Groups such as Sanchaya and Ruthumana have been working to digitally archive works of Kannada literature that aren’t widely available.

A collage of different Kannada novels and the silhouette of a readerRepresentative Image/Sanchaya
Features Language Friday, February 26, 2021 - 12:22

Amid the growing assimilation of technology into the lives of people, readership for Kannada literature has been plummeting. Books and magazines tucked away into dusty corners of people’s homes and libraries weeding out books to make way for newer ones has led to a lack of public availability of many once-famous Kannada works of literature. The diminishing knowledge of these works fueled the need for these gems to be made digital.

“Without digitisation, we might lose out on moments that need to be captured,” said Omshivaprakash, of Sanchaya organisation, which has been working towards the digitisation of Kannada literature and has created visual archives on Karnataka’s performative arts.

Like Omshivaprakash and Sanchaya, many others have also begun digitising creating works to preserve the state’s rich body of art and literature, sometimes dating back to the 19th century. 

The beginning of digitisation

The attempt to create a digital archive first started in 2006, said Omshivaprakash, who had begun writing blogs in Kannada on technology. After meeting like-minded people, they started community-led initiatives such as Servants of Knowledge, an archiving platform, and later, Sanchaya in 2007 working towards digitisation of Kannada language books.

“We wanted a digital and archival site that would be free for people to access. I had met Carl Malamud in Bengaluru while he was visiting the city. He had already begun the work of digitising lesser-known works [in other languages] which were in the public domain and was making it available on Internet archives. We collaborated over creating a similar establishment for Kannada literature and thus began the journey,” said Omshivaprakash.

Around the same time, Kuntady Nitesh, in a collaboration with his friends, started their website Ruthumana. “Before Ruthumana, I was archiving works of poets for a personal project. I was initially pursuing only one poet and later stumbled upon his contemporaries’ works. I archived them as well, which I had made available on my website, however, not under the creative commons license,” said Nitesh.

The importance of digitising

Nitesh observed that in the past five years, there’s been incredible growth in those striving to document the state’s literary heritage.

“Pursuing this personal project was difficult since not many were into archiving Kannada literature then. The first organisation we heard about was Sanchaya. For a very long time, theirs was the only organisation. Later, I and my friends decided to start Ruthumana. We all work full-time in different sectors and manage Ruthumana alongside. Ever since we started, there’s been a gradual increase. However, not many are still widely known,” he said.

Nitesh, Omshivaprakash, Carl and others believe that digitisation of the literature is a path to keeping the work alive. They publish their content under a Creative Commons License to ensure it stays accessible to people.

“Digitisation of literature or journals like Lankesh Patrike is imperative because once it is not accessible, it feels like you have lost a part of your heritage and those that remain in public domain go unnoticed vastly,” said Guruprasad, executive editor at Akruti books.

Process of digitisation

Upon being asked about the process of digitising books, Omshivaprakash said, “The books are first scanned in an indigenous scanner that was developed by Carl Malamud, which was later published on the internet under the Creative Commons license.” He said the scanner was developed by Malamud before they met and was already archiving books.

Concurrently, a great deal of work has been done in archiving theatrical performances as well. Abhaya Simha, a National Award-winning director and screenwriter, has been archiving audio-visuals for Sanchi, a nonprofit arm of Sanchaya organisation. They have thus far recorded and archived 600 hours of footage, he says, which comprises theatrical performances and various other performance-based art forms.

“We have archived nearly 108 plays which were written by stalwarts of the Kannada literary world. The videos posted by us have been used by many theatre schools, researchers and other audiences. This has garnered a lot of positive response from people because they often leave us comments saying it has helped them in their endeavour,” said Simha.

Nitesh of Ruthumana said, “We don’t just focus on making things available, we also have critical or in-depth discussions surrounding the subject which is not always limited to literature.”  

Scope for digitisation

Guruprasad believes that the digitisation of the literature will be extremely helpful in promoting forgotten works and authors in Kannada literature. “For a generation that’s acclimatised to gadgets, digitisation will prove to be very helpful. It provides accessibility to the common public, academicians and others to avail the literature that is difficult to source in print. I envision a future where the print and digital will co-exist and thrive,” he said.

Omshivaprakash points out that many writers’ family members have connected with them because they wanted to preserve the legacy and the writings of their predecessors.

“We have had libraries give us books. We have scanned 15 volumes of Samagra Vachana Sahitya Samputa and 50 volumes of Samagra Daasa Sahitya Samputa, which will be made available for people. Another well-known science communicator and creator of Jaana Suddi community podcast Kollegala Sharma provided some of the oldest science books printed in Kannada around horticulture and botany, to name a few. This gives a lot of scope for the digitisation of creative commons to thrive,” he said. 

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