The Legacy of Boi Mela

By Anika Hossain
Editor in Chief, BoNY

On February 21, 1952, nearly two decades prior to Bangladesh’s liberation, Bengalis created a movement to advocate for the recognition of the Bengali language in Pakistan. In a rally organized by students, the police opened fire on protesters, killing and injuring many. Since then, Bangladeshis observe International Mother Language Day on February 21 to commemorate the sacrifice of those we lost and honor Bengali language and culture. Among all the country-wide commemorations, Ekushey Boi Mela, the national book fair of Bangladesh, is the largest celebration of the Bengali language.

Every year in February, the month-long book fair hosts hundreds of publishers and welcomes thousands of book lovers of all ages. In addition to exploring a variety of book stalls, visitors can enjoy cultural and literary programming. There is a section dedicated to Kazi Nazrul Islam, a writers’ corner, and a media center for journalists. Children have a separate corner and can participate in drawing, music and poetry recitation contests. Both established and emerging writers attend the annual fair.

Ekushey Boi Mela in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Ekushey Boi Mela started off as a small stall of 32 books in front of Bangla Academy in Dhaka, which was arranged by Chittaranjan Saha of Muktadhara Publishing House on February 21, 1972. Gradually, other publishers unofficially joined, and eventually the book fair became official. In 1978, Bangla Academy took over the fair.

The legacy of Muktadhara is now being carried by Bishawjit Saha in New York, younger brother of Boi Mela’s original founder. Since the early 90’s, Muktadhara Foundation has been actively involved in organizing cultural events, including the New York Boi Mela. In 1997, Saha set up a bookstore called Muktadhara Inc. in Jackson Heights, which still exists today.

The New York Bangla Boi Mela launched in 1991 at a small auditorium in Brooklyn. Over the past three decades, the New York Bangla Boi Mela has evolved from a day-long event into a four-day festival. Major writers from Bangladesh and West Bengal are featured. This year, the book fair will take place from May 24-27 at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center in Queens.

New York Bangla Boi Mela. Photo by Murad Akash

Unlike Ekushey Boi Mela, the New York Bangla Boi Mela does not take place in February. However, Muktadhara Foundation and Bangaleer Chetona Monchow will celebrate International Mother Language Day on Tuesday, February 20 at 1:00pm, in front of the United Nations Headquarters at 46th st and 1st Ave.

The enduring legacy of Bengali book fairs showcase the deep appreciation that Bengalis have for the Bengali language and culture. Boi Mela isn’t just a book fair; it is a symbol of cultural freedom and linguistic rights.


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