It was 1920. Just about a year and a half earlier, Bharati had been released from the Cuddalore jail. He had been living in Pondicherry, a French territory, for 10 years or so – a life of seclusion and imprisonment – where all his efforts at running a magazine called “India,” in which he promoted his ideas of India’s freedom and sought to educate the British Government and public about India’s needs – were curtailed.
Longing for freedom, he suffered mental agony in the last years of his life in Pondicherry. He knew that, if he did return to British territory, he would be arrested and put in jail. But his agony finally reached a point when Bharati, in disregard of the probable consequences, simply decided that he had to leave Pondicherry and move back to British India.
And indeed, immediately upon his re-entry into British territory, Bharati was caught and imprisoned. This was how the poet of Freedom ended up in Cuddalore jail.
After twenty days, with the help of his friends, Bharati was released; he had signed an agreement with the British that “in the future, he would not publish any of his works, without showing them to the Police Deputy Inspector General.”
Upon his release, Bharati went to Kadayam, the birthplace of his wife Chellamma. It was a beautiful place that well suited his poetic nature. But, as soon as he arrived there, he realized how much he had to do: first of all, his first duty was to work towards the freedom of India. And yet, his hands were tied; he had been compelled to sign that absurd contract with the British authorities. How was he going to accomplish his goal? Not only there was no possibility of publishing anything through the newspapers or journals, but he was also living in a small village which was far away from the activities of the nation. Most importantly, he had no means of publishing the works which he had written over the past decade in Pondicherry.
Bharati became restless: the creative products of those ten years of labour– the gems of his writings – were sitting in a trunk; they were going to waste without reaching the public. Bharati sorted out all of his works into 40 parts, and he thought that the solution might be to publish them in the form of small books. But, how could he publish them without money? He decided to write a letter to his friends, seeking their support in this important endeavour.
On June 28, 1920, almost exactly 94 years ago, Bharati sent a letter in the form of a circular to all his friends. It was written in English, and read as follows:
“All my manuscripts – the accumulated labour of my 12 years’ exile – have arrived here from Pondicherry. They are to be divided into 40 separate books; of each book I print 10,000 copies for the first edition. This work will cost me an initial outlay of Rs. 20,000. And, within one year, or at the most, two years from the date of publication, I shall certainly be able to get a net profit of a lac and a half rupees.
“Most of the works which I have now selected for publication are prose-stories, sensational and, at the same time, classical: very easy, lucid, clear, luminous and all but too popular in style and diction and, at the same time, chaste, pure, correct, epic and time-defying. The fact and (2) the ever-growing increase of Tamil-reading men, women and children in the Tamil land and the Tamil world overseas; (3) the historic necessity of my works for the uplift of the Tamil land which, again, is a sheer necessity of the inevitable, imminent and Heaven-ordained Revival of the East; (4) the novel and American-like improvements which I propose to make in the printing, binding and get-up of my editions-which, aided by the beautiful and suitable pictures illustrating the interesting events occurring in the stories, will make them a tremendous attraction to our public and such a wondrous surprise; (5) the comparatively low prices of my books; for I am going to sell my prose-works uniformly at eight annas a copy and my poems at, so far as possible, four annas a copy; and (6) my high reputation and unrivalled popularity in the Tamil-reading world due to my past publications – all these are bound, most evidently, to make my sales a prodigious success.
“Please send whatever you can, send as loan towards the printing expenses. I expect from you at least Rs. 100. Kindly induce at least twenty more of your friends to lend me similar and much larger sums, if possible.
“I shall give stamped ‘Pro’ notes for the sums I receive from you and your friends, paying the generous interest of 2% per month, in view of my large profits. Expecting very eagerly, your kind reply and scores of money orders from your side and praying to God to grant you a long and joyous life.
“C. Subramania Bharati”
A wise business planning indeed, well thought through from start to end; an honest, intelligent way to get his work done.
And yet, no one replied!
As my daughter Mira Sundara Rajan, reiterates in her article about her great-grandfather’s letter:
“. . . In this letter, Bharati argues that the publication of his works would respond to ‘the historic necessity … for the uplift of the Tamil land which … is a sheer necessity of the inevitable, imminent and Heaven-ordained Revival of the East.’ . . . He expected his “high reputation and unrivalled popularity in the Tamil-reading world “to generate a large volume of sales.”
Mira further explains what happened to Bharati’s project of publishing his books:
“Unfortunately, Bharati’s efforts to publish a definitive edition of his works did not bear fruit during his lifetime. After his death, the project was taken up by his widow, Chellamma. Chellamma published notices to the public in several Tamil magazines. In these notices, she stated that she was going to establish a printing press to publish Bharati’s works, and she sought the help of the public in her undertaking.
“Chellamma, with the help of her brother, established a publishing company called Bharati Ashramam in Madras. She advised the public that she intended to publish twelve books. The first volume appeared in January of 1922, and included ninety “National Poems,” patriotic songs in the cause of Indian independence and cultural revival. Chellamma wrote a preface to this volume. She expressed her ultimate intention to publish all of Bharati’s works, and to bequeath these publications to the people of Tamil Nadu as public property upon her death. Bharati Ashramam brought out five volumes. However, Chellamma’s personal commitments prevented her from fully realizing her goal of bringing out a complete edition of her husband’s works.
“In 1924, another publishing company, Bharati Prachuralayam, was formed by Bharati’s brother, C Viswanathan, his son-in-law, and one of his friends. While Chellamma retained the copyright in Bharati’s works, Bharati Prachuralayam went on to publish almost all of his writings. In 1931, the company purchased Bharati’s copyright from Chellamma for what can only be called the ‘astoundingly small sum’ of four thousand rupees.
“When two of the partners in the Bharati Prachuralayam eventually withdrew from the company, the copyright in Bharati’s works became the property of his brother. In 1949, the copyright was purchased from Viswanathan by the government of Madras. Interestingly, the government also paid Chellamma and Bharati’s two daughters five thousand rupees each at this time.
“The government began to publish Bharati’s works in 1950. It established a publishing committee to oversee publication. The committee was composed of the members of Bharati Prachuralayam, as well as two leading post-Bharati poets. This committee attempted to establish definitive texts based on Bharati’s manuscripts and earlier published versions of his works. Any doubts as to content were primarily resolved by incorporating suitable additions at the discretion of the most literary members of the committee.
“The copyright in Bharati’s works was made public by the government of Tamil Nadu state in 1954. From this time onwards, anyone in India was free to undertake publication of Bharati’s works. Members of the public were to enjoy complete freedom to publish. Subsequent publishers of Bharati would not be required to pay a copyright fee, or to submit their editions to the government or any other agency for approval.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
“Over the past seventy-five years, numerous editions of Bharati’s poetry have appeared. His works have been translated extensively, and both his works and his own personality have been featured in a number of films. However, the expansion of public access to Bharati’s works has been matched by a decline in the quality of publication, from both technical and critical points of view. . . .
“The problems that have accumulated over the years in the publication of Bharati’s works include careless printing that incorporates both typographical and interpretative errors into the final texts; false attribution of the works of other poets to Bharati; inaccurate and inappropriate translations; misleading representations of the poet’s personality; and erroneous statements about his life and works. A simple example is the routine misspelling of Bharati’s name – strange when we consider that Bharati was quite particular about the way his name was written in Latin letters. . .”
This situation actually led Mira to become interested in authors’ rights for the first time. As a legal scholar, deeply disturbed by what has happened, she asks:
“How can such problems be resolved legally? Copyright law should provide a framework for regulating both the dissemination of literature and the integrity of literary works. The pursuit of one goal at the expense of the other – in this case, widespread dissemination and minimal concern about integrity – can only result in the impoverishment of cultural heritage as a whole.”
After 93 years, I now find myself in a situation that is very similar to my grandfather’s. While I am proud of my legacy, I am also concerned that this cultural heritage in the form of literary treasures is not being protected as it should be – not by myself, nor by the government or anyone else. But our intention is to do so. Just as we take steps to protect our monumental treasures, such as the Taj Mahal, the Ellora caves or the Mahabalipuram temples – we should undoubtedly seek to protect and preserve Bharati-literature, and, if we possibly can, to maintain this literary inheritance without allowing deterioration of any kind.
The legacy – the name, the relationship, the property itself which became public in due course – continues. What my grandfather handed down to me – and, of course, to the world – is precious; it is extraordinary, special – a gift that God has ordained that I, a little person, as his granddaughter should be given!
When I inherited my legacy, I also inherited a few of his own problems – maybe of a different kind, yet similar. Just as Bharati had problems in publishing his Works, for certain reasons, I also encountered problems in the publishing industry, for certain other reasons!
My grandfather had to face the British Empire. And, as a result, he had to face poverty and oppression throughout his life.
In my grandmother’s case, the poverty continued . . . After the demise of her young husband, a still younger woman of thirty two, with the responsibility of a daughter who had to be married – living in a village which was oppressive – Chellamma was left alone to live her life without any concrete help. She had no education, and no experience in the publishing industry. It was amazing that she had a great and profound understanding of Bharati’s poetry, and nothing short of a miracle that she managed to publish some part of Bharati’s editions successfully after his death!
In the second generation came Bharati’s daughters. His elder daughter, Thangammal, herself became a writer, and published, among other works, a number of articles and books where she wrote about her father and her experiences with him. She spoke to the Tamil public, in India, and attracted huge crowds who came to listen to her in Malaysia and Singapore; his younger daughter Sakuntala, wrote a memoir on her father and spoke to tamil audiences as well.
In the third generation, his granddaughter, myself, undertook, for the first time, scholarly research on his Works, wrote a number of books on his life and poetry, taught Tamil and Bharati literature in various universities around the world, and travelled to many countries to speak about Bharati, his life and literature, to large audiences.
In the fourth generation, a study of Bharati’s English Writings has been undertaken by his great-granddaughter, my daughter, Mira Sundara Rajan; this book (co-edited by myself) is waiting to be published at the desk of an eminent publisher; and a book of translation of Bharati’s poems into English is on her agenda. Mira has been speaking to international audiences about her great-grandfather for the past decade or so.
Now, my goal is to produce STANDARD, DEFINITIVE editions of Bharati’s works. All of Bharati’s poetry is divided into 4 volumes, and my goal, based on my grandfather’s own plan, is to produce:
- a high quality work that will be the basis for future publications to conform to,
- publications that will show Bharati’s Works as true “classics,”
- publications that would be totally error-free, authentic, authoritative,
- editions that are based on recognized principles of the author’s moral rights, and,
- books that are reasonably priced, so that the general public will be able to have easy access to Bharati-literature.
In the past ten years or so, as far as publishing goes, I encountered great difficulty in accomplishing these goals. There was no cooperation whatsoever from the publishing industry in India. The legacy continued – from my grandfather to myself – in trying to publish his Writings, the cultural and literary treasure of India, challenges were everywhere.
But now, the time has come!
With the advent of modern technology, I am almost ready to publish the four volumes of Bharati’s poetry: 1. Desiyam, 2. Deivam-Thathuvam, 3. Kannan Pattu, Panchali Sabatham, Kuyil Pattu, 4. Bharati’s Autobiographical and other poems of Love, Nature, Vazhtthu and Katchi – all at the same time, followed by his prose-works. With the click of a button, the public can have access to these books via the most modern providers of literature online.
I will let you know as soon as these books are ready to order. There have been innumerable inquiries on my blog as to the availability of Bharati’s works… for which I am delighted to offer this reply, which I could not offer before. I firmly believe that the intervention of my grandfather, and his own determination to see his Works published, after nearly a century, will now make the inevitable possible, and a wonderful reality!
S. Vijaya Bharati