Pages of promise

ENDURING D.K. Shyama Sundara Rao: ‘For many years, I stocked books that I rested my faith in’ .

ENDURING D.K. Shyama Sundara Rao: ‘For many years, I stocked books that I rested my faith in’ .   | Photo Credit: Photo: Bhagya Prakash K


April 23 is World Book Day. Shyama Sundara Rao plunged into the world of books and sees an everlasting bond with them

Lord! When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell just 12 ounces of paper, ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humours and ships at sea by night — there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.

- Christopher Marley

This may have well been the belief of D.K. Shyama Sundara Rao, when he decided to change the course of his well-cushioned life. In fact, it was much more. “I had a secure job as the principal of Government First Grade College and was on UGC scale. I had been in the teaching profession for 27 long years. But there was something constantly pricking within me saying, ‘this is not all’. I was not comfortable being part of the crowd. I quit my job,” says Shyama Sundara Rao, speaking of the circumstances that led to the making of Kamadhenu Publishing House, in 1991.

Shyama Sundara Rao had also served as the Assistant Director of the Directorate of Collegiate Education and in the Karnataka Sahitya Academy briefly, but from his student days and through his career, if he had one constant guiding light, it was his teacher, the renowned Kannada poet, G.S. Shivarudrappa. “I owe it to him for leading me on to do something more for Kannada,” explains Shyama Sundara Rao, who’s Kannada book house is on the sprawling, quiet environs of the Legislator’s Home, on the Vidhana Soudha premises.

Having made the decision, Shyama Sundara Rao explained his plans to the former Speaker, Ramesh Kumar. He was extremely helpful and immediately got him the space in the Legislator’s Home. Friends did make fun of his proposition to set up a book shop in this odd location which is hardly on a booklover’s route. Undeterred, Shyama Sundara Rao went ahead and to this day holds: “I’m waiting. I am confident people will change.” Legislator’s hardly come by to his loaded bookshop; his customers are the visitors who are on an unending wait for the neta to drop by.

During the course of his life as a bookseller, Shyama Sundara Rao has taken many bold steps. He has published books that not many publishers would want to. “For many years, I stocked books that I rested my faith in. But soon I had to dispel my ideas,” he says, explaining how he had to finally relent to readers choices. “I had to convince myself about the harsh market truths and stock books, the politics of which I did not believe. They were bestsellers though!” Nevertheless, he made up for these moral hassles by publishing good books. This wasn’t bother-free either. He speaks of the library scheme which has given birth to a whole new breed of writers and publishers. “This is the disease of the publishing industry. I mostly keep out of it, as I am not dependent on it,” says the principled Shyama Sundara Rao, who has no intention of making big bucks through books.

The high point of his life as a publisher and bookseller comes in bringing out tasteful books — for instance, his own translation of “Living with the Himalayan Masters” — the book that fetched him the Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award and has run into ten editions. He also remembers with great joy the “Kavyartha Padakosha” – edited by G.S. Shivarudrappa and K.V. Narayan, Chaplin biography by Kum. Veerabhadrappa among many others.

What keeps this publisher in a state of ecstasy presently is their mammoth, classy volume of “Kumaravyasa Bharatha”; lucidly elucidated by the scholar Aa. Ra. Sethurama Rao. It has 300 illustrations in the Ganjifa style by Raghupathi Bhat. “This project took us six years and it cost Rs. 12 lakh. The government bought 500 copies of the book and gave me support.” Of the 1100 copies they printed, they have sold 800 copies of the book.

“The Kannada language and the written word are sacred to me. I want to be able to this good work as long as I can,” says this publisher of more than 100 titles.

His words nearly echo Mark Twain: “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience, this is the ideal life.”

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