Historian and professor of the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), A.R. Venkatachalapathy, has been selected for the Lifetime Achievement Award (Iyal Award), of the Canada-based Tamil Literary Garden, for 2021, as reported in The Hindu. “He played a major role in taking Tamil literature and Tamil culture to people in foreign countries,” said the Tamil Literary Garden. He has been writing on history, language, culture, society and politics for the last 40 years and has written over 60 books and articles. Mr. Venkatachalapathy has also translated many works and was a visiting professor at Singapore and Chicago universities. “He is a bilingual scholar working consistently and it is a matter of pride for Tamil,” the Tamil Literary Garden said.
We are very proud to be one of Professor Venkatachapalathy's publishers. Chalapathy, as we call him fondly, has been a warm yet steely friend of Permanent Black, and we now look forward to his friendly, wise letters about any of our books he happens to read -- always with a blue pencil, unfailingly pointing out errors we might have missed or improvements we ought to have considered.
In his own book, not many have found errors or shortcomings. If you haven't yet encountered The Province Of The Book: Scholars,Scribes and Scribblers in Colonial Tamilnadu, it is time to remedy that. It is a brilliant and pioneering work which reconstructs a universe hitherto unknown— the world of the Tamil book. It shows famous and unknown authors at work, the religious literati with its cortège of students, radical nationalist poets such as Subramania Bharati rousing the masses and being crushed in the process, humble scribblers eking out a livelihood writing bazaar pamphlets, successful scribes compiling anthologies for students and astrological wisdom for the credulous, and the ubiquitous English official surrounding them all—censoring, adjudicating, dictating.
The book also looks closely at reading practices, modes of reading, and the nature, numbers, and composition of book readers. Its epilogue traces the broad contours of Tamil publishing from the time of Independence to the present and speculates on the future of the Tamil book. Monographs on the history of the book in India are seldom as conversant with the international literature on the subject as this one. A.R. Venkatachalapathy’s work dazzles because he is au fait not just with the history and culture of publishing in Tamilnadu but equally in France, Britain, and the USA. The archives he has mined reveal government documents, pamphlets, tracts, periodicals, manuscripts, catalogues, bibliographies, reviews, advertisements, letters, and even account ledgers.