The College Street book market, popularly known as the Boi Para, is an iconic landmark of Kolkata. Surrounded by prominent educational institutions like Presidency University, University of Calcutta, and the Medical College, this book market carries the legacy of Bengali literature and culture.
However, this market is presently dealing with twin challenges. The prolonged lockdown due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant loss of business was the first challenge. Even before that challenge could be mitigated, cyclone Amphan has ravaged this book market. The accompanying thunderstorm and heavy rains flooded this area. The bookstores (many of which are fragile, temporary structures) were permeated with rain water. Countless valuable books including textbooks and other literature were damaged. The book market also had a number of books which were historical collections and are currently out of print.
Contributions to support the Boi Para
The College Street book market is not only a hub of publishers and book sellers but it also employs a large number of book binding and labelling workers, typists, DTP operators, proof-readers and so on. Most of them either used to run their businesses with small capital or were salaried employees. Faced with these huge losses, many of them are planning to migrate to other professions.
Author Arka Deb, organiser of the Becheuthuk Boi Para (Long live Boi Para) fundraiser, has collected more than `4 lakhs on behalf of the Grambarta Prakashika Group. He said, “Big publishers will somehow manage to strengthen their market again but the small-scale sellers will be the most affected. Grambarta Prakashika is the pioneer to create a registrar of book-makers. We are identifying them and will help them within our capacity.”
Writer Susnato Chowdhury, one of the organisers of Boiparar Pashe (with the book market) campaign, told BE, “We could collect approximately `6 lakh from across the country and are giving that money to the affected people. Additionally, under our Boi More Na (books do not die) project, we are selling the damaged books through an online platform called boighor.in to the interested people. The response is truly satisfying. Apart from the shipping charge, the full amount is being given to the damaged book owners.”
The students of Presidency University have also come forward. Mimosa Ghorai, President, Presidency University Students’ Union, told BE, “With the help of our current students, teachers and alumni we could collect around `1.5 lakh till date through online payments. We are now collecting data regarding the most affected people and will help them.”
Initiative by the Guild
The Publishers’ and Booksellers Guild has released a statement asking publishers and sellers to submit their names with the amount of their approximate loss. They will have to share their personal details like bank account, voter id card and Aadhaar card details. They will also have to mention if they have received help from other sources. This registration will continue till June 30. The Guild has also requested people to contribute to their exclusive fund for the devastated book market.
Tridib Kumar Chattopadhyay, General Secretary, Publishers’ and Booksellers Guild, informed BE, “The approximate amount of loss due to Amphan is more than `5 crore. The Guild has already submitted `5 lakh to its exclusive relief fund. The additional money from mass contributions will be merged with it for disbursement to the affected enterprises. We have made a scrutiny committee. They will scrutinise the fund and the need for relief work after June 30. No member of the Guild will be entitled to get any support from this fund even if they are affected.”
Reacting to this move, Chowdhury commented, “Publishers and book sellers in College Street were already suffering because of the lockdown. Amphan has only multiplied the loss. So, the response from the Guild is quite late.”