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Calcutta’s Iconic Book Market Also Virus-Hit

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A month and a half into  the abruptly announced  lockdown ,  the  bustling lanes of Calcutta’ s College Street are lifeless. The city’s ‘Boipara in College Street , famous for rows after rows of books, many rare and priceless, is in eerie silence.
No booksellers, no buyers, no cartpullers who load books to carry to bulk suppliers , no tea stalls who supply endless to book lovers and sellers hunting fir a rare title.
Publishers of text-books, fiction and non-fiction are all in the same boat   , bracing for huge losses due to the shutdown since March 23.

The shopkeepers said the administration have  not issued any clear statement as to when bookstores could be opened. That is what they find worrying. College Street is where the Calcutta Medical College Hospital is located, now bristling with COVID  patients and suspects. So, the  administration has banned the usual book business across the lane.  Apart from that, the near-by lanes are also identified as containment zones.

A storeowners Rahul Sengupta opposed the opening of shops during the lockdown as it would not be profitable. The shops cannot supply books amid transport restrictions across the country, he said. ” And if buyers dont turn up, we will just have to swat flies.” 

Bulbul Islam, a publisher and a book-seller  echoed Sengupta. ” The main headache is non-availability of transport ,” said Islam. According to some booksellers, most of them sell text-books recommended by the country’s educational board like the

Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) or Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). Except for few, most of these books reach ‘Boipara’ from Delhi or Mumbai. Due to nationwide lockdown, the owners can’t supply these books even if there is a demand.

Various competitive tests results are published in April, May and June, thus creating a huge demand for competition success type books. The lockdown has killed that too, said businessman Dol Govinda Patra.

Meanwhile, the members of the Calcutta District Book Dealers’ Association, an association of book traders at College Street, fear that the demand for subject-based books for college students might not be same as all examinations are either postponed or cancelled. According to traders, the pattern of nation-based competitive tests changes every year.

As a result, the books, which will remain unsold this year, cannot be sold next year. It will too add to the financial burden. Thus to curb the losses, many booksellers will ask their employees to leave , Dol Govinda Patra added.

Not only will many store-employees lose their jobs, around 7,000 book-binders at College Street, who are mostly daily wagers, would face the loss of income. However, some traders demanded that if the situation improves, the administration should open shops at fixed intervals for stipulated days.

At the same time, if the commercial vehicles carrying books are allowed, the supply problem would be solved. Some of them also want permission to open the store or the warehouse to clean it.‘Bold, not incremental reforms, will

A kilometre-long stretch of road from Ganesh Chandra Avenue Crossing in Bowbazar to Mahatma Gandhi Road is lined with books on both sides; the eclectic collection on display can entice any connoisseur of books.

A hardcover of Baywatch can be found placed neatly next to a book on Swami Vivekananda’s selected lectures. They might even come for the same price. College Street, one of the largest second-hand selling markets in India, has an indubitable surreal charm to it.

Known as Boi Para in Bengali, it is a world in itself that functions by its own set of rules. There is nothing pious or profane, nothing too old or new.

The singularity of it might tempt one to compare it with the erstwhile Macondo, Marquez had written about in One Hundred Years Of Solitude, a city where strange things happen and stranger people reside.

But it perhaps comes closest to the land of Gup, Salman Rushdie mentions in Haroun and The Sea of Stories, a place where stories are churned out, a place where stories are retained.

The booksellers at College Street— who stop by those walking on the road with the promise of getting them the book they want, assuming always that it is a book that they want, assuming too that there could be no other purpose of visiting the place otherwise — are the ones maintaining the stories here.

They refer to authors with their first name, as if they are talking about some distant cousin they know all about. Well, they do.

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