The closing chapter

On its last legs: Shanbagh at his Premier Bookshop on Church Street in Bangalore.

On its last legs: Shanbagh at his Premier Bookshop on Church Street in Bangalore.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

Deepika Arwind

Another bit of old Bangalore goes as Premier shuts shop

Bangalore: The city’s losses seem to be growing with every passing year, whether it is the number and species of its trees, or its pavements, or its old coffee houses.

In a week’s time, we will lose another beloved landmark of our city, the Premier bookshop, which more than any other bookshop has contributed to the city’s reading culture.

The bookstore, squeezed against an old Bangalore pub on the road connecting Church Street and Mahatma Gandhi Road, is inseparable from its owner T.S. Shanbhag, who now contemplates the end of its 37-year-old existence.

“In three or four months, the lease of this building will come to an end, so I’ve decided to close it down,” says Mr. Shanbhag, almost stoically. He plans to spend his free time with his family and generally kick back into his retirement soon after the bookstore is closed.

His 600 sq. ft. haven for bibliophiles, with its precariously-stacked columns of books and 10 per cent discount on every pick, will be missed sorely by the city’s old and new readers.

When Premier threatened to shut down in April 2006, all its regulars – from literary bigwigs to those who hung about the store just to browse – were upset.

The lease was extended and customers continued to flock the store. But the lease now draws to an end, and according to Mr. Shanbhag, the old building will “probably be restructured.”

He feels that his clientele, used to its musty comforts, would not want Premier to be relocated in a glitzy new structure.

His regulars share none of his stoicism, and are unabashedly sentimental as they mourn the closing of a chapter.

Says Ramachandra Guha, historian and Padma Bhushan Award winner: “It truly is the end of a chapter in the culture and history of Bangalore. Mr. Shanbhag is a unique bookseller with empathy towards his customers and with a charm we do not see often.”

This reticent bookshop owner is mentioned in the Lonely Planet and is a respected figure in the city’s literary circle without being a writer or critic himself.

Arul Mani from the Department of English, St. Joseph’s College, is a regular at the shop. “Mr. Shanbhag has probably done more for the city’s reading than we can fully understand, with his discounts, his willingness to hold a book for you till you managed the money, and his quirky but always interesting pick of titles.”

The closing down of Premier is also a marker of the city’s changing priorities, according to writer C.K. Meena. “We know that land prices in that area have shot up and real estate is a coveted commodity.”

In the next week, Mr. Shanbhag will witness a frenzy of visitors trying to make that one memorable trip to the bookstore and buying books they have always wanted to.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shanbhag is making other plans. “I have many personal things to take care of. I will visit my daughter in Australia,” he says in the unflustered manner that his customers know so well.

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