A winter afternoon sailing on the Hooghly is one of the best outings you can enjoy in Kolkata. And the Millennium Park jetty on the Hooghly River (to the west of Kolkata) was looking like a fairground despite it being a Thursday afternoon. There was quite a crowd – families with children, college kids, young couples, and elderly groups, vendors selling snacks, balloons and toys, a merry-go-round for kids. Cutting through them, my eight-year-old niece and I rushed to the West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) ferry counter, fearing tickets for the just introduced Young Readers’ Boat Library may be sold out.
The WBTC, over the past few months, have been making efforts to give a touristy look to the transport sector in Kolkata. After introducing a few special trams, they have now started a boat library in collaboration with Apeejay Anand Children’s Library. Every day, the boat departs from the jetty at 11 am, 1.5 pm and 3.30 pm for a two-hour trip on the Hooghly and up to Belur Math and back. Tickets are pegged at Rs 100 for adults and Rs 50 for children. The passenger capacity has been fixed at 80 people.
The West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) and Apeejay Anand Children’s Library team up to gift Kolkata, THE KOLKATA YOUNG READERS’ BOAT LIBRARY.— oxfordbookstore (@oxfordbookstore) January 27, 2021
Oxford Bookstores have curated the selection of titles and literature for the Kolkata Young Reader’s Boat Library. pic.twitter.com/8tRzu5maIT
Five minutes before the scheduled departure, we reported at the jetty with our tickets. We passed through the flashy and larger Kolkata Heritage Cruise boat to reach the slightly smaller library boat, MV Hemlata. However, there was no thermal checking or stipulations that wearing a mask was compulsory. The staff were wearing masks but passengers were not compelled to follow the safety protocols.
My niece, a book lover, eagerly looked around for the ‘library’, which on second glance turned out to be a cabinet of books to one side of the lower deck of the two storey boat. The remaining area was devoted to wooden benches for sitting. There was also a small counter selling biscuits, chips and bottled water.
The library had a limited but an eclectic collection of English and Bengali books, including translations of books in regional languages by Indian authors, books on Kolkata, etc. However, most of the books were meant for ‘young adults’, hardly any titles for kids or pre-teens.
Armed with our book, we climbed to the upper deck where a lot of plastic chairs were placed. The flag still flying on the boat told us it had been on duty at the annual Ganga Sagar fair. Soon we realised, despite the large crowd we had seen at the ticket counter, there were few takers for the library boat. Was it because it was a day old? Or, was it because reading books is not a form of entertainment anymore? Apparently, they were all waiting to board other cruise boats which offered general entertainment. The sparse number of passengers on our boat consisted of a few bloggers eagerly photographing the banks, young couples, and two middle-aged women (the only people who had borrowed books from the library apart from my niece).
Meanwhile, the boat sailed up the river, hugging the Kolkata side of the river, beneath the Howrah Bridge and up to Belur Math. As the boat turned around, the sun was setting in the river. By the time we reached the jetty, it was dark. A full moon was shining up above and the water was shimmering with reflections from lights from the buildings on the shores. You can never fault a journey up and down the river.
According to media reports, there are plans to host book reading sessions, book launches, and other activities on the boat in the future. Schools and educational institutions can also hire the boat for their own programmes for a fee.
A word of caution, young children have to be supervised on board as the railings are quite wide.