Century-old Gousia Library of Chitpur frozen in time

9 January, 2020 14:20:33
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Century-old Gousia Library of Chitpur frozen in time

Chitpur Road, previously known as Pilgrim Road, is Kolkata’s oldest road that starts from the north-end of the city and stretches up to Kalighat Temple in the south. For centuries, Chitpur was the hub of different kinds of trade. The age-old tram track bifurcates the busy road and trades including print making and publishing, jewellery making, Jatra para (traditional theater), shops selling musical instruments, attar and surma, tailoring and embroidery shops, eateries and wholesale markets have flourished here. The entire stretch brims with activities round the clock. 

Close to the majestic Nakhoda Mosque, Chitpur Road’s most iconic landmark, is a tiny, non-descript book shop that one is more likely to miss while passing the area. But if you are a bibliophile and chance to spot the quaint little shop, Gousia Library, your curiosity is bound to drag you to that shop. Amid the din, it is a haven for the weary traveller’s soul. The whiff of stacked books, the garishly printed book covers seem to welcome the beholder silently. The melodious strains of Namaze manates from the mosque and embalms frayed nerves. There is an old-worldly charm about the book shop as you settle down to explore the store.

Gousia Library specializes in publishing Islamic literature. The century-old shop displays pulp fiction books like Baro Huzurer Durbar, Laila-Majnoor Golap-anta Bhalobasha, Ghazi-Kalu Champabati, Yusuf Zulekha, Noornama, Hooliyanama along with religious texts like Adi O Ashol Chholemani Talenama, Karbalar Matam Jaari and Bon Bibi Jahooranama. Bon Bibi Jahooranama is a rare book that is still in great demand in the Sunderbans region. Published by Gousia Library, copies of this book are dispatched to far off hamlets in Sat Jeliya, Lahiripur, Kakmari, Jharkhali, Netidhopani, Sudhanyakhali and Jhingekhali. The book is revered by all those who live on the fringes of the Sunderbans and need to frequent the dense jungles for their livelihood.

It retells the story of one poor villager, Dukhe, who was guided and saved by the mystic Ghazi Baba, protector of the Sunderbans and Bon-Bibi, the presiding deity of the Sunderbans. It is an age-old ritual to recite the Bon Bibi Jahooranama by all those intending to enter the jungles and their family members. This is a solemn rite performed by both Hindus and Muslims with equal fervor. The Bon Bibi Jahooranama follows the familiar lilting rhythm of panchali, read and recited by women during prayers to household deities. The book is in Bengali script but the pages are fashioned on a manner so that the reader has to turn it from the right side to the left as is the norm in Urdu script -- a unique way of harmonizing diverse languages and religions in the very grassroot level. 

Gousia Library is part of our heritage that has an enviable collection of rare Islamic books, folk tales, pulp fiction et al. Abanindranath Tagore was fascinated by the beautiful calligraphy of the books and often frequented the shop, looking for books from this shop. Times have changed but Gousia Library continues to hold on to its heritage --- frozen in time. 

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