- This event is over. However, time travel possible through our Audio & Video!
In the age of Wikipedia, it has been forgotten how important the Encyclopaedia Britannica once was in the mind of the English-reading Indian. Seen as the supreme repository of knowledge, it was also a status symbol sought as bookshelf adornment. What most people do not know at all is how an intrepid band of Tamil intellectuals, inspired seventy-five years ago by the Britannica, decided to create an encyclopaedia in their own language. They felt a linguistic system as advanced as theirs, with a literary history stretching two millennia, needed to showcase its civilisational achievement: it was imperative that Tamil boast its own encyclopaedia. The odds against realising this ideal were impossible. And yet the project of compiling the Kalaikkalanjiyam – the Tamil Encyclopaedia – began and was soon unstoppable.
This intriguing episode of Indian intellectual life comes alive in A.R. Venkatachalapathy’s new book, The Brief History of a Very Big Book: The Making of a Tamil Encyclopaedia. This story of lofty ideals and financial scandals, bruised egos and ideological conflicts reveals a fascinating world of cultural enterprise, political struggle, and regional nationalism. The author will be in conversation with Chandan Gowda.
AR Venkatachalapathy is Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai. He has taught at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli; Madras University; the National University of Singapore; and the University of Chicago. An accomplished Tamil writer, he has published widely on the social and cultural history of Tamilnadu. His publications include The Province of the Book: Scholars, Scribes, and Scribblers in Colonial Tamilnadu; In Those Days There Was No Coffee: Writings in Cultural History; Who Owns That Song? The Battle for Subramania Bharati’s Copyright; and Tamil Characters: Personalities, Politics, Culture. He won the V.K.R.V. Rao Award in 2007.
Chandan Gowda is Ramakrishna Hegde Chair Professor of Decentralization and Development at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. His areas of research include Indian political thought and modern Kannada literature and cinema. Besides academic publications, he has translated Kannada fiction and non-fiction into English. He has compiled and edited The Way I See It: A Gauri Lankesh Reader and A Life in the World, a book of autobiographical interviews he did with UR Ananthamurthy. At present, he is completing a book on the cultural politics of development in the old Mysore and co-translating and editing Daredevil Mustafa, a book of short stories by the Kannada writer, Purnachandra Tejasvi. He is also a columnist with Deccan Herald.