How Kolkata's Oldest Bookshop Has Evolved Into A Custodian Of Free Knowledge

Dasgupta and Co., has been carving its indomitable legacy since 1886.
Dasgupta and Co., has been carving its indomitable legacy since 1886.Bishwanath Ghosh for The Hindu

In the bustling streets of Kolkata, where history and culture intertwine, lies College Street, an iconic hub of knowledge that has stood the test of time. Here, amid the labyrinthine alleys, Kolkata's oldest existing bookshop, Dasgupta and Co., has been carving its indomitable legacy since 1886. When we enter an old building, its walls echo its history. When I first entered Dasgupta and Co. in 2018, it exuded a rich colonial history interwoven with its identity as a custodian of knowledge. Now, in a transformative move, this century-old treasure trove of knowledge is set to herald a new chapter, breaking barriers while still embracing the essence of heritage.

In the digital age, where the allure of convenience tempts many to turn to virtual bookstores, Dasgupta and Co. has remained steadfast, preserving its heritage with unwavering pride. However, the managing director, Arabinda Dasgupta, recognized the winds of change and seized the opportunity to breathe renewed life into this space. For the longest time, a part of this legendary bookstore, the accounts department on the second floor, found itself rendered obsolete by the relentless march of technology, leaving behind a vast expanse of emptiness, with almost 2,000 sq ft gathering dust. But its heritage, with its resilient nature, refuses to lie dormant. Instead, it has inspired a metamorphosis.

Arabinda Dasgupta
Arabinda DasguptaThe Hindu
Dasgupta and Co., has been carving its indomitable legacy since 1886.
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The second floor has recently been transformed into a free library. This move reflects a commitment to preserve the essence of College Street's identity. The library's inception is not merely a stroke of architectural innovation but an ode to the city's cherished heritage. It stands as a living testament to the belief that knowledge knows no boundaries and should be accessible to all, transcending the limitations imposed by socioeconomic standing.

In the state of West Bengal where education has transcended its urban origins, embracing the rural landscapes of the mofussil, Dasgupta and Co.'s library aims to bridge the chasm between knowledge and affordability. Students from distant hamlets are drawn to the appeal of learning, but their dreams often face the harsh reality of financial constraints. This is where the library steps in as a benevolent guardian, embracing all seekers of knowledge, regardless of their financial means.

The grand vision of Arabinda Dasgupta resonates with the timeless spirit of Kolkata's inclusivity. The library's doors will be flung open before this year’s joyous celebrations of Durga Puja in October. From noon till dusk, on every working day, the library will serve as a sanctuary of learning, a sanctuary that stands as a beacon of hope, calling out to those eager minds who seek to quench their thirst for knowledge.

At its heart, the Dasgupta and Co. library will not only house books but also shatter barriers of language and understanding. Emphasizing translations between English and Bangla, it strives to empower those brilliant Bengali-medium students who yearn to grasp the world beyond their linguistic borders. Conversely, it aims to empower those who are proficient in English yet seek to embrace the literary treasures concealed within the beautiful Bengali language.

Dasgupta and Co.'s legacy spans generations, remaining untouched by the winds of change. The shop's continued ownership by the same family stands as a testament to their resilience. It has withstood the tempests of two World Wars, the echoes of the Independence movement, and the aftermath of the Naxal movement. As the world spins, it now faces a digital revolution, with giants like Amazon monopolizing spaces. Yet, this timeless institution stands firm, a guardian of knowledge in the face of technological enticement.

Dasgupta and Co., has been carving its indomitable legacy since 1886.
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In an era where the pursuit of profit may overshadow the passion for spreading knowledge, Dasgupta and Co. shines as a beacon of enlightenment. The treasure trove of records and old books, now accessible to the public, represents the wealth of heritage preserved within its walls. As new writers emerge, both within and beyond the digital realm, Dasgupta and Co. opens its arms, willing to embrace these literary gems and pave the way for their dreams to take flight. In the heart of this bustling metropolis, the renewed Dasgupta and Co. will be a custodian of all those who are united by the universal love for knowledge.

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