For all Kolkata people – once upon a time, that phrase was synonymous with "book-lover" – the Kolkata Book Fair is an annual intra-city pilgrimage. Here’s a classic visit, broken down into 11 easy steps.

11. There is a reason why the sensible Bengali reaches the book fair early. Somehow, even if he gets there as early as he can manage, he is likely to find the parking – a very large bumpy field where you can see grass turning to dust right in front of your eyes – already pretty full. (So the sensible Bengali will actually take public transport, even better, the Boi Mela special bus to go to the book fair.)

10. At the parking, you are likely to encounter very many people who will direct you where to go, how to park, chide you on your driving if, perchance, your car stops on one of the innumerable bumps. They are your archetypal Bengali volunteer-thugs (a historic institution), busy, bossy, and excessively helpful if they like your face.

As you park your car and walk to the mela grounds, you turn and see the honey light refracted in the dust that rises in your wake. Almost instinctively you look up briefly and see the sky is darkened by strange new structures that have arisen from the earth:  half-finished skyscrapers. It seems several very fancy five-star hotels are coming up in that area.

The brisk construction work proceeds to the footfall of several million booklovers – it is a promising trail of thought but you abandon it as soon as you near the bookfair grounds and get completely utterly caught up the magic of the moment.

9. The book fair grounds will smell of almost departing spring, hundreds of thousands of books, and, tantalisingly, of fish butter fry from the Benfish counters. (If you encounter a Benfish stall, don’t presume to return to it some other time. Just go and eat that dratted fish butter fry already. Also, tell them to not sprinkle the masala on top.)

8.  There is every single kind of publisher jostling in the available space – gigantic global, small independent, institutional, politically-funded, apolitically-volunteered, charity and vanity. The halls are heaving with the stalls, including representatives of all major bookstores and educational organisations.

Lovers look at books together. Spouses allocate price bargains. Children shriek with sugar. The random pavilions featuring country participants have people queuing up patiently (the UK stall has the more mainstream Calcuttans while the Colombia stall is filled with bearded radicals who lurk with an affectionate lopey gait). And there are dozens of other stalls that allow you to stand in the sun and gawk at the windows where books flash at you every which way.

You will definitely encounter one author – young, old or in-between – sitting on a mat with copies of his books of poetry stacked lovingly in front. “Take a look at my book,” he will say, thrusting one at you. You mumble something and escape. But a certain sadness will enter your soul.

Then, a quarter of an hour later, you buy your first books of the day – and you forget the old man selling his self-published hardback book of poetry (let’s say, in your case, he was an old man in a dhoti and white shirt) for the time-being.

7. There are young painters sitting in the sun. They have hung up their most recent canvases. The prouder among them sulk on the mats and are too proud to ask you to buy their paintings – they even glower slightly when you ask the prices. They favour Calcutta cityscapes this year – the ubiquitous auto and the tram in a late blue – and you know they are almost expecting to not sell too many of their works. They are artists after all – and still so young. The enigma of the scent of failure compels them far more than the thought of the pocket money they’d have earned.

6. You walk and browse and browse and walk till you are ready to drop. Your packages have become extremely heavy by now and you need a loo urgently. There are no signs. Are you ever going to get to the toilet-end of this maze?

5. A young rock star is singing soulfully and tunelessly – fortunately the words are not clear – accompanied by two guitarists and one drummer. There is a little crowd of his peer group around him. One of the young Turks moves out of the charmed circle and gently shoves a newsletter in your face. He tells you reverentially that his guru, the legendaryoneandonly  Rupam Islam is signing copies of his book inside and if you bought the newsletter he could take you inside to catch a glimpse of him. You buy the newsletter quickly but continue to hunt for the loo.

4. Meanwhile, you chance upon the Asiatic Society’s book stall and you get in. They are selling old books and postcards – there is one of William Jones as a boy – and you cannot help buy the set of 10. The person who draws up the bill has the most leisurely pace of writing in the world – but apparently they cannot let you go unless they have entered in their ledger a hundred mystical details in addition to the title of the book, the author, and the ISBN number. You ask them if they know where the toilets are. They are not sure.

3. You see a very very fancy press enclave – it looks like a cross between a white Arabian Nights tent and a cricket clubhouse. You wonder if you should barge in and use the facilities there. Then you turn around, spot another Benfish (maybe it’s the same one) and eat another fish butter fry.

2. The loos, when you finally find them, are severely disappointing.

1. Then the sun dips low on the horizon and you stop where you are. You dump the bag of books at your feet and rest your back against a stall. You have finished all your money. A certain regret takes hold of you – that rare book of Mao’s Selected Military Writings you did not buy from the antiquarian shop, that late blue painting of the tram and the Calcutta rain, the Complete Works of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. But you shake it off quickly. You stand there and observe the fair.

And there suddenly appear five different versions of you, one, ten years old, another, 21 and in love, the third, 30 years old and beaten down, the fourth, 42 and harried and brisk, and the fifth, a glorious 60. Your other selves pay no attention to you whatsoever and mingle with the crowd, briskly walking in different directions, weaving in and out among the women in burkhas and the girls in short skirts and the busy bauls and the smug professors, past the monks and avowed communists, bumping into the Anglophones and smiling at the Anglophobes. Your other selves will not remember your regrets of this year – their tastes have altered with the season, but the bookshelves of the mind have not yet been filled up. They are bookshopping just as judiciously as you did this year.

Devapriya Roy is the author of The Vague Woman’s Handbook and The Weight Loss Club. Her new book is called The Heat and Dust Project: Pilot, and is co-written with husband Saurav Jha. It is due in May, and tells the story of their travels through India on a very very tight budget. You can follow her @DevapriyaRoy.