The present generation needs to tune in to Kavignar Kannadhasan’s works, says his son Gandhi, who has come with e-books, audio books and an app based on the legendary poet. Akila Kannadasan reports

One look at the bookshelf and you know it belongs to no ordinary man. He is an avid reader of history and religion. He likes poetry too — apart from numerous books in Tamil, he also owns an anthology of Byelorussian poetry. He even has a book on calculus! Wooden doors slide to reveal the taste for reading of a man who held us spellbound with his words — Kavignar Kannadhasan. His son Gandhi picks up a book, flicks it open, and rubs his chin, imitating his father. “Appa would flip through the pages, focus on one for a few minutes, and place it back inside,” he says. “He could recall the gist, years later.”

Tall bookshelves line the Kavignar’s comely T. Nagar residence. On the first floor is the office of Kannadhasan Pathippagam where the poet’s son Gandhi and grandson Murali germinate ideas to take Kavignar to the present generation.

The best way to do so? The Internet. They are now going about the task of digitising the poet’s works with fervour. Murali has come up with ideas for a Kannadhasan Android app, Kannadhasan e-books, and audio books in the poet’s own voice. The app, to be launched in December this year, will have the lyrics of about 100 Kannadhasan songs, with a little bit of the song’s history, including the names of the music director, director, actors, the movie, and the year it was released. Gandhi and Murali hope to develop it further to feature the poet’s works, and gradually, his books, starting with those on religion. Murali adds that they are among “the top client list” of shopping sites such as Flipkart, Amazon India, and Infibeam.

The Internet has proven lucky for Gandhi. He caught the tide of computers in the Nineties by bringing out a book titled Internet in Tamil. “We launched it in Coimbatore since the use of computers was spreading fast there. I was apprehensive if it would sell,” he recalls. “So I gave one book for a 10 per cent discount, and two for 20 per cent.” But his apprehensions were proved wrong — they sold about 700 books in one day. His publishing house has been playing to the market ever since, for Gandhi believes in “seeing from the reader’s point of view.” Agni Siragugal, their Tamil translation of A.P.J. Adbul Kalam’s Wings of Fire sold like hot cakes in 1998. Gandhi remembers to the last detail his phone conversation with an upbeat Kalam after he read the translation.

Kannadhasan Pathippagam was the Kavignar’s idea to make the masses read. “I wanted to do something creative with the free time I had when I was in Law College,” says Gandhi. “Appa suggested we start a publishing house. He devised the marketing strategy — he came up with the idea to bring out 80-page books priced at Rs.1.50 to target the mass market.” Their first publication was Kannadhasan’s fourth book in the Arthamulla Indhu Madham series. “We got Somu, an artist who painted cinema posters to do our wrapper designs,” says Gandhi. “Appa selected them himself.” Gandhi has been retaining the wrappers for all editions of the series in memory of his father.

Gandhi learnt the business of selling a book from Kannadhasan. “For the launch of our first book, we hung posters in front of shops, advertised in magazines…We did a lot for publicity,” he remembers. “We launched the next book in the series the following month, so that sales of the first book didn’t get affected.” Gandhi gradually picked up the tricks of the trade. “I learnt that even if we kept the profit margin small, we can succeed if we sold good volumes.”

He has seen his publishing house crumble after the death of his father, and rise up again to be a thriving business. “After appa’s death, everything came to a standstill,” he says. Gandhi juggled a career in the music industry and the publishing house till he was confident enough that the publishing business would do well. Self-help books have a big role to play in their success story. With R. Kopmeyer’s How To Get Whatever You Want, Kannadhasan Pathippagam took off on its path to revival.

They have published several translations of English self-help books ever since, including autobiographies of personalities such as Akio Morita, the co-founder of Sony Corporation and Henry Ford, and works of James Hadley Chase and Agatha Christie. Gandhi ensures that he gets the copyright of a book before translating it — he is currently working on the translation of Paul Brunton’s A Search In Secret India and Holger Kersten’s Jesus Lived in India. The publishing house is keen on its online presence so that at the click of a mouse, Kavignar’s words can be relished by anyone, anywhere. After all, he was ever the people’s poet.

***

Kannadhasan Pathipagam has a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/kannadhasanpathippagam where they post one Kavignar song a day.

Two hundred of their books are available on Google books.

They have translated five books from the Arthamulla Indhu Madham series into English, which will also be launched as e-books in December this year.

They are re-launching MGR’s autobiography Naan Yaen Piranthaen.

They have branches in Coimbatore, Madurai, Puducherry and Vellore.