The Life and Times of An Eminent Bookman
By Jaishankar Bondal
www.ChitrapurEbooks.com pays homage to an eminent publisher and “book industrialist” (perhaps the first and only one in our community so far), who was also a social leader, philanthropist and an author - a well-rounded intellectual with both feet firmly planted on the ground
Sadanand Bhatkal inherited a unique legacy in Popular Book Depot that later ventured into publishing as Popular Prakashan. His father, Sh. Ganesh Ramrao Bhatkal had initially founded the book selling enterprise in Bombay, 1924 (the company is almost a Centenarian itself!). Over the years, it has specialized in a wide variety of titles - Sanjeev Kapoor of Khana Khazana fame has 85 titles published under his name, not only in English, but also in other Indian languages; the classic Saraswat compilation of Konkani/Maharashtrian cuisine, Rasachandrika was anchored in this company; other titles in Marathi literature, drama, critical studies and poetry found space here, featuring writers like Gangadhar Gadgil, Vrinda Karandikar, Nirmala Deshpande and Kamal Desai. The company also ventured into children`s literature in association with Chandamama, the oldest children’s magazine in India; had a collaboration with Encyclopedia Britannica and the National Geographic India, publishing a series on animal life, human body, climate and the Universe, all references for younger readers. With di Agostini, Popular has published children`s reference series and books on English language courses.
In 1990, they set up a Kolkata based associate firm, Bhatkal and Sen publications, specializing in areas of women studies and culture, focusing on grassroots movements, politics and culture as viewed from a progressive standpoint.
Joining his family business in 1944, Sadanand`s interest in intellectual, cultural and social activities found a new platform in the book printing and publishing industry in a newly independent country. In 1950s, he was quick off the mark, when he set up (at personal cost) a monthly trade magazine, the Indian Publisher and Bookseller which he edited with his wife for the next 25 years. It was the first ever journal of its kind for the emerging Indian book industry - a smart move indeed. Over the years this helped him build up his knowledge, contacts and reputation as the one of the most knowledgeable persons in Indian book industry. In the colonial period, our textbooks on technical, medical and other key subjects, as well as those on humanities and social sciences were imported, as the country lacked an indigenous book industry. Popular soon started publishing/reprinting such books here, reducing costs and making studies more convenient for the country’s youth and professionals.
Sadanand also had close links with scholars eminent in their disciplines e.g. Dr. G.S. Ghurye in Sociology, Prof. D.D. Kosambi, the eminent mathematician and historian (a rare combination), Dattatreya Balakrishna Kalelkar aka Kaka Kalelkar, the eminent Gandhian author, and journalist, and others. As much as finding authors and publishing, Sadanand took great interest in the craft of printing, where his guide was B.G. Dhavale of the Karnataka Printing Press.
Very early on, Sadanand inspired the production of a beautifully created and printed book, Journey through Toyland, written by noted educationist, Smt Kamala Dongerkery which received the Govt of India`s Award for Excellence in Printing and Production, in the year of its inception.
His support, direct or indirect, encouraged and inspired scholars. He was good friends with Dr Gopal Hattiangdi, the Senior Management cadre at a multinational company who wrote many books on our GuruParampara and other sacred texts, and assisted the latter in many of his scholarly ventures, turning them into reality. And who can forget that the guidance he gave to Dr Frank Conlon, the history scholar from US, helped the latter find sources, and finish his sociological/historical study on the Chitrapur Saraswat community - the only definitive study of this kind to date.
Post Independence, Sadanand was appointed by the Central Govt as a Trustee on the first Board of the National Book Trust, as well as member of the National Book Development Board and the National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO, giving him a voice in framing many initial policies. As Chairman of the Books panel of the Export Promotion Council, he was also involved in the formation of the FIPB (Federation of Indian Publishers and Book Sellers) and held its Presidentship twice. In 1955, he was the responsible for India’s participation (for the very first time) at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest of its kind globally, a participation institutionalized now.
Sadanand also took great interest in writing/editing books of his own. Even in the 1940s he had written tracts like “Horizon”, ”Nirmal and other poems” and “Future of the Indian Youth” At the beginning of this century, he co-edited, with other scholars, a 3 volume “Encyclopedia of Marathi literature”. His last book, on the history of the Karnataka Printing Press appeared in 2010. He had several other book projects on the anvil, but they could not be carried through due to bad health.
As the business of the Popular Books spread over cities of Maharashtra and even outside it, he and his wife paid a great deal of attention to Community activities. Both played crucial roles in development of the Kanara Saraswat Association; Sadanand edited the journal for some years. He was twice elected President of the body - in 1971, and again in 1986-87. The Association had commenced the Census project in 1970. When he became President, he worked all-out to guide and collate the Report which came out in 1971. He also had his contacts work on socio-economic aspects and demography. He is also remembered for his activities in bringing out the idea of an Arts Circle, to encourage professionalism among artistes. The formation of ‘Kala Vibhag’ led to annual Saraswat Sangeet Sammelans, starting 1971, which has been a feature on annual calendar of activities since. Valuable work was also done in updating R.B.Talmaki`s research on ‘Saraswat Families’ and ‘Konkani Proverbs’ in these years. Over the years, Sadanand also took keen interest in helping the SVC Bank shed its parochial image, and assisted its growth as a modern business entity.
From her lifelong activities, it is seen that Smt Nirmala Bhatkal was, in more ways than one, the Ardhangini of Shri Sadanand Bhatkal. Her contemporaries and colleagues have unfailingly remarked on her sense of duty, a capacity to carry everyone with her, and her commitment to Community and social activity in the Chitrapur Saraswat world. She combined all this while being an active director in her husband`s book publishing company.
As in life, so in the next world - the couple, sadly, passed away within weeks of each other. In their lifespan however, as one commentator noted, was to be found “a summation of the finest qualities of human life - conscience, concern and commitment to improve Community and Family, and thereby the world”. Frank Conlon, the noted scholar, has remarked elsewhere that the civil ceremony of Sadanand Ganpatrao Bhatkal and Ms Vimala Shantaram Gulvadi in March 1947 “was indeed a marriage made in heaven”. Nirmala (as she came to be addressed after marriage) was a highly intelligent young woman with a deep commitment to human values. 5 years before (in 1942), with another young woman, she had the spunk to occupy the office of the District Judge in Dharwad, and plant the Tricolour on his desk. Like thousands of her generation, she was determined to do her bid for Quit India and the Independence movement. Convicted, she spent 2 months in prison. She later learnt, interestingly, that a young man from Bombay, Sadanand Bhatkal - inspired by her act - had unsuccessfully tried to visit her in prison. Years later, she recalled, it was “Destiny that brought us together”
As seen from the foregoing accounts, Sadanand and Nirmala`s lifetime was one of constant action and commitments in varied directions. She ably assisted him in expanding the scope and reach of the (then) infant publishing industry. Both were active in the Federation of Publishers and Book Sellers, participating in conferences, seminars, fairs carrying the message of Indian publishing activities. She was equally active in the life of the Kanara Saraswat Association, the All India Women`s Council and the Balkan ji Bari, NGO associated with child welfare. She was the second woman President of the KSA, the first being Smt Kamala Dongerkery. While there, she introduced the concept of mobile medical clinics that worked among the poor and needy in Bombay suburbs. She also helmed the Saraswat Mahila Samaj, closely associated with their welfare, education and culinary activities.
The couple set an example through their lifelong activities, inspired by Gandhian principles of liberalism and progressive thought, secularism, cooperation and tolerance. Adhering to their beliefs till the end, they donated their bodies for medical research at JJ Hospital.
As we bow our heads in homage, we can only hope their example will continue to inspire future generations.
The creators of this Feature would like to thank the Kanara Saraswat Association and its previous Chairperson,Sh Jairam Khambadkone for use of their archives, and also for some photographs.
www.ChitrapurEbooks.com would like to thank The KSA Library Committee for making available two of the books (mentioned below) for digitisation.
www.ChitrapurEbooks.com would also like to thank Shri Uday Mankikar, Associate Editor - KSA for writing a bilingual article on Shri Sadanand Bhatkal, and furnishing some photographs.
3 digitised books accompany this feature - “The Popular Story”; “The Karnataka Press Saga” (both written by Shri Sadanand G. Bhatkal) and “A Journey through Toyland” (by Smt Kamala Dongerkery)