Kannada literature stalwart Ganjam Venkatasubbiah is no more


Doyen of Kannada language and lexicographer, Ganjam Venkatasubbiah, popularly known as GV, passed away in the wee hours of Monday morning due to age- related ailments, a close family member said this here.

GV was 107 year old and he was suffering from renal problems for the past few days and was admitted to a hospital for treatment.

“He was due for discharge on Monday but suddenly his condition worsened on Sunday night and he succumbed,” family members said. The lexicographer born on August 23, 1913 in Ganjam village of Srirangapatna in Mandya district,was the second among eight children of Ganjam Thimmannaiah. He did his schooling in Bannur and Madhugiri and higher education in Mysuru.

From old Kannada to the new era Kannada, he successfully documented the richness of the language. He was recipient of the prestigious awards like Padmashri, Pampa award and also Kendra Sahitya Akademi’s literary honour ‘Basha Sanman’.

GV was a Kannada writer, grammarian, editor, lexicographer and critic who has compiled over eight dictionaries, authored four seminal works on dictionary science in Kannada, edited over 60 books and published several papers.

His work Igo Kannada is a socio-linguistic dictionary which encompasses an eclectic mix of Kannada phrases, usages, idioms, phrases, and serves as a reference for linguists and sociologists alike. Venkatasubbiah is best known for his work on Kannada dictionary science titled Kannada Nighantu Shastra Parichaya. This came out exactly one hundred years after a Kannada-English dictionary was authored by the German priest and Indologist Reverend Ferdinand Kittel in 1894. This work became an addition to a tradition of dictionary writing in Kannada known for at least thousand years starting with the first available Rannakanda.

His classmates included the likes of K. S. Narayanaswami – the editor of Gandhi Sahitya Samputa and K. S. Krishnaswami – an eminent economist who would become deputy governor of Reserve Bank of India and vice president of World Bank.

When GV completed 60 years of age, felicitation volume titled “Sahityajeevi” was published. Similarly, on his 90th year, “Shabdasagara” (Ocean of words) was brought forth.

His centenary year was a momentous occasion and was marked by many events and felicitation volumes being brought forth in his honour. The centenary year welcome committee under the editorship of P. V. Narayan brought forth a centenary felicitation volume titled “Shatanamana”. Earlier in 2011, a book titled “Vidvajeevita” had been brought forth in his honour.

In what seemed more than a mere coincidence, exactly one hundred years after Rev. Kittel authored the first Kannada dictionary, in 1993-94, GV authored modern Kannada’s first work on Kannada Language Dictionary writing titled “Kannada Nighantu Shastra Parichaya” – an introduction to dictionary science in Kannada language.

In one of his interviews, he had stated, “I first began work on it 50 years ago. About 80 to 90 people started collecting words and we organised in alphabetical order. It took 10 years to put the Kannada words in alphabetical order. I worked for 25 to 30 years on this dictionary which is in eight volumes and 10,000 pages. No other language in India has a dictionary like this.”

A seminal work, it was incidentally brought forth at the behest of Dr S. Ramegowda’s (then Vice Chancellor of Karnataka University) during the Centenary Celebration of Prof S. S. Basavanala. This work was further expanded by Kannada Pustaka Pradikara in a book titled “Kannada Nighantu Parivara”. Prism Publishers brought forth a book with a collection of articles titled ‘Kannada Lexicography and other articles” in English.

His seminal work “Igo Kannada” is adjudged as a socio-linguistic dictionary. It encompasses an eclectic mix of Kannada idioms, phrases, usage, fables and serves as an example to other languages.

GV had a towering role to play in the affairs of Kannada Sahitya Parishat – Kannada Dictionary Committee. He started out as Secretary under Prof A. N. Murthy Rao who was then President of Kannada Sahitya Parishat. Following this brief stint, between the years 1964 – 1969, GV had the rare distinction of the being the youngest president ever to take office at the Kannada Sahitya Parishat till that time.

In this capacity he was encouraged greatly by the likes of Maasti, D. V. G., Aa. Na. Kru, Ti Tha Sharma and Ma Ramamurthy. While at the helm of affairs, G. V. increased its annual grant from the Government over eight fold. Subsequently, he became Editor of Kannada – Kannada Dictionary project.

He was involved in Kannada Encyclopaedia Project, Sahitya Sammelana (Literary Fest) at Karwar and Shravanabelagola and as the Editor of Kannada Sahitya Parishat’s monthly magazine “Kannada Nudi”. In his 104th year, GV agreed to grace a book launch event at Mythic Society, Bangalore where his teacher – S. Srikanta Sastri’s collected English writings (in two volumes) titled “SRIKANTHAYANA” – Vol I & II were released to the public at a gala event. Here he reminisced his years as a student under Dr S. Srikanta Sastri at Maharaja College, Mysore.

GV in 1932, joined Yuvaraja College at Mysore to pursue his intermediate course and his subjects included Ancient History, Sanskrit and Logic. His teachers included Na. Kasturi, famous Kannada stalwart writer Kuvempu and M. A. Venkata Rao.

He is the recipient of the Kannada Sahitya Akademi Award and the Pampa Award. His contribution to the world of Kannada Lexicography is vast.

His love for old Kannada was imbibed in him by his father and nurtured further by Kannada language’s famous writer Kuvempu, who was his teacher in his intermediate days and T. S. Venkanayya who taught “Pampa Bharata”, D. L. Narasimachar who taught “Editorial Science”, T. N. Srikantaiah who taught “Kavyamimamse” and S. Srikanta Sastri who taught “Karnataka History” during his graduation.

GV joined M. A. course in 1936 and his viva voce was conducted by a team consisting of Kannada language doyens B. M. Srikantaiah, T. S. Venkanayya and Benegal Rama Rao. This formidable trio conducted the viva voce examination for two and a half hours and at the end concluded by saying that they were placing the future of Kannada language in GV’s hands and he was awarded a Gold Medal in M. A and this was to be conferred upon him at the Mysore University Convocation in 1937.

On the stage were Mysore ruler Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar and the doyen of Kannada literature D. V. Gundappa sitting in the VIP row.

A documentary on G. V. was brought out in 2010 by Dharmasthala Manjunatha Dharmothana Trust titled ‘Lipyantara”. Gold medals have been instituted in his name at both Mysore and Bangalore Universities. A corpus of rupees one lakh is set aside by the Mico-Bosch Kannada sangha, the interest from which is utilised to award (in GV’s name) an extraordinary student scholar of Kannada University, Hampi who obtains a PhD. degree.

GV’s death has come at time during the worst times of pandemic, it might be ironical it seems, GV’s elder sister Gowramma was rendered blind due to plague and he has succumbed during the times Covid pandemic.

“Bubonic Plague”, an epidemic, first appeared at Bangalore pete on 12th August, 1898. Later, it spread to Kolar, Tumkur and Mysore districts. The Province of Mysore underwent severe stress and strain, caused by extreme famine or drought situations. Like famine, plague also had its impact on Princely Mysore.

He was witness to several historic disasters – World war 2, Mysore Famine and now the pandemic.

His contributions to Bengaluru cultural scene are also worth mentioning here after his marriage 1937 in Mandya, his wife Lakshmi along with other ladies of Bangalore started “Mahila Seva Samaja” a social organization, which was inaugurated by Mysore King Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar.

In his later years, GV was instrumental in suggesting and supervising the construction of Sri Jayarama Seva Mandali Auditorium in Jayanagar, Bangalore which later became the venue for Ramayana Parayana (sermons) and music concerts by the likes of Balamurali Krishna and others.

Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, former prime minister, H. D. Deve Gowda, Union ministers, Prahalad Joshi, D. V. Sadananada Gowda, leader of the opposition, Siddaramaiah, JD(S) leader, H. D. Kumaraswamy, Deputy Chief Minister C. N. Ashwath Narayan, Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai, Mining and Geology minister Murugesh R. Nirani, KPCC president, D. K. Shivakumar and a host of other ministers and political leaders have sent their condolence messages at the death of the most noted authority in the Kannada lexicography field. They said in condolence message that Kannada literary world has become orphan with the death of Prof Venkatasubbaiah.