One of the most iconic hubs of Kolkata, College Street is not only a stretch of road lined with book stalls or a center of large literary value, but also, a representation or rather a mirror of the typical culture of Bengal. The largest second hand market of books in India, College Street unlike any other tourist destination is woven in a charm of its own. With some of the big names in the educational space, such as, the University of Calcutta, Presidency University, Medical College and Hospital, Hindu School, Hare School and Sanskrit College located here; College Street also finds itself popular for its large square Swimming Pool located right in the heart of the city.
For someone brought up in Kolkata, College Street means too many things. It is one of the streets where you find it hard to look ahead, because your eyes invariably shift towards the titles of the myriad books either scattered on the pavements or stacked one on top of the other. There is a palpable educational buzz, if ever such thing exists outside college campuses, where even someone who is just crossing over to another destination finds themselves embroiled in the world of books. College Street is for hard core avid readers and for first time entrants into the world of alphabets and words. It is for those frantically seeking material for entrance exams of any kind and for those who want to dig out heritage books written two hundred years ago. Books in different languages, books on different subjects, books old and new, books tattered, frayed or hard bound in shiny hues – in short books of every kind are found in College Street at a price that will have you wanting them more.College Street, much like books, opens up a world of fantasy, imagination, knowledge and wonder. The famous Coffee House has over its years been the ‘adda’ for intellectuals of the stature of Rabindranath Tagore to the present day college goers. The massive College Street swimming pool has been the sporting hub for generations and is still the best place for beginners to learn swimming or for veterans to continue the exercise. Its shimmering waters breathe in a fresh whiff and cement the bridge of a healthy body and mind. The ‘puchka’ stalls and the healthy gram salad stalls around the periphery of the pool have been the delights of the hungry swimmers over the years and most recently book stalls have surrounded the pool enclosing it with soft traditional music and different events and cultural programs.
On the streets, the hustle of traffic moves with as much ease, as the bustle of pedestrians on pavements. There is constant movement as trams tingle by in a slow pace, buses and conductors honk and shout their way, taxis bump along the tram tracks and hand rickshaws try to find their place. Similarly, college goers and friends hang around in groups either munching on some snacks or gulping down cups of tea, protective mothers clasp the hands of the school goers haggling over books with the sellers, commuters briskly walk past to avoid the temptation of wishful thinking and dreamers with sling bags on their shoulders look over books in dazed surprise. Yes, College Street is not only a place where books are sold, but a place where history is made, memories are cherished, enlightenment is endowed, yet, life carries on in a cyclic routine.
College Street is hence not a historical monument; it is a way of living. Historically known for the first meeting of Indian National Conference, for political meetings led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as well as the musing of great minds of Satyajit Ray and Manna Dey, College Street unsurprisingly, does not gloat over its achievements neither does it choose to ignore them. What this stretch of street from the Ganesh Chandra Avenue to Mahatma Gandhi Road does do, is that, it allows everyone to be themselves. There is no halo over its lofty intellectual purpose yet it inspires and cajoles you to broaden your thought and to open your mind to the multitude of things that you do not even know exist. There is no unnecessary sophistication, no pretense, just a simplistic approach of acquiring knowledge, of enjoying what you study and having fun with your friends.
Visit College Street, because you will not find a catalog of editions, glossy covers and the glam and glitz of intelligentsia. You will on the contrary, cherish the noise, the amazing variety, the smell and sense of erudite literary cognizance along with the chatter of traffic and the flavors of street food.