Book World of Kolkata

Arup Sen

On my recent visit to the age-old bookseller and publisher of Kolkata, Dasgupta and Co Private Ltd, Arabinda Dasgupta, the key person in charge of the concern, gifted me a copy of the bi-lingual volume, published on the occasion of 128th anniversary (1886-2014) of the house, edited by Satyabrata Ghosal. Other than documenting the rich history of Dasgupta and Co, the collection provides important information about the history of other old publishers, small publishers and book sellers of Kolkata, some of which the readers of Frontier may find interesting.

In the words of Gopal Krishna Gandhi: "Kolkata is without exception, the city of books. It is in fact twinned to books". Samar Sen's autobiographical account in Bengali, Babu Brittanta (Babu's Tale) and Ashok Mitra's Bengali literary essays, Kabita Theke Michhile (From Poetry to Procession) were first published by two very small publishers, Asha Prokashani and Ayan, respectively, both of them now extinct. At the height of the naxalite movement, when Arabinda Dasgupta joined the family business, he found that there was huge demand for radical books, such as Red Book, Das Capital and poem collections of Pablo Neruda and Mayakovsky.

The significant information documented in the volume is that the famous old book stalls situated along the pavement of Presidency College were run by mostly Muslims, such as Khalil Mian, Nayim Mian, Heku Mian and Muha-mmad Yusuf. The eminent linguists, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee and Sukumar Sen, and Gandhian anthropologist, Nirmal Kumar Bose, were regular visitors to their stalls and stood by their side, when attempts were made to evict them from the pavement. Yusuf's son, Korban Ali and Heku's son, Gendu Mian, now in the sixties, stated in their testimonies that when they came to know of Sunitibabu's death, they went to pay their tributes by offering flowers, and came back with a broken heart. The renowned poet Bishnu Dey reportedly in his 'Gyanpeet Award' lecture dwelt at leangh on the Presidency College railing booksellers.

In his entry in the volume, Sumanta Banerjee shared his experience of boi-para of the 1950s : "...there were strings of books hanging from the railings of Presidency College—second-hand books of various natures which were offered for sale at prices that suited our pockets. That tradition still continues. But the tastes of the clientele have changed".

We don't know how long the cosmopolitan book world of Kolkata will survive in the world of hyper-modernity and 'modern' Hinduism.

Vol. 50, No.26, Dec 31 - Jan 6, 2017