Tributes started pouring in from book lovers of Bengaluru as news of the passing away of T.S. Shanbhag, the owner of the erstwhile legendary Premier Bookshop in the city, reached them on Wednesday.
Balakrishna V., his financial advisor, told The Hindu that Shanbhag turned 84 on May 2. “He was suffering from an infection and then got COVID-19. He was hospitalised for a few days and passed away on Tuesday night,” he said. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
Started in 1971, Premier Book Shop was the ultimate destination for bibliophiles for over three decades, particularly before e-commerce pervaded the world of books. Mr. Shanbhag was the go-to man to source a rare academic book or the latest release of a favourite author. The iconic store closed down in 2009, the reason being an exponential increase in rent on and around M.G. Road.
Historian Ramachandra Guha in a tweet said that he owes “much of my education (such as it is) to books bought at his Premier Bookshop. My wife and I both grew up reading books bought from Mr Shanbhag and Premier, and so did our children.” He recalled Shanbhag’s warmth and kindliness that did not preclude a mischievous sense of humour.
Krishna Gowda of Bookworm, who, in 2016, hosted a programme with Mr. Shanbhag to reminisce about an “important piece of Bengaluru’s literary history” after it was closed in 2009, recalled him as the first to start discounts on new books when no one had heard of the concept.
“I had known him for over 11 years, and we learnt about the concept of offering discounts from him. He was the first to start 20% discount on all books in 1978. I also bought many books from him when his shop closed. He was aware of customers’ tastes and would keep track of them. He had a personal relationship with them,” he said.
Post-retirement too, Mr. Shanbhag, originally from Kundapur, would enjoy walking, reading books and would regularly visit bookshops in the Central Business District. His long list of admirers included Mr. Guha, playwright Girish Karnad, politician George Fernandes, and actor Kamal Haasan.
At the Bookworm event, when asked about Premier’s collection of nearly 5 lakh books, Mr. Shanbhag had said in his typically wry style, “I gave them all away at 60% discount. Change is a part of life. I was already 70 when I closed shop, so why feel emotional?” He had also pointed out that with the popularity of online retailers increasing, the offline shop needed younger minds to run it.
Writer Vivek Shanbhag recalled the endearing “mess” of Premier Book Shop with piles of books stacked up. “That book shop looked like a mess to us, but he knew exactly what was where. There was no Google or anything, but he would be able to suggest other books by the same author. He himself was a reader. It was a place where you made friends and was usually a stop before Koshy’s.”
Historian Janaki Nair recalled how he saw many, like herself, grow from being readers to writers and was secretly proud of it. “He didn’t make any fuss about it. He was, of course, generous in his discounts. I miss his bookshop,” she added.