Mr. Shanbhag as I remember him, always smiling and radiating warmth.. "don't worry.. carry on.."
Mr. Shanbhag passed on this year in February. As the founder of Strand Bookstall, the fondest haunt of ardent book lovers, he was practically the patron saint of book selling in Mumbai, having provided books to the brightest stars of the India like Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and among others, ex president Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who was also a personal friend. Probably the only bookseller to be awarded the Padmashri, he was gentle, kind and his legacy. Strand is a place where you can get the most competent assistance, freedom to chill... and yes, great discounts!!
I was young, 15, and prior to my grand adventure in animation (I had no clue of the grandness of it then..), had hardly ever ventured out of Chembur. Everything was fascinating, I was obviously nervous at every step. Even more so, when it came to money and spending it.. I had no idea what anything cost! least of all good books.. new books.. You see I had only bought books at the local 'raddi wallah'.
So here I was in Bombay (then) city proper with an aim to buy the Preston Blair books & whatever else I could find.. I got the PBs at one of the art stores opposite Sir J.J. School of Arts, and then wandered around the fountain area, a magical place for book lovers then, just crowded with booksellers of every kind of book possible..( yeah every kind)..I was lucky here too.. found an amazing book "BUGS BUNNY- Fifty years and only one grey hare'.. it cost me Rs150 (a steal when you think back.. but seemed like a terrible lot then).
Well soon enough, I landed up at Strand Bookstall. This was my first real book store and it was every bit as I dreamt a bookstore would be.. just filled to the brim..with books & more..warmth.. and you could sit amidst the books.. on the floor I sat for a long time and browsed.. This was more than a blessing, I was on the right path!
I found the Muybridge series here but to my dismay, they were very expensive! 750 bucks! I chose only the 'animal movement' then... (figured that as far as human movements were concerned, one could just look around..!) But I didn't have that kind of dough. And I couldn't imagine being able to come back that far again..
I asked, one of the kind gentlemen offered a solution, I gave an address and some advance and They actually delivered the book to me in the next couple of days.. I was ecstatic, privileged, respected, not treated like some silly kid.. felt validated and grown up!
That was the beginning of my relationship with Strand..
Later, with the advent of the Internet I realised what a wealth of knowledge was available to aspiring artists in the form of amazing art books. You are only as good as the exposure you get, so the artists abroad were in an enviable position of being able to walk down to their local bookstore and have access to such treasures as one could only dream of..
Much begging around, looking for friends going abroad.. concerned over postal services, every book to be ordered being a sizable investment..
Finally landed back at Strand.. give them a list, they would order the books for a 50% advance and you were sure you would get your books!!!!!
I cant explain enough what this meant for us.. what it did to us... what it made us.. I can't sum up enough gratitude for this invaluable service, provided with such love, that I have always felt the recognition of calling home every time I meet people at Strand..
I finally met Mr. Shanbhag himself, after we had won many accolades for Raju & I, and took his blessings. In fact I could only then consider myself worthy of being in his presence as I felt I had finally justified myself and my hunger for knowledge He and his wife were always very kind, very generous with their love.. and many a times, they actually kept the store open an extra 10 -15 mins even, as we got our billing etc done.. (we almost always reached the store a just before closing time!!).. and waited for us to finish.. It was all very overwhelming and special .. and from all accounts, they were this way with generations of readers..
THANKS TO STRAND FOR being so great!! and 'Shat shat pranaam' to Mr Shanbhag for having created such a marvellous institution!!
"I firmly believe, as a bookseller, that the moment you divert money into anything other than books, you are insulting Saraswati ( the Goddess of Learning & Knowledge)." T.N. Shanbhag.
May he look down on us with Love and always shower us with his compassion as he did in his life.
Ranjit Hoskote on Mr.Shanbhag: 'Honouring the bookman'
Jerry Pinto's 'Requiem for a book lover'
another tribute from Abodh at "Straying Around''
Times of India: 'He spent a lifetime serving the written word'