This otherwise hopeless trajectory sometimes takes an auspicious turn, letting one see the possibility of living her dream. After all, in this ‘unfair’ journey called life, how many people actually get to pursue their passion! The euphoric soul of the juvenile envisions a future that subsequently turns out to be some kind of an augmented reality befitting the surreal. In the reality that unfolds, we mostly languish, with nothing visible beyond insipidity. Therefore, to be granted a chance to do what we desire from the bottom of our hearts seems all the more precious in a life abound in banality.
I had always aspired for a life that would have something to do with books, thereby making this growing acquaintance with bookmaking the most rewarding experience at the moment. A fortnight at Seagull made me see quite a lot. After being introduced to the fundamentals of publishing, we were absorbed into the anatomy of a book, learning its sequence from cover to cover. The occasional master classes and the field trips in between the brainstorming sessions of relearning English were not only enriching but also unadulterated fun! After an engaging discussion with Rick Simonson on bookstores and book readings at Seattle, we left for College Street that winter afternoon to savour the essence of the historic boipara of the city.
My association with College Street has been for almost a decade, having begun since my days in college. For three consecutive years, the everyday journey to Presidency College, which stands with its illustrious heritage, on College Street, had made me familiar with this bookworms’ abode. With numerous bookstalls, big and small, spread all over the pavements, the boipara upholds a distinctive charm of its own where booksellers from the roadside stalls ardently invite customers the moment one steps in and strolls ahead, wondrously gazing at the seeming variety of books. In fact, Bolun didi, ki boi khujchhen (Tell us madam, what book are you looking for?) is a welcome note to College Street! For me, apart from the obvious temptations enticing every book-lover, there remains a very personal connection with the region, bearing an overwhelming nostalgia about those unprecedented times at the threshold of youth.
A field trip to College Street from the Seagull School not only promised an exhilarating prospect but also seemed to be a walk down the memory lane—a stupendous encounter of the present with the past. We took a metro-ride to reach central Calcutta and from there, walked through the sprawling campus of the Medical College to reach the book-lover’s destination. We passed by the bookstalls, fascinated, as well as intrigued by the variety of books they sell—ranging from textbooks and guide books of all kinds to works by Kafka, Dostoyevsky or Sukanta! Our teacher and tour guide Bishan enthusiastically led us to the heritage institutions of the region, namely, the University of Calcutta and Presidency College (though now a university, I still prefer to call it by its former name) that came up in colonial times to educate the ‘natives’ in European sciences and literature. We walked through the corridors of the Main Building of Presidency, marvelling not only the palatial edifice but also the intellectual climate around. Students in the canteen and union room remained engrossed in the quintessential adda as we walked past the area, fairly amused by the politically motivated graffiti all around the campus. Across the road, the destination awaiting us was not any bookstore but a hugely famous eatery called The Coffee House where Bengalis, or rather Calcuttans, have been breaking into never-to-end adda sessions for generations. There is, in fact, a very popular Bengali song dedicated entirely to the Coffee House adda! Having found the restaurant extremely crowded as always, we preferred to explore an adjacent bookshop named Chuckervertty Chatterjee, which too is probably as old as the locality. The store has a great collection of books both in English and Bengali, and also possibly in Hindi. We spent quite some time there, picking up from the stacks books that caught our interest and while glancing through the pages, discussed our choice of books with one another. Treading along the gullees of College Square, one is awestruck by the visual landscape of the region that magnificently retains the essence of old Calcutta at a time when, in a desperate attempt to put on the ‘global’ garb, the rest of the city is on the verge of losing its characteristic identity.
All that walk into and within the boipara had certainly caused some fatigue when we serendipitously came across Paramount, a famous sherbet corner that gave us the wonderful idea to rejuvenate ourselves. The soothing effect of the cold sherbet aroused a pensive mood, as we had a glimpse of the juxtaposed past and present with the vivacious College Street in the backdrop!