November 26, 2019

Historic Indian book market threatened by million square foot mall


The College Street market in Kolkata, India, has less than a year to prepare for the arrival of some serious competition. Peter Yeung at Atlas Obscura reports that the legendary market, which had its first bookselling vendor open in 1886 and has since been a place of vital importance to the city’s intellectual and cultural life, will soon have to contend with a bigger, cleaner, and cheaper “book mall.”

According to the project’s architects, the Barnaparichay Mall is to launch next summer, and will offer sleek, modern boutiques, a library, an auction center, translation services, and cafés. “The mall is to enrich the book culture and habits of Kolkata,” says Sankalan Tatar, of the architecture firm Prakalpa Planning Solutions. “It will be an integrated book mall. Literature, life, and leisure will be under one roof. This will be the most happening place in north Kolkata.”

The proposed amenities of the Barnaparichay Mall are a stark contrast to what people have come to expect from the College Street market. Akashleena Bhaduri, an engineering student at the University of Kolkata told Atlas Obscura: “This place is outdated, the roads are dirty, the hygiene is poor, and in the summer it’s unbearably hot.”

We’re not too alarmed by what’s described in the proposal for the book mall. There’s always been stronger, sleeker people or corporations who see a good thing—a historic secondhand book market—and look for ways to capitalize those strengths into something profitable. But the market will endure. As the Yeung points out, the market “has been through two world wars, has managed to remain a center of political and literary activism since the 1930s, and witnessed the beginning of the revolutionary Naxalite movement in the 1970s.” We’re certain it’ll retain its core consumer base, even if the same product is pitched for less down the road. Literature and leisure may fit under the future mall’s roof, but College Street will still have a greater claim to life.



John Francisconi is the Direct Sales and Operations Manager at Melville House.