At the corner of Church Street and Museum Road in Bangalore, there used to be a tiny little shop with books lining the walls up to the ceiling and a huge pile in the centre at least 8 to 10 rows deep. The rule was that one could only walk around it clockwise as it would be impossible to cross someone coming around the other side. People on a diet would gage how much weight they had lost by the ease (or not) with which they could manoeuvre themselves around the central pile. There was no ease of browsing; one could not pull out books without fear of tipping over rows of books and cascading domino effects. But it never happened.
Premier Bookshop was a temple of books. Such an innocuous looking place and yet its religion was entrenched into the hearts of generations of readers in Bangalore. The esoteric knowledge of the order within the chaos was held by owner of the shop – Mr. Shanbag, who would, when asked for a particular book, be able to immediately pull it out from the piles. A man who knows books and appreciates them and reads them is a man who can run a bookstore. And that is a book store that readers will run to. Mr. Shanbag gently recommended books to his customers based on each person’s purchases and enquiries and those recommendations were invariably excellent and one would wonder why one had not come across the book before.
Unfortunately, Premier closed down in 2009, after 37 years, much to the distress of its customers who had never envisaged such an eventuality despite having heard of the owner’s difficulties with the landlord. Many articles were published and a documentary (Mr.Shanbag’s shop) was made in order to capture the shop for posterity. The winds of change have swept away all traces of the books, their smell and their dust, replacing them with a popular, noisy and supposedly happening pub. O tempora, o mores.
But for readers of books in this city, and for those who know, it is still a pilgrimage spot. One goes and stands on the pavement outside the pub and one remembers, or points it out to others, “Premier Bookshop used to be here”.