Thriving beside the rusted tram tracks of College Street in north Kolkata is the boi para, or "neighborhood of books," offering the largest mass of secondhand volumes in Asia. Generations of Kolkata's famous writers and revolutionaries have come of age amid its chaos.
Stalls are staffed by brooding bibliophiles and aggressive salesmen. The latter will spread before youas if they were an assortment of fine pashmina shawlsfirst editions of Franz Kafka's The Castle or Edward Said's Orientalism. Tables overflow with Dryden and Milton and countless other relics of the imperial canon. But they're equally likely to carry old Bengali pamphlets extolling Mao's Cultural Revolution, dog-eared copies of Baltic folk tales, anthologies of ghost stories or the works of French structuralist Roland Barthes.
The magic of College Street lies in this juxtaposition of the exalted world of words and the teeming Indian cityscape. But hurry there soon: the city is planning to relocate the market to a new mall by next yearand as any lover of secondhand books will tell you, new is not always best.
by Ishaan Tharoor