From a nondescript tiled structure at Mylapore, Alliance will soon move to a new building
In an age of blogs and e-books, a century-old publishing house continues to bring out works of writers — famous and obscure.
“Alliance is probably the oldest surviving Tamil publishing house. Of course, the Christian Literary Society is much older. But you cannot come across an exclusive Tamil publishing house that continues to thrive after a century and a decade,” says V. Srinivasan of Alliance Company, which has now completed 112 years.
It may sound apocryphal, in this era of fierce competition among media houses, that there once was someone of the stature of V. Kuppuswamy Aiyar, the founder of the publishing house, who shelved his plans to re-launch Viveka Bodhini, a monthly Tamil digest, to join a rival magazine on the brink of closure.
“People may not believe this story. But this was what happened in 1933 when my grandfather planned to re-launch his magazine after a break,” says Mr. Srinivasan, proudly recalling the contribution made by his grandfather, a native of Thanjavur, who later moved to Chennai.
Kuppuswamy Aiyar, it is said, moved to the Tamil magazine as it was edited by Tamil scholar U.V. Swaminatha Iyer but faced closure before completing a year.
From a nondescript tiled structure across Mylapore tank, Alliance Company will move to a new building to be opened on Friday. The highlight of the new structure will be a clock tower which the publishers believe will become a landmark around the temple district.
While Kuppuswamy Aiyar roped in great freedom fighters and writers such as Subramania Bharti and VVS Iyer, besides ensuring contributions from Papanasam Sivan and Suddhanantha Bharathi for Viveka Bodhini, Alliance was the first regional publishing house to obtain permission from Rabindranath Tagore and ‘Netaji’ Subash Chandra Bose for Tamil translation of their works.
A letter written by ‘Netaji’ from Austria to Kuppuswamy Aiyar, expressing regret for responding late to an earlier communication, is still in Mr. Srinivasan’s possession.
Kuppuswamy Aiyar sent books to Burma, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other countries, and Netaji’s book made a tremendous impact on Tamils living abroad after it was translated into Tamil.
M.K.M. Ameer Hamsa, one of the cadres of the Indian National Army, had mentioned in his recollection that he joined Netaji’s Army after reading Dream of Youth (Ilayagnan Kanavu).
“My grandfather was a staunch Congressman and his office doubled up as a party office several times. The entries in his diaries tell us that an election to the Congress party was once held at our publishing house,” says Mr Srinivasan.
Alliance Company’s contribution to Tamil literature was acknowledged by noted critic Ka.Na. Subramaniam, who placed it on a par with Manikodi, a magazine hailed as a trendsetter in modern Tamil literature.
In fact, Alliance published the entire works of Ku.Pa. Rajagopalan, a writer from the Manikodi era. It also brought out the full Shakespeare collection in Tamil.
“But Kuppuswamy Aiyar also ran into difficulties and was bailed out by Rajaji who allowed him to publish his works in the 1930s. It was a turning point for his company. Another came when journalist Cho Ramaswami lent a helping hand in 1991,” Mr Srinivasan says, adding that he plans to publish some that are currently out of print.