Tuesday, February 07, 2006

B is for BOOK FAIR

Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
Every winter, when the sweltering heat relents and it is pleasant to be outdoors, Kolkatans start watching their newspapers for the official dates of Boi Mela, the Kolkata Book Fair. It is definitely the highlight of the winter mela (fair) season, when books and all that surround them take over a huge section of the expansive Maidan, Kolkata's largest urban green space, almost overnight in late January. Happening over a period of twelve days, Boi Mela is not unlike cherry blossom season in Japan. It climaxes and disappears before you know it.


Originally uploaded by dalbhat.
One of the largest systems in the world for making use of rainwater run-off and water discarded after being used for a wide range of human activities in the city water is on the eastern edge of Kolkata, and known as the East Kolkata Wetlands.

This vast 12,000 hectare stretch of is something I pass each and every day as I travel along the EM Bypass that connects the airport to the city. It is an ecologically unique area that is protected by the Ramsar Convention of 1991.

The New Agriculturalist On-line reports on yhe East Kolkata Wetlands' interesting hydrological history: The area had been a brackish water lagoon swamp but as fresh drainage water came out of Kolkata it became suitable for raising fish. Local farmers stocked some of the ponds and then dug more. Currently, there are 300 or so large fish farms and ponds covering a total area of 3,500 hectares. Landlords, many of them absentee, let the majority of ponds to commercial managers, some others are managed by the government and some have been given to fishermen's groups and cooperatives. Due to the high organic-matter content of the soil here, vegetable production is a household activity with people renting small plots or sub-letting smaller plots for their own household sustenance and income. Apart from those people actually raising fish (about 8,000) or growing vegetables, there are porters, auctioneers, traders, retailers and people raising fish seed, making nets, maintaining drainage canals and reinforcing the banks. A great many people, many of them poor, depend on the Wetlands for their livelihoods. Many more, in Kolkata city, depend on the fish and vegetables produced; 13,000 tonnes of fish are produced annually in ponds managed for wastewater aquaculture and 150 tonnes vegetables per day are harvested from small-scale horticultural plots irrigated with wastewater. But there are a number of problems, including the fact that all the city's waste is also dumped here. A huge network of residents, NGOs and government bodies are working to deal with the problems in order to protect this important "lung" of the city.

How is this photo for an example of "direct trade?" Vegetables are sold immediately after being harvested along the road by producers.
An internet search will give plenty of information on this fascinating area that supports so many.