“A book is a gift you can open again and again.”
Even if we don’t know much about Garrison Keillor, we all know books are our best friend.
If you love books and are in Kolkata, do make a plan to visit College Street, a ~1.5 km long street in central Kolkata. It is a paradise for bookworms. It is the world’s second largest market of second hand books and the largest book market in India. There are countless stall-like shops, constructed with wood, bamboo, sheets of corrugated tin and canvas, on either side of the footpath bordering College Street. People from different parts of the state, as well as from other states gather here for their books.
The entire stretch houses some of the world’s oldest educational institutes. The adjoining Kolkata University, Presidency University (previously known as Presidency College), Kolkata Medical College, Hindu School, Sanskrit College, Hare School and many more institutions have added the gravity to this place. You can get any type of book in any language, from books in academic curriculum to latest bestseller fiction. At the same time, you will be amazed to notice booksellers’ enormous knowledge on the subject, be it author, publishers or even the content. There is no other place in the city; you would want to visit again and again.
Name any book and there is a chance that you will get it here. Your dream to find out an out-of-print book can be fulfilled here. There are many shops selling exclusively second hand books, which may not be published anymore. Depending on your patience and capacity of bargaining, you can get both new, as well as old books at half or even at a lesser price. College Street is also home of some of the well known publishing houses in India, such as Ananda Publishers, Rupa & Co.., just to name a few.
Once you are tired and exhausted, you can straight go to Coffee House, famously known as the hub of intellectual debates, a place where Bengali ‘Adda’ is defined and typified. It is located adjacent to Hindu School and just opposite the Presidency University. For a long time, it is a regular hang out option and a renowned meeting place (adda) for intellectuals and students and played an important part in Kolkata’s cultural history and various movements. Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose were frequent visitors of the place.
Coffee Board started Coffee joint from the Albert Hall in 1942 and since then it became a meeting place for the poets, artistes, literati and people from the world of art and culture. Several great personalities of the city such as Satyajit Ray, Manna Dey, Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sanjeev Chattopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, just to name a few, were regular visitors and made this place immensely popular.
Coffee House & Manna Dey are a part of every Bengali’s life. It doesn’t matter whether he/she stays in West Bengal or any other places in the world. Everyone of us became nostalgic whenever we listen Manna Dey’s famous song on ‘Coffee House’ (sharing a link for all of you):
The minus point is that you may not connect yourself to that place being an outsider, not well aware of the city’s history & culture or nostalgia associated with this place. You may come back with a thought in your mind what’s so special about this place. However, you can enjoy your time in a group or in accompany with a local friend.
It is a long tiring day for you since morning. Just to freshen up yourself, you can visit nearby water body, namely College Square. College Square has a picturesque setting beside a lake and you will find many budding swimmers, practicing swimming to water polo.
The city has gone through several changes, however, “Boi Para” is gloriously surviving with tram cars, hand pulled rickshaws in harmony with proximity to metro link. In 2007, College Street featured among the famous landmarks of India which have made it to Time Magazine’s “Best of Asia” list. Take a walk and/or ride a tram, you will probably feel that this is the best place to get lost in the city.