Skip to main content

Losing and finding yourself in Premier bookshop


Before Church Street squandered its soul, it was home to an unassuming bookstore fronted by an affable, unassuming owner. Nestled in between a shady pub and another establishment I can’t care to recollect, it was a throwback to a bygone era when owners knew their patrons by name and politely enquired about their well being. It was a store that was oblivious to the world outside, not because it didn’t care, but because it really didn’t affect how it did business. 

When you entered, it was as if you were walking into an impending avalanche; of books that is. Shelves with fancy titles like ‘new age’, ‘fiction’ and ‘Indian writing’ to shepherd you in your search didn’t exist. Books arranged in alphabetical order? Sorry, try your luck someplace else. Each row of books was backed up by another layer and fishing out a book perched somewhere in the middle of second row was an art in its own right. Old timers were familiar with attempting to pull a book from the middle of a stack and have the entire stack come crashing down on their heads.


It must have been sometime in the early 90s when I was first set foot into the store and began an unapologetic love affair with books, and the store itself. Holidays were deemed incomplete without a visit and buying a book from elsewhere seemed like betrayal; so you would wait until the book found its way into the store. Before the advent of new age bookstores, it was what you call a no-frills store. No meditation music playing in the background, no couches to sit down and no café to order overpriced (and terrible) coffee or tea from. Two narrow passageways led you on the treasure hunt. A wobbly steel stool served as a search engine, if you were brave enough to get on it.


At the heart the store’s novelty was Mr.Shanbag, the owner. A man of few words, he always greeted you with his trademark smile and possessed an incomprehensible ability to fish out a book you asked for from a massive heap, dust it off and hand it to you. All bills were accompanied by a 15% discount - store policy. It was home to poets, writers, students and the man on the street who just walked in to buy a magazine and walked out an unofficial lifetime member.

If you haven’t already come to terms with the harshness of everyday life, the thanklessness, the drudgery and the seemingly impossible search to find fulfillment by trying to impress people you don’t like or waiting for Friday like a child waits for playtime, a store like this always made you feel like there was a kernel of goodness in the world. For when you entered, you left your worries behind and surrendered yourself to familiar territory.

Like most big corporations who change logos, philosophies and their souls in a bid to fool the world at large that they are constantly reinventing themselves to keep up with the times, while the same coterie at the round table gets richer at the expense of the rest of them who sacrifice sanity to make them richer, the store gave everyone an important management lesson – take care of the people and the balance sheet will take care of itself. Everything else is just a sideshow.



If you happen to find yourself on Church Street, don’t bother looking for the store. Premier bookshop shut down in March 2009, some 30 years since it first threw its doors open. I made my final homage a few weeks before Mr, Shanbagh bought down its shutters and with that, also a piece of history. Even the neighboring shady pub has long since shut.

http://mrshanbagshop.org/trailer/

It isn’t easy to describe what made Premier bookshop an institution. Was it the owner or the complete disdain for order? Or was it the unadulterated smell of books that hypnotized you from the moment you stepped in? It still remains a mystery after all these years. But every time I pass by, my heart skips a beat. And my mind goes back to simpler times when you stepped into Premier bookshop, met by Mr. Shanbag’s smile, bought more books than you could ever read, watched a movie in Plaza theatre and called it a day with ice cream at Lakeview milk bar.

For Premier bookshop was unlike any other - it was a bookstore with a story to tell.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

When an Iyer met an Iyengar

If you see my parents, they look like the quintessential arranged marriage couple. After nearly 35 years together, they still take care not to touch each other while posing for a photograph and my mother’s smile dangles precariously between a smile and a grimace. But this image discolours the truth a tad.
Some 40 years back, they met at work, fell in love and got married. The talking point of the union being mom’s status as an iyengar and dad’s as an iyer. Simply put, the iyers and the iyengars are two castes of the Brahmin community, each, when given the chance, profess superiority to each other on all counts. If you listen closely, an Iyengar talking about an Iyer will say ‘Iyer a?’ in a condescending tone. And vice versa.
Mom tells me that when she told her dad about the marriage, he vowed to stand by her at any cost. Dad never told me what happened, but allow me to hazard a guess. His mother (my grandmother), threatened to go on a fast unto death. My dad threatened to go on a parall…

Unfair and unlovely

If time is money, the demonetization drive has ensured that many Indians are already very rich because they have suddenly been taught the virtue of patience.
A crossing near my house got to be very busy and a new signal was installed to help regulate the flow. Every single day, I see people break the signal from all sides without paying heed to their safety or anyone else’s. The people who break the signals glare at you for following the rules. You feel guilty for being patient.
The signal is red and people behind you are honking as if there was a reward for it. People shout the choicest of epithets at you for not moving and standing your ground. Either that or I need to go for an eye check up and see if I am colour blind. In another part of the world, orange maybe the new black but as far as I know, red is not the new green.
Stand in a queue at the railway station, in the petrol bunk, airport check-in counter ,or to pay a bill, and there will always be that one asshole who tries to…

Rasam rice

On some days, Bangalore weather becomes nostalgic. And for some time, everyone is permitted to live in the past. On one such June day, the sun wistfully playing hide and seek and the clouds emitting just enough raindrops for an instagram photo, the weather flirting with winter, the craving for rasam becomes telling.
Rasam. Rasam rice. Whichever, doesn’t matter.
First, use your fingers to make space in the middle of a heap of rice. Don’t protest when the dollop of ghee gleefully sinks into the rice. The rasam should scald, otherwise the ride isn’t worth it. The flesh on your fingers crawl when you dip them into the rasam, but trust me, keep with it. No good thing has been known to ever come easy. The impatient wait for a few seconds and an insignificant morsel is savoured. Gooseflesh ensues.
Slowly but steadily, bigger portions are savoured. to enhance the experience and attain nirvana, combine it with crisp papad and sandige.  Personal favourites include molagu rasam, thakkali rasam, jee…