At a time when publishing in Kannada was not an overnight enterprise as it is today, K.N. Balakrishna (Bakina) set up his Lipi Mudrana. This story is over four decades old. It took place in the heartland of Kannada culture, in one of the oldest localities of Bangalore – Gandhibazaar. Many Kannada writers and artistes lived in the then Gandhibazaar and occupied the halls of New Modern Hotel or Mahalakshmi Tiffin Room, chatting over endless cups of ‘by two’ coffee. “Otherwise it used to be my office,” says Bakina proudly, tapping the old wooden table by which he sits. The small office of Lipi Mudrana forms an unassuming portion of one of the few surviving bungalows of Gandhibazaar, carrying many vestiges from the past – people and objects. They however, transform into a living presence in Bakina’s ebullient recollection.
At around the same time that Lipi Mudrana came into existence, Bakina started his locality journal, Gandhibazaar Patrike, the first of its kind. “It was YNK’s idea. He used to spend long hours in my office and we used to discuss everything under the sun. During one such occasion, he suggested this. We drew out a plan, and in the initial days it was brought out in a tabloid form, with the front page invariably dedicated to current affairs,” explains Bakina, who continues to bring out the journal even in the face of many challenges. YNK, master of pun that he was, gave the heading for most articles. The tabloid was distributed by Bakina to most stalls and the response was fairly good. “This continued till YNK joined Kannada Prabha. In fact, he is the founder of the patrike…,” says Bakina recalling his late friend, who went on to become an accomplished editor.
From childhood, Bakina was interested in literatThe Chandamama caught his imagination and he had even written a couple of stories for it. His father was a village accountant and life was modest. After PUC for lack of funds to study further, Bakina came to Bangalore and worked as a manager in a factory. “They had given me a scooter. But I’m not the kind who can work for others. My father said study further, I’ll somehow send you the money…” Bakina joined the Printing Technology course in the SJP Polytechnic college. Having completed the course, he got a job at the Mysore Wesley Press, run by the Christian missionary. “It was a great training ground and I got a stipend from the government. It was here that I met a lot of writers. I would go to the famous Coffee House in Mysore where all these writers used to spend many hours. I would sit in a corner and observe them, and gradually became friends with them.” Bakina met K.V. Subbanna who invited him to Sagar to run the Sagara Mudrana that he had set up with his friend Prabhakar. “The Mysore Wesley Press was kind to me, they relieved mid way through the contract with a glowing certificate. They called me ‘hardworking and best worker’…,” from there Bakina went to stay in Sagar.
It was certainly among the best times of his life. It was the thick of Socialist movement, he got to meet Adiga, spent good times with K.V. Subbanna, and was witness to many important political and literary discussions. In those years, Bakina was a good friend of Kannada writer P. Lankesh and had been reading the manuscript of “Biruku” which became one of his important works in the later years. “I suggested to Subbanna that we should publish this novel as it was different from anything that we had read in those years. He agreed, and it became a big hit,” he recalls. But working for a press, and doing his job with tremendous interest and commitment, “I was always crazy about starting journals. Around this time, I started a journal called Kavita – it was dedicated to poetry. Soon after, Adiga told me that he wanted to start Sakshi. I worked with him for the initial issues – it was a very exciting phase. A lot of Kannada writers who later went to become big names wrote for the magazine.” After Adiga left Sagar, BAkina returned to Bangalore. “I started my own small press, Lipi….”
The place where Bakina still sits used to be a lawyer’s car shed. He rented it to Bakina who set up a press there. After YNK’s exit, Bakina shaped Gandhibazaar Patrike differently, it no longer had vegetable prices, jokes and odd poems, but became a serious small literary magazine. “It became a monthly with readers all over Karnataka. Articles were never a dearth, there was a steady flow from all quarters. I am however choosy about what I publish. Many times writers were angry with me… but that didn’t bother me much.” Gandhibazaar Patrike, which soldiers on bravely even after 35 years, has always picked up the latest debates, and controversies in the world of Kannada literature, it has paid homage to writers and reviewed books that are considered milestones – all with a fair outlook.
Publishing went on paralelly, and Bakina was among the first publishers who started the tradition of publishing complete works of writers. K.S. Narasimha Swamy’s Malligeya Maley, Gopalakrishna Adiga’s Samagra Kavya, Putina’s Samagra Kavya – came from the stables of Bakina. “KSN was like a father to me. I published Malligeya Male and found it so difficult to sell it. Then Ramakrishna Hegde was the chief minister. I went to the Janata Darshan and told him that I cannot even pay such a big writer his royalty because there are no buyers. He took my appeal, and after two months when I had lost all hopes I received a letter from the government saying that it would buy 500 copies.”
“It became a monthly with readers all over Karnataka. Articles were never a dearth, there was a steady flow from all quarters. I am however choosy about what I publish. Many times writers were angry with me… but that didn’t bother me much.” Gandhibazaar Patrike, which soldiers on bravely even after 35 years, has always picked up the latest debates, and controversies in the world of Kannada literature, it has paid homage to writers and reviewed books that are considered milestones – all with a fair outlook.