TREASURE TROVE Bibliophile's Paradise
Times of India - Jun 9, 2009, Sumit S Paul
It was 1953, College Street, Calcutta. An old professor of English, Rajnikant Chatterjee, would religiously come to College Street every evening and intently read and buy rare old books. At one such visit, he stumbled upon a few torn pages inside an equally hoary old book. Curious, he began to read and lo, those were the lost translations of the legendary English orientalist Sir Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat-e-Umar Khayyam, written in Persian. Students of English literature all over the world are aware that Fitzgerald's English renditions of 11 exquisite quatrains weren't available till 1953.
Even Oxford and Cambridge varsities failed to find those 11 rubaiyat. But, Chatterjee luckily chanced upon them and because of him, the English translation of all the quatrains is available to students as well as readers. The world of literature is immensely grateful to Chatterjee and the famous College Street, dotted with dingy bookstalls, that have some of the rarest books in the world.
I make it a point to visit College Street on my every visit to the city. I spend a considerable amount of time with old books. What adds to such intellectually fruitful visits is the bargaining part. I once found eight odd copies of foreign editions from the Reader's Digest of 1934! I bargained hard and bought them for Rs 12 only. A casual visitor will not enjoy the ambience of College Street's small book shops, sardine-crammed with books of all hues and shades. You have to be a hardcore connoisseur of books to enjoy the place.
A few such bookshop owners are astoundingly well-read and help you pick up the most sought after books. Some of the rare books are so delicate that their pages have become like dry leaves and one has to handle them very carefully. I also found Raghupati Sahay 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri's first collection of ghazals, Zere-Aasmaan (Under the Sky), there. Very few copies of this book are available anywhere in the world and it's not available even in the library of Allahabad University, where Firaq taught English and Urdu for over three decades. The beauty of this stretch called College Street is its old world charm.
This nostalgic aura beckons you again and again. It is indeed a bibliophile's paradise. Whoever is thinking of visiting the city must visit College Street. Otherwise his sojourn will be as incomplete as visiting London and not going to Oxford Street.
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