Kolkata is a city of booklovers and long before the advent of new-age bookstores it was known for its iconic book streets — College Street in the north and Golpark in the south. It is also the city that celebrates its love for books with an annual festival — Boi Mela, for Kolkatans, is no less a celebration than Durga Puja. Changing times have meant that the city has made space for swank bookstores as well as streetside or corner shops, both with their own loyal clientele.
On Book Lovers Day, My Kolkata decided to visit Kolkata’s favourite book haunts, old and new. Come, join us on this journey…
Kolkata’s College Street is a place where you can experience the culture and history of Kolkata in old bookshops like Dasgupta & Co, Calcutta Book House, National Bookstore and moreAmit Pramanick
College Street, Kolkata’s old Boi Para, has been a booklovers’ paradise for. Chances are your parents and their parents once ambled around the gullies looking for their favourite tomes, just like you do now. The stores and stalls lining the street have books of all kinds — academic, fiction, non-fiction, rare, new, pre-loved — and all at affordable prices. With many renowned colleges and universities like Presidency University, University of Calcutta, Calcutta Medical College, and Sanskrit College right around the corner, College Street has long been the OG spot to find any kind of book that you need. And one of the best things about it is that every bookseller is a fountain of knowledge, always ready to guide you to your favourite pages.
The stores and stalls lining the street at College Street have books of all kindsAmit Pramanick
Kolkata’s College Street is a place where you can experience the culture and history of Kolkata in old bookshops like Dasgupta & Co, Calcutta Book House, National Bookstore and more. The fourth generation owner of Dasgupta & Co, Arabinda Dasgupta said, “Our store is about 138 years old and my father Girish Chandra Dasgupta established it. We are the only bookshop in the city to have received the heritage tag. You will get more than 12,000 books on various genres here. We have kept the space accessible to our customers so that they can browse through the books, flip and read a few pages and then buy.”
Oxford Bookstore, Park Street
Established way back in 1919, Oxford is a gleaming souvenir of Kolkata’s love for literature, preserving the ethos of its readers for over a century. Over a century old, the store has been a hub for the city’s book lovers foreign and native. It has hosted the works of writers of different generations, and the writers themselves for audiences and booklovers. This Park Street bookstore has created its own special places across age groups in the city.
We spotted its generational impact when we saw Dubai resident Ritu Jain poring over books with her children, Smayan and Smaira. “We live in Dubai, but during our annual Kolkata trip, we make sure to visit Oxford. The options here ensure that there is something for all three of us,” Ritu smiles. The management concurs that this is a result of the bookstore’s commitment to remaining in sync with readers.
“Oxford Bookstore has always remained hugely relevant and a key player in Kolkata’s literary, culture and art universe throughout its existence, evolving into an intellectually interactive space for the young and old. Oxford has been committed to organising literary discussions too. It gave the city its first English Literary festival (AKLF) and it’s only Bangla literary festival (ABSU),” said Swagat Sengupta, CEO, Apeejay Oxford Bookstores.
Bahrisons Booksellers, Kolkata
Bahrisons started its journey seven decades ago at Delhi’s Khan market, and opened doors in Kolkata earlier this yearSoumyajit Dey
This bookstore in Park Street is the new kid on the block, but one that comes with a legacy of its own. It has also quickly captured the hearts of Kolkata bibliophiles, especially those familiar with its story. Despite arriving in the city only this January, Bahrisons has managed to imbibe the legacy it has built in Delhi over 70 years, starting with their first store at Khan Market.
The store in Park Street instantly makes a reader feel at home, and this sentiment was echoed by Sweta Singha, a masters student in Geography at Chakdaha College, who visited Bahrisons Kolkata for the first time last week. “The book collection here is great, and I found so many titles I had been looking for, for a long time. It’s a reader’s paradise!” she smiled, while picking up Things I Wanted to Say (But Never Did) by Monica Murphy. “At Bahrisons, we always try to focus on curation and customer service. We understand the diverse needs of our clientele. People come here not just for bestsellers, but for rare books,” added Jayati Basu, manager, Bahrisons Booksellers Kolkata.
One of the unique features of the stalls at Golpark is the collection of old Bengali magazinesAmit Pramanick
Apart from College Street, there’s another Boi Para in Kolkata, this time in the south of the city, which is a paradise for pre-love books. Open from 11 am to 8pm every day, a small stretch of the footpath on the left from Golpark to Gariahat is lined with book stalls stacked with rare collectibles. Most of these have been adored and read often before they found a place in these stacks. You can find books on various topics, genres, and languages, from classics to bestsellers, from history to sports, from Bengali to English.
One of the unique features of these stalls is the collection of old Bengali magazines that consists of stories and articles by famous writers such as Sukumar Roy and Saradindu Bandopadhyay. These magazines are a treasure trove of nostalgia and culture for the readers.
Jarita Gangopadhyay, a corporate employee is a frequent visitor here. “It is the Boi Para for us south Kolkatans. Those of us who can’t go to College Street, come here for our books. I come here very often with my daughter and we go back with stacks of books. The books here are not just affordable but also rare sometimes. If you have the eye or the shopkeepers know your taste, you can find wonders! Today I am taking back a bunch of Archies and Tintin comics,” said the book lover.
For many millennials in Kolkata, Starmark is nostalgia (In picture: Starmark at South City Mall)Amit Pramanick
For many millennials in Kolkata, Starmark is nostalgia. The store we’d drag our parents to or would spend hours in as kids and young adults. One of the leading leisure retail stores in Kolkata, Starmarks locations across the city offer a wide range of books, stationery, toys, and gifts for all ages and interests. The chain was established in 1999 by The Emami Group and quickly became a space to find the most popular titles along with pop-culture merchandise, toys and other things in the city. In Kolkata, it has stores in South City Mall, Quest Mall, Mani Square, City Centre Salt Lake and City Centre 2. Needless to say, it has been a place where parents and kids can spend time together, with kids finding reading nooks and activities, while the grown ups look for picks for their bookshelves.
Whether you are looking for a bestseller or a popular classic, chances are you’ll find it among the warm and bright shelves of a Starmark. Kasturi Roy, an avid reader and homemaker from Jadavpur is a frequent visitor at the South City Starmark. “I like how finely organised this store is. You know where to look for your favourite reads and the people at the store are helpful too. For moms like me, this store is the perfect place to bring kids along. While they spend their time doing activities, I can browse through the books peacefully.”