No passage to India as rows mar Scots link to Kolkata Book Festival

IT IS billed as an ambitious literary link-up between Scotland and Kolkata, the sprawling Indian city bidding to join Edinburgh as a Unesco "City of Literature".

Scotland is the guest nation next week at the Kolkata Book Fair with the hope that a central Scottish pavilion will draw huge crowds from the two million visitors to the event.

But already Edinburgh's lord provost, George Grubb, has pulled out of a trip to the festival after months of grumbling over the 6,000 "junket".

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Now the Scottish presence has suffered a further blow as Catherine Lockerbie, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, has been forced to stay at home for health reasons.

And the Edinburgh architect hired to design the pavilion, Graeme Massie, has washed his hands of the project, complaining of "unacceptable" changes. The event has been backed by the British Council, along with the Scottish Government, and yesterday its director, Roy Cross, insisted the Scottish link was on track.

He said: "We will have a slightly different pavilion, a different representative of the city of Edinburgh, and a different representative of the book festival and City of Literature, but I don't think we've dropped in quality. I regret they are not there, but we have every confidence in the people replacing them."

The book fair in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, is billed as the biggest book event in Asia, and expects to draw a staggering 2.25 million people over ten days.

The visitors will flow into the Milon Mela fairgrounds through entrances that include six gates, the size of houses, constructed as mock-ups of Scottish sights, from Stirling Castle to the Glasgow School of Art. The main gate is Edinburgh Castle.

Scottish-Indian projects tied to the festival include a National Library of Scotland effort to digitise the medical records of the British Raj. There are also seminars on poetry and publishing.

But the recent history of the fair has been tumultuous. Last year it was cancelled at the last minute after local political rivalries broke out over an environmental dispute. The year before it was moved at short notice to a different site at a Kolkata football stadium.

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Mr Grubb was due to open the fair on 27 January. The opening day was to hear speeches by Ms Lockerbie, the author Alexander McCall Smith – who is still attending – and a presentation by Mr Massie.

The book festival's founding director and literary agent Jenny Brown is replacing Ms Lockerbie. Sir Andrew Cubie, former chairman of the British Council Scotland and other education and cultural bodies, is also joining the Scottish delegation.

The Scottish connection at the fair is costing about 200,000 for a year's worth of events that include a tour of India by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Mr Massie's architect's firm pulled out last week saying that "significant changes to the original design" of the pavilion, which could get 50,000 visitors a day, were unacceptable. A local Indian firm has taken the job.

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