Once upon a time, in the old, dusty college street of Calcutta!

I am 34 years old and have been working for the last 12 years. At this point in time, I can afford all the best scents that are out there: Musk, Jasmine, Rose, Vanilla, Bergamot, Patchouli, Vetiver & Sandalwood. But even today, my absolute favourite thing to smell is an old, printed book.

When I open a book for the first time, my mind forgets the worldly things for a moment. Suddenly life becomes full of possibilities. And I crave to explore the characters, the worlds that are described in the book that I have held in my hands. For me, visiting ‘College Street’ in Calcutta had been a bucket-list item. In 2019, I finally got the chance to cross that off.

College Street, Calcutta

“So many books, so little time.” – Frank Zappa

Known as Boi Para, College Street is the largest book market in India or Asia, and the second-largest in the world. That makes ‘College Street’ a favourite of not only bookworms but artists, writers, readers, librarians, journalists, explorers and everyone who can and loves to read. 😀

On either side of the road, you will find shops – big & small – manned by people with book databases in their heads. You just have to take the name of the writer or the book, or describe a similar book and the owner would know exactly where that kind of the book will be found in his/ her shop.

They say that if you can’t find/ get a particular book in College Street, it never existed.

Smell, touch and feel the books

I visited College Street in the month of May. It must be 2 pm. Humidity and Heat were at their peak. Dressed in a Black Kurta with my long, open hair, I was sweating a lot. And still, I couldn’t stop myself from checking out the tiny shops that had books laid out on their porch.

These books had all kinds of covers – colourful, abstract, monochromatic, portraits, jumbled up words, neatly calligraphed sentences, emotive paintings, facial expressions and puzzles. Each book is a promise of a different world, of an alternate reality. All you have to do to experience is to buy it. I looked at many of these books that afternoon but couldn’t choose one. And then this book, authored by one of my favourite writers reached out for me. And before I knew, I had it in my hands. That book has stayed on my bookshelf since then.

Home to many iconic colleges and ‘Indian Coffee House’, College Street is an extraordinary place garbed in layers of ‘ordinary’. At first look, you might not realise what’s special about this place. Maybe, not at the second look either. It might take a few visits or a few shopping trips.

But for me, the first look was enough!

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” – J.D. Salinger

Go back home at least 20 kgs heavier

If you have come to visit College Street from outside Calcutta, I have got two things to recommend to you. Well, not two. Three. 🙂

  1. Enjoy a tram ride
  2. Eat out at Indian Coffee House and gain a few kilos
  3. Buy books. Loads and loads of them. Keep buying till your bag is heavy…till your heart is full of joy.

The Man or Woman Who Does Not Read Has No Advantage Over the Man or Woman Who Cannot Read

When you buy a book, you don’t just buy a few pieces of paper pasted together. You buy a piece of your destiny that you can rewrite with intentions and actions. When you invest some time in reading a book, you do a favour to your mind and to your soul…for you have opened the window and let the fresh perspectives breeze in.

When you read a book, you explore possibilities.

And what is life if not a series of possibilities?!

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