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‘Shanbhag Uncle’, the bookseller of Bengaluru who made generations read

On Tuesday, T.S. Shanbhag , the owner of the quaint yet popular bookstore Premier Book Shop, succumbed to Covid. He leaves behind city’s bibliophiles in grief.

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Bengaluru: Until it shut down around a decade ago, the Premier Book Shop in Bengaluru drew bookworms from all over. The lakhs of books at the quaint store were obviously an attraction. But the real pull was ‘Shanbhag uncle’ — the owner of the store, T.S. Shanbhag, who was known for sharing his love for books with his customers.

On Tuesday, Shanbhag succumbed to Covid-19, at the age of 84.

As the news reached the city, grief took hold of several patrons, including renowned names likes Ramachandra Guha, Mohandas Pai and Sugata Srinivasaraju.

Jnanpith and Padma Bhushan awardee U.R. Ananthamurthy and playwright Girish Karnad were among the other patrons of the store.

Also read: ‘Houseful’ sign at Bengaluru crematorium as it runs out of space to cremate or even keep bodies

Shanbhag’s journey

Located on Church Street, the Premier Book Shop was started in 1971. It quickly turned into a popular destination for all generations. For the happiness it offered of going through old volumes and editions to the excitement of reading the latest authors, it became a shrine for many.

According to historian Ramachandra Guha, it was at this bookstore that he received the education that he did.

However, the store was first forced to shut down in 2009 as Shanbhag could not manage to pay its massive rent. Soon, the whole of Bengaluru came together to contribute to reopen the bookstore again. Shanbhag managed to keep it going for a couple of years, until he couldn’t continue anymore due to old age.

Another bookstore owner and a fan of Shanbhag, Krishna Gowda organised a “walk down memory lane with Shanbhag” in 2016. The venue had no space to breathe, with people coming in hordes to listen to and interact with the man who instilled in them the passion to read.

Shanbhag, who was originally from Kundapur, was asked at the event, how he felt bidding adieu to the store’s collection of nearly 5 lakh books?

“I gave them all at a 60 per cent discount. Change is a part of life. I was already 70 when I closed shop, so why feel emotional?” he answered.

At the event, Gowda, who owns the store Bookworm, choked when he spoke about how Shanbhag had to give away the signboard and some old furniture to a scrap dealer.

How readers miss him

At the moment, patrons of the Premier Book Shop are weathering grief.

“I had vowed that I would keep Uncle’s memory alive by writing his name and the name of the bookstore in every book I bought from him with the date. That way whoever borrowed the book will know about the legend,” said Vivek Kumar, whose family had been visiting the bookshop over three generations.

However, there was a little something more that this bookshop had which rubbed onto every customer who entered — Shanbhag’s passion for books and his immense generosity for those who could not pay for the book immediately.

K.C. Vijaya Kumar, another loyal customer of the store, called Shanbhag’s passing a tragic loss.

“I was a regular at his shop until it closed. You could tell him, ‘Uncle I am broke, will pay later’ and he would give a hefty discount and say, ‘Take the book, pay when you get the salary’. He was an incredible man,” Kumar told ThePrint.

Gowda, who hosted the 2016 event at his own store, expressed grief at the passing of Shanbhag, who was a “guide” to him, especially giving him lessons on customer relations.

“I’ve learnt a lot from him. After he shut Premier down, he would regularly visit our book store. I had bought over 60,000 books from him when he decided to shutter down. We miss him a lot,” said Gowda.

Also read: Second Covid wave is causing guilt, anxiety, distress, NIMHANS helpline sees 40% spike in calls


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