Kolkata’s Bowbazar area has been a hive of activity since the city was full of palanquins and horse-drawn carriages. Walking down the streets in Bowbazar immediately reveals old red-brick buildings and tram-lines, that have been there for ages.
The structures standing on these roads have stood the test of time, whether it is the Central Division Police Station or the Goenka College of Commerce and Administration.
In fact, the Bengal National College and School, with Aurobindo Ghosh as Principal, was first situated here, at 19/1 Bowbazar Street, commencing operations on 15th August 1906. This later grew to be the renowned Jadavpur University.
A little off Shashi Bhushan De Street in Bowbazar is a three-storey yellow building. The Santi Institute is an iconic library that has celebrated its centenary recently! Ashwini Kumar Dutta and Krishtodas Mullick served as the first President and Secretary, respectively.
The famous Bengali educationist, philanthropist, social reformer and patriot, Dutta has written many books on religion, philosophy and patriotism. They aimed to help the youth by giving them an opportunity to read and deliberate.
Let us not forget that this was after the first World War. The famed founders of the Santi Institute wanted people to find peace while reading together.
First commencing operations from an address at the Baburam Seal Lane, the library was started with just 21 young members, and 27 books. From the beginning, it sparked an interest in the community. People took an interest and came over to join stimulating discussions. The library was always a place for revolutionaries and freedom fighters to converge and converse animatedly.
The growing popularity of the library and the swelling crowds sought the members for help. Social Worker Dharmadas Adhikary rose to the occasion, and leased out, for a rupee, a cottah of land for 999 years. Thus, it was only in 1938, that the library moved to its permanent address.
Back in the day, there was a steady stream of regular visitors, which included such eminent personalities, like Surendranath Banerjee, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bipin Behari Ganguli, the famous lawyer Radhabinod Pal, the educationist Triguna Sen, and the historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar. Banerjee, Bose, and Ganguli were all in favour of Indian Independence, and were fighting for the same.
Step into the library and go back in time, thanks to the decor, characteristic of days past. The library is stacked from floor to ceiling with books, around 41000, according to Governor Keshari Nath Tripathy, as told to The Times of India.
Mahadeb Mukherjee is a young member, whose family has been associated with the library for generations. Expressing worry about the habit of reading, he sounds optimistic, when speaking of the 800 odd members the library has at present.
Notably, the Santi Institute Library has gone on to become more than just a centre for books. The library is also well-known for its societal initiatives. Apart from providing free reading services, the library also has a charitable health care clinic and supports needy girl children.
The Santi Library has been the guiding light of education and knowledge in the Bowbazar area of Kolkata for a 100 years. From serving as a rallying point for like-minded patriots to discuss Indian Independence, it stands as a testament to the rich cultural and intellectual history of West Bengal.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)