“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

4. A Gentleman Bookseller

K and I stroll through MG Road, Bangalore. It is a national holiday but many shops are open. It is early afternoon; not much of a crowd. In the Eighties, I had been a frequent visitor to Bangalore and my haunt was M G Road and its surroundings. I point out to K where my favourite pub, Ramdaa, used to be. Pub-hopping and browsing in that excellent bookshop, Premier, owned by Mr.Shanbagh, I used to spend many a memorable evening here long ago. At the first opportunity, I would barge into Premier and sigh deeply in contentment. Though there were other equally well-stocked booksellers like Gangaram’s and Higginbotham’s nearby, I preferred Premier, basically because of it variety, its ambience that was heightened by the presence of its owner, Mr Shanbagh.

There was hardly much space for the customers to move around. Yet how we loved to worm around among the disorderly kept stacks of books! Mr Shanbagh must have been in his mid-fifties in those days; he sat quietly near the entrance. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word and knew about or had read most of his wares. Often when Mr Shanbagh was free, I would discuss a new arrival with him. Those were the days prior to internet. Mr Shanbagh knew my interests and during the conversation he would suddenly perk up and say, ‘Ah! I would like you to take a look at this’ and pull out a book or two. At other times, I would read the blurb and ask his opinion. He would look thoughtfully away for a mite and would say – ‘Um- I don’t think you will like it’. Once, after spending more than an hour, I was disappointed to find anything that I liked; I told Mr Shanbagh so. He nodded sympathetically and said, ‘Don’t worry, it will come to you at the right time’. I accidentally leant on a revolving bookcase and a book fell down (See the picture! The bookcase!). I said sorry and picked it up – it was a book on environment that I had long cherished!

Premier is no more. I don’t know where Mr Shanbagh is now, whether he is still around or not. There was a post on him long ago in The Hindu. My frequency of Bangalore visits tapered off and came to an end in the Nineties except for a one- day /two-day trip when I would be too busy for browsing.

At home, when I go through my library and pick a book at random, I see the legend beneath my scrawling signature – Premier, Bangalore -/-/8-. Mr Shanbagh’s kind, quiet face comes back to me. The pleasant, cool evenings at Bangalore come alive once again.

For me, heaven wasn’t far off.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 15.09.2010

Post Script ; Just before posting this, I googled Premier and came across this great blog http://isharethese.blogspot.com/2009/08/premier-book-shop.html. I have borrowed her photograph of Mr.Shanbagh. It was so wonderful to come across this blog and to discover kindred souls! Do visit the blog if you wish to know more about Premier. Thanks, Indrani!


  1. I too had been there for a couple of times before it closed down for a while. There used to be hardly any space to turn around; books books everywhere… In fact, the closing down of Premier was covered by many a newspaper. I heard that Mr. Shanbagh had gone abroad and is living with his daughter.

  2. i think i have been there. my friend once took me... is it on this small lane turning left from brigade road? i bought a pearl buck book from there." the exile".

  3. I was not quite lucky and I did not meet this guy ever!
    But certain people whom one can identify with books , and being a Trivandrumite once- well Mr Parthasarthy Of the British Council, the septuagenarian and the young fellow at the Das Lending Library, and the Kamath at Pai & Co.

  4. I was reminded of a conversation I had with Sudhir of Modern Book Stall. I was looking for a particular book by JK. It was not there. Sudhir started showing me several other volumes by other writers along the same track. Rather embarrassed, I told him I am only a beginner. "You don't have to feel shy about it," he told me. "I've seen people beginning with JK graduating to Dale Carnegie."
    Good booksellers are good readers and great observers too!!!
    This one is a beautiful, nostalgic piece, Balan.

  5. I love any kind of book stores, especially the ones which dont have salesmen, a crmped space where you are on your own and the owner is well versed of his collection is an ideal place indeed.

  6. @Arun: Yes, Indrani says he is in AUstralia with his daughter. The comments to Indrani's post is enough proof that there are good people who miss Premier.

    @Indrani: :)

    @K: No, that is 'Select'. This is near the Cubbon Park end of MG Road.

    @Venu, Prabhakar, Sujata: Thanks, guys.

  7. Tho I can not speak to the places that you reference, I can feel the warmth of your visit to this place. It is good to go back in time, touch something that reminds us of long ago things, or just close our eyes and travel back in time... Fantastic journey Balan...

  8. @Sandy: Just sharing some simple, good things in my life. Most of us would have something like this; the memory kindles love...

  9. gone indeed are te days when libraries and librarians were part of our lives.i still have friends - kindred souls - whose acqaintance i made in libraries - starting from SNV sadanam in ernakulam which i frequented as a kid to the to the usis in chennai, public library in tvm.

    sometimes i wish tv and internet did not enter our lives - -

  10. @kpj: Such libraries still exist in forgotten corners. You wouldn't believe, but one of the reasons I chose to remain in Trivandrum was its abundance of libraries! Of course, three of them are no more - USIS, Gorky Bhavan and the British library - the 'Allied' forces of knowledge! :)


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