As the political analyst Cho. Ramasamy, said, it is the only ‘Alliance’ in the country, which is over 112-years-old

From leaflets to books, the publishing company, ‘The Alliance Co,’ — the warp and woof of freedom struggle — has driven home messages of patriotic fervour to masses in the pre-Independence era.

That Mahatma Gandhi visited the book house in 1946 bears a testimony to its kinship with the major mainstream leaders of the times. From a stationery shop to a publishing house…it’s been a long and arduous journey, spanning over 11 decades, for the company. When the country woke up to a new dawn of freedom, on August 15, 1947, the company distributed over 50,000 copies of a book ‘Desiya Geetham,’ comprising patriotic songs, free of cost.

Tucked away in the jungle of high-rise buildings in Mylapore, the company’s building, which is silently echoing with energetically charged conversations of leaders of freedom struggle, looks deceptively simple, priding itself on having published more than 15,000 titles so far. The company is a major landmark in the world of letters, as evidenced by the popularity of its publications. For instance, ‘Idhayam Kakka’ (save heart) written by Dr. V. Chokkalingam and Dr. Priya Chokkalingam has seen six editions since 2008 and thousands of copies are selling every month. Books written by Cho Ramasamy and actor Sivakumar are a hit among readers.

The publishing house has a chequered history. There had been times when it was down, but not out! The late Congress leader Rajagopalachariar donated the rights over his writings to the company in 1930’s to shore up its sagging fortunes. When the company was in totters in the late 1980’s, Cho Ramasamy contributed his mite to its revival, by repeating what Rajaji did.

History

From having a small hut as its womb, Alliance has come the hard way to be what it is now. A rewind to the roots...

V. Kuppuswamy Iyer, born in 1877 in Komal, a small village in Thanjavur, came to Madras (now Chennai), penniless. With the help of his friend, he started a stationery shop ‘General Supplies Company’ in Mylapore. He printed pocket-size books on national leaders and distributed them free of cost to children, and the initiative led him to establish ‘The Alliance’ in 1901. Over the years, the publishing house’s name became a metonym for the founder. Writers called him ‘Alliance thatha’ and ‘Alliance Iyer’. So much sublime was the service of the house that the British were bowled over by it to the point of trying to get the ownership of the name. But Iyer refused to budge an inch.

Iyer got a chance to meet Ramana Maharishi in Tiruvannamalai, while witnessing ‘Karthigai Deepam.’ Maharishi asked him whether he had felt any fresh energy after the ceremony. He also asked if Iyer understood the question and the latter replied in the negative. Then Maharishi said, ‘Nee oorukku po, puriyum’ (you will understand, once you reach home). With Maharishi’s enigmatic and cryptic statement fully understood later, ‘Deepam’ atop a hill became the logo with ‘Arivae Vilakku’ (knowledge is lamp) mentioned on top of it.

In 1907, the company published a monthly magazine ‘Viveka Bodhini’, whose copies were compiled annually and printed in a leather-bound book. During 1915 itself, nearly 35,000 copies were sold, says V. Srinivasan, grandson of the company’s founder. Mr. Srinivasan adds saying the company brought out the works of Bengali writers such as Sri Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Sri Sarath Chandra Chatterjee, Sri Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Dhara Shankar Banarjee in Tamil. Rabindranath Tagore’s work was first translated in Tamil by Alliance. Nearly 40 of his works went down well with Tamilians.

Marathi writer V.S. Khandekar became so famous in Tamil Nadu, through translation, of course, that the leaders of the Dravidian Movement quoted extensively from the writer’s revolutionary writings.

Mr. Venkataraman, a senior citizen and a voracious reader of Alliance’s books remembers saying “One of the trees near Luz Corner tram station was hung with a board on which inscribed were the words ‘viraivil edirparungal vishavritcham’ (coming soon the poisonous tree).

The words ‘Visha Vritcham’ appeared so prominent that people who happened to pass by thought that the tree was poisonous and as a result of this free publicity, thousands of copies sold, and he bought one too. Another reader, Mr. Gurumoorthy, now in his early seventies, says that he is an ardent fan of Alliance books and he vaguely remembers some of the incidents, during the pre-Independence era. He recalled those miserable days of freedom struggle, and how the company also contributed in fighting for the freedom. Alliance Company, during the freedom struggle movement, risked incurring the wrath of the British government and also became bankrupt.

Mr. Srinivasan says, “That was the time when Subash Chandra Bose’s speeches and writings were rabble-rousing. In 1937, after getting permission from Bose for translating his works in Tamil, two books ‘Ilaignan Kanavu’ (dream of a youth) and ‘Pudu Vazhi’ (new path) were published. In 1938, when Subash came to Chennai, my father went there to give the copies of the two books to him. On knowing this, police ordered a lathi-charge. My father and the horse on which Subash came and the leader himself were beaten severely and all the three were dripping with blood.” Consequently, the books were banned. However, Iyer sent 100 copies each of the two books to Ceylon, Singapore, Malaysia and Pinang. He burnt the rest of the copies (and of course his fingers too) so that they did not reach the hands of the conquerors. Subash, who had started Indian National Army (INA), had been visiting countries. When he visited Singapore, the books, which Iyer had sent, were read by a group of Tamilians. This inspired the rest of Tamilians to join the INA and they also printed thousands of copies of the two books and distributed them to masses.

This is a glorious past of the company which is replete with lots of memorable episodes. As the political analyst and Editor of Tamil weekly, Thuglaq, Cho. Ramasamy, said, it is the only ‘Alliance’ in the country — unlike political alliance — which is over 112 years old. An exceptional Tamil publishing house indeed!

More In: Downtown | Chennai | Books | Arts