scorecardresearch
Follow Us:
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Premium

Streetwise Kolkata: Named after one iconic educational institution, College Street now represents them all

The street gets its name from the weight and might of the academic institutions that were first established here some two centuries ago. Specifically, Hindu College, established in 1817, now called Presidency University.

Written by Neha Banka | Kolkata |
Updated: April 16, 2021 6:24:08 pm
Also called ‘Boi Para’, College Street is one of the largest second-hand marketplaces for books, as well as the address for some of West Bengal and India’s most prominent publishing houses. (Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh)

Much before the concept of “book towns” gained traction across the world, Kolkata had its own interpretation of one within the neighbourhood of College Street. The term “book towns” itself isn’t very old—it can be traced to the 1960s when a man named Richard Booth in Hay-on-Wye in Wales, started the movement, that is used to refer to small towns and villages, “rural and scenic”, “full of bookshops and book-related industries”, writes Alex Johnson in his 2018 book ‘Book Towns’.

To read this story, sign up here
Sign up to get quick access to Indian Express exclusive and premium stories.
Already a member?

Also called ‘Boi Para’, College Street is one of the largest second-hand marketplaces for books, as well as the address for some of West Bengal and India’s most prominent publishing houses, for instance, Mitra and Ghosh Publishers, DasGupta and Company Pvt. Ltd and Dey’s Publishing. But the street gets its name from the weight and might of the academic institutions that were first established here some two centuries ago. Specifically, Hindu College, established in 1817, now called Presidency University.

“College Street owes nomenclature to the Hindu College, and not to the Medical College as it had a road named after it,” writes P. Thankappan Nair in his book ‘A History of Calcutta’s Streets’ (1987). Before it came to be known as Presidency College, the educational institution from which this street gets its name was called Hindu College, one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in South Asia.

kolkata, kolkata streets, streetwise kolkata, kolkata street names, kolkata street history, kolkata history, calcutta history, calcutta, calcutta news, kolkata news, Indian Express This is plate 22 from James Baillie Fraser’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. Fraser (1783-1856) arrived in Calcutta in 1814 and in six years produced these animated sketches of the busy city, published later as a collection of 24 superbly aquatinted plates. He included in his collection five views of Tank Square. This image shows the square’s west side, where “the gate to the tank faces Koila Ghat Street, on the right of which is the old export warehouse built up against the southern edge of the Old Fort”. Part of the latter was demolished in 1819 to build up the new Customs House, which is outside the present view. At the south-west corner of the Square, Council House Street leads down to Esplanade Row. On the corner of Council House Street and the square is the building where the first Public Exchange and Coffee House in Calcutta were situated. This did not perform very well, and was subsequently leased by Lord Wellesley for his College of Fort William. (Photo credit: British Library)

The college was so named because it was founded by David Hare with the goal to establish “an institution for giving a liberal education to the children of the members of the Hindu community,” mentions an entry in the Presidency College Register, compiled and edited by Surenchandra Majumdar and Gokulnath Dhar, Calcutta, 1927, says Nair.

The college opened in January 1817, with 20 students and was headed by Raja Ram Mohan Ray. Some of Bengal’s most educated philanthropists played various roles in overseeing the operation of this institution and its development. Despite its name and the founder’s attempts to create an institution exclusively for Hindu students, archival records from the college indicate that students from other communities, like Muslims, Christians and Jews also studied there.

kolkata, kolkata streets, streetwise kolkata, kolkata street names, kolkata street history, kolkata history, calcutta history, calcutta, calcutta news, kolkata news, Indian Express Hindu school in College Street (Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh)

When the institution was first founded, its address was not College Street, but 304, Chitpore Road, a rented home some ten minutes away, that belonged to Gorachand Bysack. “In January 1818, the Hindu College moved to Feringhi Kamal Bose’s house located nearby. The building is a historic one because Raja Ram Mohan Ray inaugurated his Brahma Sabha here and Duff started his educational establishment later in 1834. From Chitpore, the Hindu College eventually shifted to Bowbazar and later to a building that now houses the Sanskrit College,” according to the Presidency Alumni Association. The change in name from Hindu College to Presidency College only happened in 1855, by when the institution had moved to its present location on College Street, the Association says.

Students enrolled at one of the many century-old institutions in the College Street area strongly believe that one can find the rarest of books and periodicals in the bookshops in and around this neighbourhood. While that may just be an exaggeration, the overwhelming selection and accessibility to unusual titles and collections makes it easy to understand why this myth has perpetuated.

kolkata, kolkata streets, streetwise kolkata, kolkata street names, kolkata street history, kolkata history, calcutta history, calcutta, calcutta news, kolkata news, Indian Express This photograph of the Medical College Hospital from the ‘Walter Hawkins Nightingale (PWD) collection: Album of views of Calcutta, was taken by an unknown photographer in the late 1870s. General view of the Medical College Hospital, located on College Street. This Corinthian building was completed in 1852. (Photo credit: British Library)

Walking distance from institutions like the Medical College, Calcutta University and Presidency University are restaurants and eateries that have interwoven stories and histories with these institutes of higher learning.

This is in part because establishments like the Indian Coffee House, Paramount, Favourite Cabin etc, became frequent meeting places for revolutionaries, many of whom were students in the nearby colleges and universities, where they would gather to plot against the British government during the struggle for India’s freedom.

These eateries continue to operate till date and little has changed in their interiors; only prices have been modified in step with the time that has passed. Recipes have largely remained the same over the decades, as have some of their oldest employees. Many eateries like Paramount and Favourite Cabin in the College Street area continue to be run by descendants of the people who founded them, many of whom were closet revolutionaries or sympathisers.

kolkata, kolkata streets, streetwise kolkata, kolkata street names, kolkata street history, kolkata history, calcutta history, calcutta, calcutta news, kolkata news, Indian Express College Street (Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh)

For now, the Calcutta Tramways Company continues to operate on route number 5 that runs past Calcutta University and Presidency University on College Street. Amateur photographers stealthily lie in wait for when the tram goes down this route to get that precise frame capturing two of the city’s icons together, much to the bane of tram operators, who impatiently honk to clear away obstructing crowds. With Kolkata’s cityscape changing so rapidly, neighbourhoods like College Street provide escape for people desperately holding on to the embers of purono Kolkata.

📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines

For all the latest Research News, download Indian Express App.

  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
X
x