The Piles of Premier ...
Premier is the reason I have frequented that street, over many decades, and in those dark and dusty book-lined aisles, have soiled T-shirts that have progressed in size from 'Child' through S-M-L-XL and beyond. (T-shirt sizes, for me, having borne a directly proportional relationship to the forward flow of time, unlike say, the profundity of my reading.) The cave-like interior and 'stalagmitic' book formations, reaching for the roof, and arching dangerously overhead, have provided me many hours of happy refuge from the uncertainties of life and times, outside.
On many occasions, though, those very stalagmites have been the source of significant uncertainties and anxieties for people inside. Especially green-horns, who might have shouldered a pile, inadvertently, or attempted to pull a book out of the middle of one, without the jedi-like skills that regulars develop. To see Shanbhag or his trusty lieutenants do this, though, is like watching Memphis Slim work the keys of a piano. Several fingers of one hand, splay out and peg back critical, nodal books in the pile while the other hand is used to whip out the target book, in a flash, exercising several principles and laws of physics, to accomplish the feat. The portion of the pile above the excised book then falls, noiselessly, on the book below, rocks back and forth ominously and quietly settles into equilibrium. If this kind of virtuosity is insufficient to inform you that this is a special place, you will also witness the art of people disassembling themselves and disappearing into the interstices of a critically balanced pile, to allow a fellow cave explorer to squeeze by, as they weave and wend their way to their favorite pile. Or witness the astonishing phenomenon of migrating books and book-trackers. Over several visits you will find that specific book individuals have a way of migrating upwards or downwards along a pile, across piles or even across aisles. And if you
thought no one could ever, possibly, spot the same book again in the vast collections - wrong ! Shanbhag and his crew have a telepathic ability to track these as they migrate among the piles, and will sniff along the stacks & aisles, pause, pounce and whip it out for you from some location completely other than where you spotted it last, just a couple of days earlier. Bookworm legends also tell of hearing muffled cries, as book towers collapse on browsers in the deepest interiors of the store, and then of finding no sign of life when they go back there, to investigate ! Its all pretty magical - in this other world of books.
If the inevitable does happen and Premier has to 'move' I will not be alone in dreaming the book-afflicted's dream - that Shanbhag will actually finally have a "clearance sale" to reduce some of the hundred-thousand-plus books in his repository. But its going to be a riot, nothing less. Glass buildings in town would be well advised to drop those protective nets over their fragile facades - (again) because there are going to be mobs on the road - headed to, a bookshop mid-town. I can picture the scene - vast mobs of the book-crazed, jostling on the street outside, and filling up Church Street and Museum road, to get a look in, at the object of their affections. The cops losing it (although
that doesn't take much) as they find out that the book-infected can be as uncontrolled a lot as some other afflicted segments of society, that they have to deal with more often. And then, finally, the impatient sirens of an ambulance in response to a panic phone call from the interiors of the store. Someone, in a frenzy of book-acquisitiveness, has dug through a many-year-old collapsed pile, way in the dark recesses, and has discovered
a blissfully ossified book lover, lying beneath ...
After the dust settles, and the tombs of book lovers have been disturbed, that corner of Church Street and Museum Road would have lost a lot of character.