As the name suggests, College Street is lined by many of Kolkata’s academic institutions: the University of Calcutta, Sanskrit College, Presidency University, the Medical College of Kolkata, to name a few. When these institutions were established in the 19th century, they turned the stretch of road between Mahatma Gandhi Road crossing and Bowbazar crossing into a veritable haven for the city’s intelligentsia.
With an area spanning almost one million square feet, College Street is also the largest secondhand book market in the world. The mile-long avenue is dotted with hundreds of bookstores, big and small, and is also home to India’s biggest publishing houses. The bookstores range from standard brick-and-mortar affairs to small makeshift stalls made from bamboo, canvas, or sheets of metal. Each stall and store has its own history to speak of.
College Street’s main draw is that it boasts a collection of almost every single title to ever have been sold in Kolkata. Rare books are sold at dirt cheap prices, and extensive bargaining is the order of the day. One can find books dating back 250 years, rare first editions as well as copies of books from publishers that have ceased to exist today.
One of the literati staples on College Street is the famed Indian Coffee House, which has seen notable Indian writers such as the likes of Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray stop in for a cup of chai, a samosa, and the weekly gossip.