Mumbai sure will be left with a vacuum in the world of book sellers and books with the passing away of Mr. T N Shanbhag, founder and owner of The Strand Book Stall at Fort. Mr. Shanbhag expired yesterday(February 27, 2009) at 1:30 pm and was cremated at the Chandanwadi crematorium at 11:00 pm.
Many know that Mr. Shanbhag started his book stall as a kiosk in the erstwhile Strand Cinema (thus the name) in Colaba on November 20, 1948 and moved it to its present location in 1954. Geeta Chadha who has written a chapter "Mirroring the Precinct", in the book Zero Point Bombay on The Horniman Circle precinct writes: "Having been humiliated in a reputed bookstore of the time for touching a book, the young Shanbhag wanted to start a bookstore where the access to ‘Saraswati' would not be restricted to the elite, but would be open to a wider section of the people. Shanbhag approached Keki Mody, the owner of Strand Cinema with his idea, and that is how the Strand Book Stall came into being on the premises of the cinema hall." Ths idea came to him during the screening of "Cheaper by the Dozen" at Strand Cinema.
Ask any book lover, reader, aficionado,buff,bookworm and he would have many names for the Padmashree Award winner of 2003 … favorite book seller, saint of books, twinkle eyed gentleman, humble book man of Mumbai and so on….
I knew him from all the frequent visits, over the years to the Strand Book Stall and also because his wife’s sister who we lovingly called ‘Mau’ was our next door neighbor. I remember him telling me that he was the first one in the world to sell a book at a discount (that too of 20%).
I have seen him, many a times forego much more than 20% for students and others who did not have enough to cover the bill. The additional book was always thrown in. This would never have happened in any other book store. He always used to say that Saraswati can never be bought or sold. He had in-depth knowledge of any book that you wanted which made you feel that he must have read each and every of the lakhs of titles in his store and I am sure he must have.
People used to throng and look forward to The Strand Book Festival at Sunderbai Hall held in January of every year, where discounts used to be higher and one could get ‘real’ deals on many books(Strand Specials). This was the first year that I did not see him at the Book Festival and his wife mentioned to me that he was at the Cumballa Hill Hospital but was recovering.
Last week, I had attended a lecture by Dr Frank Conlon on the Books Sellers and scholars of Bombay and any such discussion would have been incomplete without the mentioning of Mr. Shanbhag. In fact, the Mumbai book scene is going to be incomplete with the passing of Mr.T. N. Shanbhag. Mumbai has lost a city institution and a precious part of itself. Mr. Shanbhag will truly be missed by the city especially by those like me who have spent hours browsing in the little book store wth a soul.
Read Ranjit Hoskote's article"Honouring the bookman" written for the Hindu in 2003 here