Footsoldiers of Kannada
Sahitya Bhandara in Hubballi has been working for the cause of Kannada for nine decades. They have published over 800 works so far
It was a train journey that gave Kannada its greatest humourist. A young insurance officer, who initially though that that those who could not read English, read Kannada. He took to reading them at the end of the train journey and subsequently wrote 60 books in different genres. The writer was Beechi and the person who introduced him to the realm of Kannada letters was Ma. Govindrao (Mangaluru Govindrao) of Sahitya Bhandra, Hubballi. In his autobiography “Bhayagraphi”, Beechi recalls how his association with ‘Sahitya Bhandara’ of Hubballi and Govindrao, finally led him to take the Kannada ‘deekshe’.
The 9X30 ft old building with an area of roughly around 300 sq. mtrs in the busy market area of Hubballi, with neatly stacked books, has seen many writers frequent it in these nine decades. They have held interactions and few have even converting their ideas into letters sitting amidst book shelves.
Those were the days of freedom struggle, when Mangaluru Govindrao or Manjanabailu Govindrao came to his sister’s home in Dharwad (from the coastal region South Canara) to study. The speeches of Gandhi and other freedom fighters, the literary ambience of Dharwad, influenced the young man, and finally led the young man to venture into ‘the risky business of publishing’ leaving the family business of running hotels. It was in the year 1934 — the days when selling Kannada books in a Marathi atmosphere was considered a risky idea — that Ma. Govindrao established Sahitya Bhandara in Hubballi. It still stands at the same place, of course with little modifications, still nurturing the book reading culture it initiated nine decades ago.
Their inspiration was Venkatesh Trivikramabhat Kulkarni known popularly as Galaganatha, who published his Kannada writings and carried them in trunks to villages. Govindrao was joined by his younger brother Ma. Ananthmurthy, and to counter the Marathi influence pervading the entire region, the brothers toured the villages with Kannada books. They wanted to popularise Kannada and hence went to doorsteps of people. Soon, Govindrao took over the publishing work and Ananthamurthy toured the villages. Govindrao took personal interest, went through manuscripts and got the books printed in the press of the Kannada daily, Samyukta Karnataka.
In a commemorative volume, the novelist S.L. Bhyrappa recalls his long association with Govindrao, and writes how he would not publish anything without reading the manuscript. After reading Bhyrappa’s manuscript of Dharmashree, Govindrao went personally to the residence of the writer seeking his permission to publish. “I was just a budding writer then…,” writes Bhyrappa.
With Samyukta Karnataka expanding its area of operation to Bangalore, Govindrao set up a branch of Sahitya Bhandara at Balepet. In the subsequent years, while sons of Govindrao, M.G. Raja and M.G. Arun took care of the Sahitya Bhandara in Bangalore, the one at Hubballi was managed by M.A. Subramanya, son of Ananthmurthy. In 1986, Sahitya Prakashana took birth with the interest of Subramanya. Both Sahitya Bhandara and Sahitya Prakashana together have published around 800 books so far.
Like his father, M.A. Subramanya travelled to places to sell books, but subsequently going by the changes in the publishing business, he tied up with others to sell Kannada books. Though publishing business has undergone various changes, Sahitya Bhandara still keeps its old values intact. It is perhaps one of the few bookshops that allows the visitor to sit for a while to read few pages before deciding to buy a book.
Neatly stacked books, divided into different sections based on literary genres, publishers, authors and academies welcome the visitors to the book store. And the book shelves at the entrance are as old as the store itself. Many a writers and book lovers make it a point to visit Sahitya Bhandara as they are sure that good books will be available at the store.
What has endeared Sahitya Bhandara to writers is the transparency with which it deals with them and the personal rapport. “It has been our tradition to ensure remittance of royalty to the writers promptly. In fact, some of the writers become emotional when we go to their houses to pay the royalty,” recalls Sumbramanya.
It has been a long, yet eventful journey for the publishing house. But with advancement in technology, they now get orders for books through Whatsapp messages, emails and phone calls and the orders are met in a day’s time. A light weight volume of 1162 pages on Patil Puttappa’s comprehensive writings ‘Papu Prapancha’ and a coffee table book in Kannada on the hotelier, writer Sadanand Mayya are few publishing experiments done by Sahitya Prakashana, for which they have received awards.
Subramanya wants take up renovation of the nine-decade old book store without drastically changing the original look. “I want to dedicate one floor to Ma. Govindrao and another to Ma. Ananthmurthy, my father. We also have plans to launch a website and bring out all the 50 books of D.V. Gundappa by this year end,” he says.
Credit: The Hindu