Kolkata’s academic hub is thriving once more. Not that Calcutta and Presidency universities will reopen very shortly ~ their closure along with schools has been extended to 31 July ~ but because the bibliophile and students generally have been greeted with quite the most delightful piece of news in the midst of the gloom and doom.
The historical Boipara in College Street, whose history dates back to the heady era of the Bengal Renaissance, has sprung back to life, almost in the immediate aftermath of a devastating cyclone which had exacerbated the overwhelming depression caused by the serial lockdowns.
Indeed, the depression in men’s minds over the lockdown was aggravated by the depression in the weather. The fact that Boipara has been revamped with urgent despatch is a profound testament to collective efforts, notably both physical and monetary assistance. In parallel to the shutdown, the book stores on either side of College Street were quite totally flattened by Cyclone Amphan on 20 May.
These shops, almost a collective heritage of the city, have been frequented by book lovers, students and scholars long before the annual Kolkata Book Fair became a fashionable hangout, not to forget the other winter get-together called the Kolkata Literary Festival.
Within three weeks of the cyclone, which perhaps has never hit Kolkata in the manner that it did, 95 per cent of the book shops and stalls have reopened and are back in business. Yet another testament perhaps to the inbuilt resilience of the city.
The prompt revival owes not a little to what they call the “crowd-funding initiative’’ of College Street that is reported to have generated as much as Rs 16 lakh. Contributions have come in from different parts of the country and abroad. Many book sellers have lost everything that they had.
Considering the extent of the destruction, the revival is bound to be a prolonged effort, that will have to be sustained if the glory of Boipara is to be redeemed. The engagement of those who have frequented Boipara over time boasts a deeper connection that goes beyond the balance-sheet, specifically sales and profit.
To many students if not most, it has doubled up as an unofficial library, in parallel to that of the Arts library of Presidency College and Calcutta University. The book sellers, alongside the railings of Presidency, were ever so willing to offer attractive discounts, even photocopies of selected portions.
They were acutely aware that not all students could afford to pay the ballooning prices of books. In the third week of May, it was a painful sight to watch books floating in the murky water. Happily, that murk has been cleansed in an incredibly short span of time. Kolkata is happy as people wend their way to book stalls in College Street… once more.