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100 years on, words never fail him

Muralidhara Khajane
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GV, lexicographer par excellence, has never failed words

A TITAN: G. Venkatasubbaiah: ‘Real Kannada is still alive and rich in mofussil areas. There is no threat as it has inherent strength to survive.’ — PHOTO: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.
A TITAN: G. Venkatasubbaiah: ‘Real Kannada is still alive and rich in mofussil areas. There is no threat as it has inherent strength to survive.’ — PHOTO: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

As he turns 100 on Thursday, litterateur G. Venkatasubbaiah still retains one of Kannada’s sharpest intellects. Known to Kannadigas as GV, he has enriched the much neglected discipline of lexicography, and is considered the father of the modern Kannada dictionary having compiled as many as 10, including the eight-volume Kannada-Kannada Nighantu brought out by the Kannada Sahitya Parishat.

The master of the word has edited 25 books and published several papers, besides writing a column, Igo Kannada , for a daily for nearly 18 years. He has authored Klishtapadakosha (a dictionary of complex words), the first of its kind in Kannada.

Prestigious projects

This erudite paterfamilias was adviser to the Chennai-based Institute of Asian Studies’ multilingual dictionary project comprising Japanese, Kannada, English and Tamil. For good measure, he was a consultative committee member in the Telugu lexicon project initiated by the Andhra Pradesh government’s Telugu Academy.

And last year, fittingly, he presided over the Kannada Sahitya Sammelan, the only lexicographer to be thus honoured.

Sitting in a cane chair in his study cluttered with books, papers, magazines, dictionaries, the centenarian shared his views on the present state of lexicography, the issue of Kannada as the medium of instruction and other matters, with The Hindu .

First influence

While his contemporaries in the 1930s chose other literary pursuits, his father, the renowned Kannada and Sanskrit scholar Ganjam Thimmiah, instilled in him interest in lexicography.

Later, his teachers D.L. Narasimhachar and A.R. Krishna Shastry burnished his love for the language.

As his stature grew, GV found himself editor of the Kannada-Kannada-Nighantu project.

“The first volume, edited by D.L. Narasimhachar, was released in the 1970s. I was the editor for the remaining volumes. At 9,000 pages, it is the biggest monolingual, etymological and encyclopaedic dictionary. No language had a monolingual dictionary of the kind. Had it been bilingual, it would have been recognised as the world’s biggest bilingual dictionary. Even now it is not too late, these volumes could be revised and enlarged to get world recognition!”

Love for language

With infectious enthusiasm, GV emphasises how crucial it is to nurture the love for the language in Kannadigas. Kannada University, Hampi, must do more for the language, he said, and pitched for a quality thesaurus in Kannada.

Certainly English should be taught in all schools, but not as the medium of instruction.

It is wrong to believe that English is the only means for advancement in life.

Is Kannada facing threat from other languages? “While people in big cities speak a street language, real Kannada is still alive and rich in mofussil areas. There is no threat as it has inherent strength to survive.”

He is disappointed that the Kannada Sahitya Parishat has closed down the Dictionary Department. “It should revive it and train those interested in lexicography. I am prepared to support the project.”

The Hindu reader

A reader of The Hindu, he said, “I started reading The Hindu in the 1930s as a student.” He even reviewed books for this paper for a while. “[Litterateur] V. Seetharamaiah was reviewing books for The Hindu . I started reviewing Kannada books after he stopped.”

A natural question that comes up is his fitness mantra. Simple: a disciplined life and never missing his daily walk. Still, a ready wit helps. “Completing 100 brings fresh problems as people keep reminding me I’ve hit a century!”

Centenary celebration

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan has organised a programme to celebrate GV’s birthday on Thursday.

Governor H.R. Bhardwaj will confer the Dr. K.M. Munshi Award on him, and his bust, sculpted by Kanaka Murthy, will be unveiled on the occasion.

The Department of Kannada and Culture plans to hold yearlong programmes in his honour.


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