed which forced the Boimela to change its venue to Salt Lake and finally now at Milan Mela; what a journey the Boimela has seen!
What do you like the most about Boimela?
I believe that the greatest contribution of Boimela is how it has helped popularize book fairs all across Bengal. There are book fairs in so many villages too, other than the many localities in Kolkata. Boimela has spread like wildfire now! There’s a Boimela happening somewhere or the other all the time in Bengal.
[Incidentally, this interview took place in the book fair organized in Bangur Avenue, in association with Publishers and Booksellers Guild]
Coming to your work, how do you feel about your stories being translated into English and then made comics out of?
The publishers help us do whatever they can to benefit the readership. If this satisfies the children today, then why not (smiles)! I believe the translators and the illustrators are indeed doing a good job, and readers are liking the products too.
Do you think that books retain their value after translation and illustration?
In my opinion, if the book reaches the right kind of translators and the right kind of illustrators, they do turn out pretty well. I perfectly like my books in the comic form and as movies too. The people behind them have done a very good job and done justice to the books.
Are you modifying your style of writing to suit the newer generation, also given the fact that successful movies are being made out of your books?
Not at all! I write out of my own will. If people end up liking the movies, then that is great (Smiles)! But I will never change my writing style to suit what might be commercially more successful.
Is there a chance that in the future, books will get replaced by e-books and we will find people with laptops instead of books at Boimela?
You see, ours is a country inhabited by very poor people. Most people cannot afford ebook readers or even laptops. How can ebooks ever be feasible for them?
And even if they do manage that, do you know how hard it is to read from an ebook? Try reading “War and Peace” on a laptop. It will hurt your eyes! It will be very difficult for ebooks to replace books. But then again, who knows what will happen in the future…
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[Boimela in all the interviews refers to International Kolkata Book Fair]