Deccan Herald,  Friday, September 26, 2003


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 Friends’ gift to the written word

RAHUL BELAGALI profiles Manohara Granta Mala, the publishing house in Dharwad with seventy years of captivating history

The Manohara Granta Mala of Dharwad has a very special reason to celebrate. Set up on August 15, 1933, it is in its 70th year of existence. And 2003 also happens to be the centenary year of its founder-editor G B Joshi, popularly known as Jadabharata.

The publishing house boasts of a very rich tradition, backed as it was by literary stalwarts like Dr Da Ra Bendre, Prof Keertinath Kurtakoti and Betageri Krishnasharma. 

During the 1930’s, Bendre constituted a friends’ circle -- geleyara gumpu -- where like-minded people could get together to discuss varied issues. Soon it became the basis for many Kannada activities. The friends would gather frequently in the ‘atta’ (a room in the upper floor of a building) on Subhash Road, and chat, discuss and even quarrel sometimes. Though the friends’ circle was short-lived, it paved the way for the birth of Manohara Granta Mala, a publishing house. 

Some of the members of geleyara gumpu like Prahlad Naregal, Govind Chulaki and Betageri Krishnasharma joined hands with G B Joshi to give the publishing house the initial boost. The Granta Mala’s first novel was Sudarshana by Betageri Krishnasharma, which was brought out on August 15, 1933. They borrowed paper from Jayantilal Gandhi and Co, a Bombay firm and sought the help of Mohan Press for printing. Books were written mostly by friends from geleyara gumpu, who did not seek any royalty.

D R Bendre, V K Gokak, R S Mugali, and Keertinath Kurtakoti became the literary advisors. Keertinath Kurtakoti contributed prestigious critical stories and articles on the history of Kannada literature. His critical approach created a new awareness among the readers, and his crystal clear, fluent style made even his criticism read like creative writing. He contributed to Grantha Mala till his last breathe.

Grantha Mala has published books on varied subjects. Shriranga's Vishwamitrana Srushti; Shivaram Karanth's Marali Mannige; Mokashi's Gangavva Gangamayi; U R Anantamurthy's Samskara; D R Bendre's Hosasamsara; Kurta-koti's Aa Mani and Jadabh-arata's Mookabali are some noted publications. Grantha Mala has even published Girish Karnad’s plays Tughlaq and Hayavadana, and Chandras-hekar Kambar’s Rishyashringa.
Apart from these, the Granta Mala has been involved in different kinds of activities, some experimental in nature like the production of the novel Kho. It grew out of a collaborated effort of eleven writers, with each writer giving a lead to another by contributing one chapter of the story. 

Grantha Mala even introduced Aashu-natakas, the unprepared, improvised plays emerging straight on the stage, with unwritten scripts, without any cues or clues, except a theme given for the players to act. During those times, plays were staged regularly. And one occasion had Bendre on stage, with full make-up! It is said that the great Hindustani singer Bhim-sen Joshi also donned a few roles.

Ramakant Joshi, the son of G B Joshi, who is now in-charge of the publishing house, says book-publishing industry is on the edge of extinct. He believes that modern techniques and communications like TV and the Internet have caused a setback to the publishing industry. 

While agreeing that books have become very expensive, Joshi feels they are certainly not unaffordable. He further feels that the government should play an important role in opening and maintaining public libraries in villages, towns and cities.

Manohara Grantha Mala has a unique subscription scheme. Each book published here is home-delivered to all the subscribers, wherever they may be residing, either in Karnataka or outside. Talking about this scheme, Sameer Joshi, who assists his father Ramakant Joshi, says that it was planned to increase literature awareness among readers years ago when bookstalls were not common. “We have maintained the tradition and books are still home-delivered. The subscriber has to pay an annual subscription fees of Rs 250, and can receive demi-size books of 600 to 700 pages.”

It is this scheme that still attracts many writers to get their books published by Manohara Granta Mala, he avers.

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