Once Christopher Moreley said, “There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It’s like falling in love.”
Kolkata has its own boi para (a book colony, if you will) in the form of College Street, which has been supplying books to eke out the demand of people from every corner of the world. College Street is the largest bookselling market in the country and the second-largest in the world which has stalls, traditional book stores, and publishers along with narrow lanes of smaller bookshops that collectively form the colony of books, run from Mahatma Gandhi Road to Bowbazar.
Dotted with makeshift bookstalls made from bamboo, wood, and tarpaulin, College Street’s charm is undeniable. Formerly, many renowned people like Satyajit Ray, Rabi Ghosh, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Mrinal Sen, Amartya Sen, Aparna Sen used to throng College Street to collect some infrequent, scarce, extraordinary books. Apart from them, many common people have made college street for the destination of books.
College Street itself used to be considered as the centre of the political, educational, social debate along with a cup of coffee from Indian Coffee House.
Not only that, College Street has also witnessed the beginning of the revolutionary Naxalite movement of the 1970s in Bengal. The popularity and legacy of this street are so widespread and profound that in 2007, it was added to Time Magazine’s ‘Best of Asia’ list.
But this fast digital world has made its stroke in this historical and iconic place. Access to the Internet has made everything available at the doorstep of people. It initiates people to abandon the habit of turning over the pages after pages of books before purchasing it.
Dipankar Dutta, seller of books since the last 20 years at College Street, has said, “Now, very selective people come up to collect old books who are actually associated with it or doing research on it. But youth frequently come here to search for syllabus oriented books.”
Competitive education systems have somehow occupied them from the growing interest of other books and made them very explicit. Bulganin Sarkar, selling books since the last 30 years in this area, added, “Selling stories books has been curtailed widely. Simultaneously controversial and syllabus oriented books are going rapidly. Students are picking up various competitive exam books rather than other agnostic materials.”
This is how the young generation is lacking their interest rate in books under the pressure of exams and thus college street is gradually becoming restricted within a limited amount of people.
While talking of such inestimable collections, another bookseller, Gobinda Saha added, “Some people come here to sell their old books. We verify that according to the demand of people. Otherwise, we visit the library where we get such collections and also go door to door who contact us.”
Ayushman Ghosh, pursuing English Honours from Ashutosh College said, “I always prefer to read old books. Yes, new edition books are also promising but don’t get that charm which I get in the old one. In the free time of college when I ask my friends to visit the library, they usually refuse to go and prefer the canteen.”
Sudhangshu Sekhar Mukhopadhaya, a 70-year-old book lover, has said, “I always love to collect old books. I have learned some tactics of how to pick up a good book very swiftly. Not only collection, preserving of those inestimable books are equally a requisite practice. But the new generation is not doing anything about it. They may have immense intelligence and have outside capabilities but their depth and prevalence both are less in case of a book, which is very unfortunate.”
Many older sellers have still kept old books and know very well who are their actual buyers. Among them, Ansar Ali, who has been on College Street since 1972 and has been featured in several journals has said, “I generally keep those collections which you barely get in any market. I have less interest in textbooks but we have to keep it to maintain our livelihood. But those who take such books, they are familiar to me. The young generation doesn’t come for this.”
Discussing the changing scenario of College Street, he added, “Previously, I could make people easily satisfied, but now it has become difficult to pacify them which leads to a dilapidated business.”
Rabindranath Tagore has written in his book Sabhayatar Sonkote (Shortage of Civilisation), that Bengalis are prostrate under corrupted culture. Where youths are said to be the future of the nation, they are making their ambit of wisdom restricted within the few chapters of books for walking to their goals.
Altogether, the addiction towards books is gradually shifting to Netflix, WhatsApp, Facebook, e-books, etc. which are enough to engage.
A career-oriented life has pushed them towards fast technologies and made their world so tiny that there’s no place for books. Are all these technologies being able to give them the smell of a new book? Or teaching them consistency?