It was a usual summer day in Kolkata. A nonchalant working day where one is bound to wake up from the rings and horns of the busy Kolkata streets. As I was no exception, the sound of Kolkata woke me up at an early hour of the morning. The good thing was that the day was planned that way--discovering Kolkata for the first time. I planned this day for that only. As I stepped into a yellow ambassador, I knew Kolkata's College Street (aka Boi Para) with its thousand book stores is going to welcome me with its arms wide open.
Boi Para stretches from Bowbazar's Ganesh Chandra Road crossing to Mahatma Gandhi Road crossing. The area is glorified not just because of its book stores but also as the major college and university area of Kolkata. Institutions such as Presidency University, University of Kolkata, Kolkata Medical College and Hindu School are all situated in this area— making it the grand central for students.
After an hour of moving through traffic, I finally reached onto the door of College Street. The taxi dropped me somewhere near the Biswabharati's publication store from where I began my stroll through Boi Para. At a glance it looks like a broad version of our very own Nilkhet. Dotted with countless book stores of all sizes, Boi Para is filled with the smell of damp pages. My first aim was to walk through the whole area before committing to a store. My stroll noticed a lot of famous book-stores which are referred in various novels. It was mesmerising to see old stores such as Chuckerverty and Chatterjee, which was established in 1910, still standing with its head held high. A couple of steps ahead stands the Sri Aurobindo Pathmandir, primarily a religious centre which also sells books.
Versatility is the most interesting aspect of Boi Para. On the left hand side one can find old men selling second hand science text books and just to their right, sits small book stores selling Russian published books on socialism by distinct publishers. That is the beauty of College Street. There's a saying that one can find gold worth books in College Street if one's lucky. Stumbling upon the first or second edition of Buddhadeb Basu, Sunil Ganguli, or even Ritwik Ghatak are a Monday for College Street.
After my stroll, I picked a store which on display had the book I was looking for. It was among the few air-conditioned stores where one can browse through the books and with this experience I realised another main aspect of this book colony. Boi Para works in a complete different way. It is very hard to browse through books in the small shops. I found most of the people came with a list, naming the books they wanted. A friend of mine living in Kolkata assured me that it is pretty much safe to assure that they will have the book on is looking for. Most of the owners either keep their books in the storage. One just has to name it and they will bring it.
After spending three and a half hours looking for the books of Manto, Ghatak and others my day with College Street ended. Though the book browsing was over, I saved the cream of College Street for Last. With loads of books in both hands I arrived onto the door step of the famous Coffee House. The place obviously needs no further introduction as the famous singer Manna Dey did it very well in his song. This was the place where students and intellectuals would meet after work or class and just get lost in adda. To think that writers such as Buddhadeb Basu, Joy Goswami , Sunil Gangapaddhay once used to sit on these very chairs made me shiver. The coffee and Pakora ended the day for me. A day which made me fall in love with this amazing city.