Renaissance street

College Street or Boipara is synonymous with Kolkata’s progress, being the cradle of Bengal Renaissance, the stamping ground of intellectual, literary and science greats, the birthplace of many a strategy for freedom movement, the first sporting ground where football made its debut in the city and more recently, the education and adda hub for those who led Bengal to the global map. The street, which houses the largest book market in the country and the second largest secondhand book hub in the world, is the perfect blend of culture, heritage and nostalgia.

“The cultural history of Kolkata is incomplete without College Street, the locale for historical and watershed events of the city,” said Arabinda Dasgupta, managing director of Dasgupta & Co, the oldest surviving book shop on College Street, established in 1886. The para is lined with book shops, big publishing names and small stalls, standing cheek by jowl. Be it fictions, Bengali classics, li terary criticism tomes, children’s books, almanacs, academic text books and competitive exam “suggestion” books, everything is available here. Stumbling across rare, out-ofprint editions is not out of ordinary. “Our shop has witnessed the two World Wars, the Independence movement and lived through the Naxalite movement, when College Street was the hotbed of revolution. Revolutionaries would take refuge in our shop during the freedom struggle,” said Dasgupta. “Greats like Amartya Sen, Amales Tripathi, Sukhamoy Chakraborty an d Gopal Krishna Gandhi visited our shop. ”
Some of the oldest educational institutes—Calcutta University, Medical College and Hospital, Presidency, Sanskrit College, now Sanskrit College University, Hare and Hindu schools—continue to shape the country’s intellectual journey. Sharing space are College Square—the city’s heart of political and cultural movem ents, with its war memorials, and the oldest swimming clubs— eateries like Dilkhusa Cabin, Putiram, Paramount and the heritage hangout place, Coffee House, that have been part of the socio-cultural history of Bengal. The “traditional” is juxtaposed with the “modern”, represented by rooftop sporting arena, book cafes, fast food joints and food trucks.

Every nook and corner seems to be brimming with stories, old and new. Coffee House, known for its ‘adda’ and ‘infusion’, can be considered the birthplace of legendary tales, spun by intellectuals over ages. The journey started with Albert Hall in 1876. The Coffee Board decided to start a coffee shop there in 1942. Since then, winds of change have swept in, with machine-made cold coffee being served and d igital payments accepted. But what has remained constant is its popularity, the venue for long and languid addas. It has remained a favourite among the modern crowd as it wa s with artistes, writers, filmmakers and actors of earlier times, like Manna Dey, Satyajit Ray, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay, Soumitra Chatterjee, Gunte r Grass and Allen Ginsberg. Now, 10 friends were spotted sharing atable at the same place, as they met up 36 years later to relive their ‘girlhood’ days. Saswati Chatterjee, a Duff School alumna, said, “We are a batch of 1987. We thought this would be the best place for our meeting. ” Senior citizens Sambit Sanyal, Jahar Pal, Manabendranath Patra and Apurba Debnath have been meeting there for the last 50 years.

But eateries, like Putiram, Dilkhusa Cabin and Paramount, have stuck to “cash only”. Utpal Basu, owner of Dilkhusa, said, “We don’t face any problem without online transactions. People visit us for our affordable but goodquality food. ” Food Square came up three years ago beside Paramount and students flock there for noodles, fries, sandwiches and mocktails.

The latest addition to College Street is Astroturf, a 5,000sq-ft sporting space atop the heritage building housing Coffee House and Abhijan Book Cafe. Owner Aman Bansal said, “There is hardly any open space here. So, we opened this one. ” Maruf Hossain, owner of Abhijan Book Cafe, said, “It is the first, themed book cafe in Bengal, depicting Bengali printing history. People can browse and read books here. ” PG student Sneha Ray said, “It helps as we can read before buying a book. ”

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