Kalachuvadu Publications: Bringing the best of world literature in translation

Frontrunner in Tamil publishing

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Kalachuvadu Publications
Kannan Sundaram, managing director at Kalachuvadu Publications

Nagercoil-based Kalachuvadu Publications is a well-known name in the Tamil literary circles for publishing books of the highest quality and making relevant print material available to readers. The company is led by Kannan Sundaram, managing director and publisher, who has been at the forefront of Kalachuvadu for translating the best of Tamil literature into other Indian languages and vice versa. Also the editor and publisher of Kalachuvadu, a monthly journal on culture, society and politics, Kannan is hailed as the harbinger of change in the Tamil publishing industry.

“My father, late Sundara Ramaswamy, started Kalachuvadu magazine in 1988 but we had to close it within a year. In 1994, I re-launched Kalachuvadu and after a year, in 1995, Kalachuvadu Publications was formed. I wanted to re-launch the magazine out of my own interest in media. At the time of its re-launch, the magazine’s concept was a bit different. Under my father’s able leadership, the magazine was based on the arts and ideas while I decided to include subjects like culture, history, politics and analysis. We sort of tried to break the mold of what the magazine was capable of publishing. For instance, we did a long interview of a migrant worker, we published interviews of people from the high literary circles and all this was very well received by our readers,” says Kannan.

According to Kannan, his father was the biggest inspiration behind the launch of Kalachuvadu Publications. Kannan initially wanted to publish Ramaswamy’s books, which had run out of print and had not been properly distributed as well. “So, in 1995, we published his poetry and his first novel. It was during this exercise that we found out that most of the modernist Tamil classics were also out of print. Back then, we were publishing only 4-5 books a year. Soon, as the industry gained momentum, we made further investments and published works of some of the best Tamil authors like Perumal Murugan, G Nagarajan and Pudumaipithan,” Kannan shares.

In its initial days, Kalachuvadu Publications was restricted to publishing only limited titles. However, with time, Kannan decided to publish the complete works of Tamil modernists. According to him, modern classical authors sell much more than authors of contemporary writing. “We publish short stories, fiction, non-fiction as well as translations of Indian and world classics. Our core list still constitutes of modern classics but we also publish works of contemporary writers. Our focus continues to remain on literary fiction and non-fiction,” Kannan shares.

Kalachuvadu Publications has more than 1000 titles to its credit. The publishing house has translated in Tamil the works of well-known authors such as Paul Zachariah, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan. The first choice for many serious authors, Kalachuvadu Publications has translated works of writers from nearly 22 Indian and world languages.

In 2018, Kalachuvadu Publications was adjudged Publisher of the Year at the Publishing Next Industry Awards “for being a publisher that prioritizes books of the highest quality and tries to reinvent them so as to be relevant to the reader. The exchange of ideas with foreign publishers at various fora, the rights sales of their books, and their purchase of rights to translate and publish in Tamil communicates a sense of them working towards a larger vision of publishing.”

Kalachuvadu Publications has also been a regular participant at books fairs, the most recent one being the Chennai Book Fair, which was held from 9-21 January 2020. Considered the second largest book fair in terms of size, Chennai Book Fair is an important event for Kannan, whose entire publishing cycle is focused on the fair. “It is a medium through which publishers can catch the readers’ pulse. It is during the book fair that we best evaluate the demand. That’s how we try to tweak our publishing calendar to meet that demand,” Kannan says.

Talking about the group’s sole periodical Kalachuvadu, Kannan says, “There is a long history of alternate or small magazines. We also fall into the same category of small magazine segment. But, invariably, none of the alternate magazines could maintain regularity of publication. This was due to many factors, such as money losses, ideological differences, etc. More or less, no magazine gets published beyond 10 years. But Kalachuvadu has been stable throughout; we are still in the field. The magazine is out on stands on the first week of every month on the particular date, without even a single issue being missed. Kalachuvadu contains articles that are defined more by social relevance than commercial success,” Kannan shares.

Kannan’s editorial team consists of people belonging to different streams of thought; there are Leftists, there are Dravidian movement people, there are Tamil nationalists, but they all come together and work on something that they mutually agree on. “We certainly respect people’s opinions, especially if the opinions are well argued ones and are based on sound foundations. We have been able to continue as a group for so many years due to that kind of healthy spirit. We don’t subscribe to any sort of fanaticism or any extremist point of view,” Kannan states categorically.