Back in 1919, a Kolkata-based Primlani family-owned Oxford Books and Stationery shop – stocked up on fancy stationery, books, and periodicals, which used to be much sought after by the local elite. In 1987, when the Apeejay Surrendra Group acquired a slew of properties on Park Street, the bookstore too was part of the buyout.
While the house of Pauls were already in hospitality and Park Street was a hub for food joints but their founder Jit Paul felt that the city at that time did not need another restaurant and instead a place to offer ‘food for thought’- a bookstore which would weave into the fabric of the city. Hence, under his leadership Oxford Bookstores was retained and restored to its original glory. The bookstore turned 100 in 2019.
“The Oxford Bookstore has been the epicenter of Kolkata’s literary crowd for decades. The store at Park Street is a part of the city’s heritage. The legacy of the Oxford Bookstore has been perpetuated through its countrywide expansion. The literature festivals have been contributing to the enrichment of the literary community. We are now poised at the precipice of Oxford’s next round of growth story and we are excited,” Priti Paul, Director, Apeejay Surrendra Group told Business Today.
The fortune and fate of Oxford are intertwined with the history of India. In a lot of ways, the bookstore has witnessed a rebirth of the country after its emergence from colonial rule and then after has remained a central point of the Kolkata literary scenario.
“We have heard that in the early days Rajas from various parts of India would visit the store. Also, its rare stationery was quite popular. In pre-Independence days, the bookstore used to be a meeting place for nationalist thinkers. It has come a long way since then. Even now, when the Oxford chain has grown all over the country, the Kolkata bookstore continues to be Oxford’s heart and soul,” Maina Bhagat, Director of the Apeejay Oxford Bookstores told Business Today.
The Park Street Bookstore has over the last so many decades been a touch-point for any literary figure who visited Kolkata. The bookstore counts among its visitors authors like Sir VS Naipaul and Salman Rushdie.
They have also at various times, hosted Amitav Ghosh, Kiran Desai, Amit Chaudhuri, Shashi Tharoor, William Dalrymple, as well as the iconic Bengali writers – Late Sunil Gangopadhyay, Mahasweta Devi, Nabaneeta Devsen, Mani Shankar Mukherjee, and Gunter Grass.
Over the years, Oxford has morphed from being a bookseller to becoming a place for conversations with the introduction of the Cha Bar. And now the chain is all set to start its next round of journey which is likely to be dotted with literary events.
Oxford bookstores is now in the helm of affairs for four literary festivals across India including the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, the Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob, Oxford Bookstore Hindi Sahitya Utsav is the third festival, Adaab an Urdu festival and Apeejay Languages Festival.
In December 2012, Oxford Bookstore took a chapter from its growth story in India by launching Katakali, its first overseas bookstore in the luxurious Taj Palace Hotel at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in the exclusive palm-filled oasis of the Palmeraie, Marakkech.
Hundred years on, the Oxford Bookstore has come a long way since it was more of a stationery shop than a bookstore. The journey forward is inclusive and as Priti Paul says, “the spirit is high.”
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