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Serving Tamil with a rational outlook


It has been a ``long journey'' for Mr. R. MUTHUKUMARA-SWAMY, running a publishing house whose speciality is Tamil classics. Last year, his organisation came out with a CD-ROM on Thirukkural including the famous commentary of M. Varada-rajan. Mr. Muthukumara-swamy talks to T. RAMAKRISHNAN on the future of the Tamil publishing industry and problems faced by the library movement in the State.

IT WAS exactly five decades ago that Mr. Muthukumaraswamy's organisation started work to publish a book on Thirukkural. The venture was a hit and since 1949, 154 editions have been brought out and 20 lakh copies sold.

``No other Tamil book has achieved this record'', says Mr. Muthukumaraswamy, who is the Managing Director of the South India Saiva Siddhantha Works Publishing Society.

He readily acknowledges that the credit for the success should go to the basic work.

``This shows that Thirukkural is still popular and people regard it as relevant to their life''.It is not easy to establish the relationship between the popularity of the work and the current social conditions. ``Certainly, the society must have benefited. Otherwise, the demand for the work would not have continued for so many years''.

The 80-year-old Society has so far published 2,200 titles, most of which are about the ancient classics.

The original texts of the Tamil works are brought out in print with commentaries, starting from Tolkappiam to Pathupattu to Silapadhikaram.

``Our organisation has also produced books on IT in Tamil including a dictionary of computer terms and a glossary on the Internet'', he says, adding that one-fifth of books produced by the Society is on children's literature.

Mr. Muthukumaraswamy (63), who began his career as a librarian looking after the Maraimalai Adigal Library in George Town, strongly feels that electronic publishing holds the key for the future.

This medium can be effectively utilised to explore the potential offered by Tamil literature.

``Bringing out CD-ROMs is not only a technological necessity but also an extremely convenient tool for the publishers to handle them. It saves time, space and energy''.

He points out that the commentary on Jeevakachintamani published by the Society is available on the Net, thanks to the initiative of a Tamil living in Germany.

As regards the Tamil publishing industry, he feels that it has not grown to the level expected by many.

``Though the literate population and the people's purchasing power have gone up in the last three or four decades, the sale of books in general has not increased proportionately. This needs to be deeply studied''.

As a person who served as secretary in the association for librarians under the presidentship of S. R. Ranganathan, regarded as the father of Indian library science, Mr. Muthukumaraswamy is of the opinion that the budgetary outlay for the purchase of books for the Government-run libraries is meagre.

The present arrangement of drawing funds from the proceeds of the Library Cess is insufficient as a substantial amount is used for administrative expenses.

``At least one per cent of the allocation made for education should be earmarked for this purpose'', he says, adding that the Government must post adequate staff to manage the affairs of district libraries.

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