Summer Vacation: College Street – A paradise for Bookworms – Part VII

“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.

A paradise for bookworms

A paradise for bookworms

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.

College Street and the University Building

College Street and the University Building

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 There are many shops selling exclusively second hand books, which may not be published anymore.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 House - the breeding points of several...

Coffee House – the breeding points of several…

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):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6avgCCWOeCU

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 College Square

The College Square

College Square - Swimming classess

College Square – Swimming classess

College Square is famous for Durga Puja celebrations when the entire place is illuminated for the festival. It’s wonderful sight to see the sparkling lights and their reflection on the water.

Durga Puja: sparkling lights and reflection on the water

Durga Puja: sparkling lights and reflection on the water

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.

11 Comments

  • Hi,
    Thank you…
    It’s an amazing place indeed…full of colors, characters…hope you will visit the place whenever time permits

    Thanks for coming to this post and leaving your remarks.

  • venkatt says:

    Amitava, thanks for bringing the off-beat gems of Kolkata. A post on a lane full of old bookshops is really a very novel idea !

    • Thank you Venkatt.
      Whenever you have a chance to (come) or go there, take a long walk…you will feel happy for the decision.

      Now, what am I upto?

      This post is for all those Ghumakkars’ who love books; this post is also for those who love to roam around the city and explore on their own…and also for all those Ghumakkars, who love to dig deeper into history or cultural side of any city…this place has all the flavours which a Ghumakkar would like to know as well.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    This has not been on Ghumakkar. Added to list.

    There is a big sunday book market in Darya Ganj, Delhi. There was a good story on this , leaving a link here
    http://www.ghumakkar.com/2010/04/05/in-the-mystic-alleys-of-delhi-the-sunday-book-bazaar/

    • Thank you Nandan.
      Yeah, I am aware of Darya Ganj, as well as Nai Sarak area. Ten years back, I used to go there whenever I could manage sometime on Sunday…it’s been a long time since I last visited these places.

      I will definitely read the story..Thank you for sharing this link.

  • Rakesh Bawa says:

    Amitava Ji, Is it GURUDEV Rabindra Nath Tagore portrait in the coffee house. Personally I like this coffee house culture very much and remember my days in Indian coffe house in Shimla. This eating joint has an aura which is unexplainable.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Amitava,

    College Street seems like my kind of place. We all know outside of a dog, book is our best friend, inside a dog, it is too dark to read!

    Would like to read a post on trams.

    Great going and discoveries continue!

    • Thank you Nirdesh…this place will definitely attract people like you, so half-day in Victoria and half-day in College Street (at least) in your next trip, I guess…

      ‘A post on Trams’ – it will be there too (thought may not be a full post).

      I will also be in Kolkata for a day or two next month and for few days in October – so this journey will definitely continue and I hope to bring some other places to all of you.

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Amitava,

    Great coverage. It was like clock-work, reading about College street, I thought of Coffee House and it followed. While there, remembered College square pandal – and yes, it is there ! Is something left out – well, Mohinimohankanjilal and Indian Silk House, if ladies have their way (or say), that is :-)

    My visits to College street have been infrequent lately, despite (or is it, due to lack of?) the will. One important collection from there in the past has been a Hindi dictionary of 40s vintage, hard bound, which I have preserved for keepsake. Others included things like Taslima Nasrin in original Bong, etc.

    We were in Europe recently, and the major cities there invariably boast of such coffee houses which were regular haunts of their Greats. Difference being, they are well marked and marketed on tourists’ itinerary, and well preserved. Articles like this, hopefully, would help to highlight our nostalgic glories.

    Manna Dey’s coffee house music is based on ‘Auld lang syne’ by Robert Burns, (late eighteenth century, Scotland)
    [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acxnmaVTlZA], and also on similar premises as that of ‘Purano shei diner katha’
    – the lyric of this Scottish song (a favourite of my family) is indicative of parting/departure/graduation/ new year/ nostalgia…..

    Your elaborate narration and inclusive commentaries make the post really superb and memorable.

    thanks

    Auro.

    • Thank you Auro. Sorry for the late response.
      Yes, it was missing – fortunately (!) most of the time I am alone in that area – otherwise Mohinimohankanjilal and Indian Silk House would also have been here…the last time ‘M’ had a good time at both these places.

      I am aware of your Hindi Dictionary of 40s vintage, courtesy Ram Dhall Sir’s post on Sunday Book Bazar, which I read few days back and saw your comment. Thank you for sharing these two links…they are my favourite too.

      Secondly, when are we going to read your stories on Europe…was it personal or official? Do take out some time and write here…we do miss your stories…

      Thank you…

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