Kolkata’s iconic book market in College Street is getting some unique support from booklovers, as people have started buying books damaged by the heavy rain during Cyclone Amphan as ‘mementos’ of their love for books.
A group of booklovers, who call themselves the Book Scavengers, have appealed on social media so that people buy books completely damaged by the rain. They have so far raised more than Rs 1.5 lakh from about 170 people for the 250-odd books that they collected.
Another small publisher tied up with an e-commerce site for Bengali books for the online sale of damaged books along with a special bookmark. Their first list of 75 books was sold within hours on June 6 and the next lot of 100 will be up on June 9, for which they are already receiving queries.
In yet another crowd-funding project to support the booksellers, nearly 1,000 supporters had helped raise more than Rs 16 lakh as of June 8.
The College Street area in north Kolkata, popularly known as Boi-para or the book locality, is home to some of the most prestigious educational institutes and happens to be a storehouse of books, both academic and non-academic, with nearly 1,000 small to large publishers and booksellers operating in the locality.
Cyclone Amphan which lashed Bengal on May 20, accompanied by heavy rain and water logging damaged thousands of books, with the street vendors and those with wooden shops the worst affected. In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, a heart-wrenching photo went viral on social media showing booksellers on college streets looking in despair at books floating in the dirty water.
“Out of my love for books, the idea came to me that something should be done about the damaged books and I soon found many supporting my idea,” said Debanjan Sen, an eye surgeon based in south Kolkata.
“We collected about 250 non-academic books from small book vendors. These are heavily damaged and can at the most be used as mementos for supporting booksellers during their struggle. We have dried the books and have done some small repairs. After we dispatch the books to the donors, the rest of the proceeds will be divided between the booksellers we got the books from,” Sen said.
Susnato Chowdhury, editor of the Bengali literary ‘little magazine’ Bodh-Shabdo, had given a similar call on social media, and finding many supporters, tied up with Boighar.in, an ecommerce site for Bengali books.
Tuhin Mallick of Boighar.in, which is hosting the damaged books in a special section on their website titled Boi Morey Na, literally meaning books don’t die, said that the response has been very optimistic.
“It’s mostly an emotional call. But the first day’s collection of 75 books got sold on a day and people kept inquiring about more books. Most of these books are damaged but still readable, at least to a large extent. A special bookmark has been designed for these books,” said Mallick.
There have been some other initiatives, too. A crowd-funding project spearheaded by Indrani Roy, joint managing director of Bengali publishing major Mitra & Ghosh, has been titled ‘Contribute to Save the Famous Literary Corner of the City of Joy’.
Supporting this initiative writer and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor wrote on social media on May 29, “Kolkata’s CollegeStreet (BoiPara) is as legendary as the smell of ideas wafting out of CoffeeHouse, but #Cyclone Amphan ravaged it, leaving battered books, flooded stores & devastated booksellers already reeling from the #Covid-19 #lockdown. Let’s help them.”
As of June 8, the campaign has raised more than Rs 16 lakh and assistance of Rs 10,000 each was given to 63 book traders.
It is this love for books that College Street’s publishers and booksellers are banking on.
“The book market has largely opened on Monday though there has been some shortage of staff, as those living in distant areas could not turn up. However, the good sign is, buyers are back,” said Sudhangshu Sekhar Dey, honourary general secretary of Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Guild. He also owns Dey’s Publishing, one of the largest Bengali publishers.