Walking Around Kolkata’s College Street

24th of August is the birthday of Kolkata to many. The popular theory states that In 1698 Job Charnock, an administrator of the English East India Company bought three villages- Sutanuti, Kolkata and Gobindapur, from the local landlord Sabarna Roy Chowdhury and joined them to form Calcutta, the capital of British India from 1772 to 1911. However there are other historical and legal documentations which do neither accept this date as the birthday of the city nor do they accept Job Charnock as the founder. Kolkata, previously called ‘Calcutta’ is one of the major metropolitan cities of India and is the capital of the State of West Bengal. For a place which is driven by emotions and love for its rich history, heritage, art, culture, festivals, food and football, listing one particular favourite place is not just difficult but next to impossible. Yet, I think of one place which has a touch of all the attributes mentioned in the previous line. It is the College Street Area in Kolkata.

Book Lovers’ Paradise:

College Street, also called ‘Boi Para’ is Asia’s largest book market and also World’s 2nd largest market for 2nd hand books. It is a mile long avenue dotted with book stores on both sides. Fiction, non-fiction, educational and academic books are all available here from toddlers to geeks and scholars. Book stalls and kiosks with varieties of publications, spilling over onto the pavement and exclusive publisher outlets are present. The kings of Bengali publishing houses have their stalls; Ananda Publishers, Mitra and Ghosh Publishers, Das Gupta and Company Pvt. Ltd, Dey’s Publishing and Rupa & Co and others. My recent experience at ‘Mitra and Gosh Publishers Pvt. Ltd.’  was amazing. The sales executives were efficient, helping me with what to finally choose from the plethora of options.  I have often seen readers stand and finish reading full books at stores. The smell of new books and the stains of the old ones allure book lovers into the book world.

College Street and Academia:

College Street houses one of India’s oldest Universities, the University of Calcutta (1857); Asia’s oldest medical college, Calcutta Medical College (1835); and some of the oldest educational institutions of the country like the Presidency University (1817), Hindu School (1817), Hare School (1818) and Sanskrit Collegiate School (1824). The Bengal Theosophical Society (1875) is also situated here beside the Head Quarters of Maha Bodhi Society of India. In 1953, India’s first MBA Institute, Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, was established here, under affiliation to University of Calcutta. There are many other colleges too and the reason behind the street’s nomenclature is clear.

Indian Coffee House, the Seat of Intelligentsia:

College Street is a place where intellectuals hover around; scholars, professors, lecturers, faculties, students and academicians and writers, editors, film makers and artists flock together. Coffee House at College Street has been the seat of intelligentsia since years. Intense brain storming and conversations brewed with hot coffee have resulted into some brilliant ideas for politics, a new novel, a plot for a theatre or a piece of new music, since decades now. Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, Samaresh Majumdar, Ritwik Ghatak, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Sanjeev Chattopadhyay and many other eminent figures frequented the Coffee House. The cafeteria still maintains the old menu. Chicken sandwich and cold coffee are my favourites. The place teleports us to a time we have left behind but is historic and meant to be preserved. Manna Dey’s song, ‘Coffee Houser Shei Adda’, has immortalised this place.

Eating Around at College Street:

Besides Indian Coffee House there is another place to eat if one prefers Indian snacks like kachori and singara and that is Puntiram Sweets. They serve good Bengali sweets too. There is another iconic place for sherbets and syrups which one must visit if she/he is at College Street and that is Paramount which runs since 1918. It is just not sipping a drink at Paramount but it is sipping history in. Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda had even stepped in here. It has held its own even today with its uniqueness and heritage when so much of the city has changed. My favourite is the ‘Daab Sherbat’; do try that out.

College Square

Opposite to University of Calcutta, by the College Street, lies a huge square park area with an open swimming pool, a war monument and statues of famous people. This square is most famous for Durga Pujo, when it gets magical with lights and décor. When one makes a list of the best Durga Pujos of Kolkata, College Square is always there.

Chaotic yet Charming

College Street is always crowded yet has a chaotic sweetness to the daily mundane. This area from old Kolkata speaks of Kolkata as a city beyond brick and mortar. There is a special charm and warmth of the place which instantly makes one belong here.
Dipannita Bhattacherya
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