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G. Venkatasubbiah

G. Venkatasubbiah - a biography

Ganjam Venkatasubbiah (G. V.) is a Kannada writer, grammarian, editor, lexicographer and critic who has compiled over 8 dictionaries, authored four seminal works on dictionary science in Kannada, edited over 60 books & published several papers. Recipient of the Kannada Sahitya Akademi Award & the Pampa Award, G. V's contribution to the world of Kannada Lexicography is vast. G. V.’s ancestry can be traced back to a quaint old village enroute to Melukote from Mandya which goes by the name of Mudagundooru. For generations, his forefathers lived here practising priestly activities before they were faced with the famine of 1876 – 88. This famine dealt a severe blow to the already arid region necessitating their exodus elsewhere. Thus, the family came to a village on the banks of river Cauvery by the name of Ganjam. The family continued with their priestly affairs earning meagre sums. The chief priest among them Narasimha Joyis had 2 children. His first son – Thimmannaya was a Kannada teacher by profession at the local Government school and had to endure frequent transfers to other cities.


Thimmannaya and Subbamma had eight children. Second among the eight children was Ganjam Venkatasubbiah born on 23rd day of August, 1913. While at Ganjam, Venkatasubbiah’s grandfather would regularly walk to the banks of river Cauvery to fetch water.



The next chapter in his educational sojourn would see him serve and eventually retire from the now famous Vijaya College, Bangalore. Here G. V. would serve as Lecturer, Professor and Principal of the Evening College. He is best remembered for starting the student magazine “Uthsaha”. He is known to have gone out of his way to arrange on more than one occasion academic fees for deserving poor students who couldn’t muster it themselves. His lectures in the class room left many a student spell bound and transfixed. His repertoire of Kannada literature and the unique ability to bring to life these characters and events in the class room won him his fair share of fans. During these years, G. V. sadly had the misfortune of enduring a road traffic accident which left him with multiple rib fractures requiring three months bed rest. He fortunately made a successful recovery. Following this, he would embark upon and happily finish trips of North India accompanied by Gopalakrishna Rao and T. S. Shama Rao and of South India with Lakshmi Narayana Bhatta and Smt. Jyoti.


As a member of private college teachers’ association, he argued in favour of the practice of giving one month notice period prior to resignation, thus availing the institutions enough time to seek out other faculty members for the vacant posts so created. He also became teachers’ representative to University of Mysore’s Academic Council. As warden, he worked tirelessly for the betterment of the Ramakrishna Students Home. In his later years, G. V. was instrumental in suggesting and supervising the construction of Sri Jayarama Seva Mandali Auditorium in Jayanagar, Bangalore which later became the venue for Ramayana Parayana (sermons) and music concerts by the likes of Balamurali Krishna and others.


IWhen G. V. completed sixty years of age, Felicitation volume titled “Sahityajeevi” was published. Similarly, on his ninetieth year, “Shabdasagara” was brought forth. His centenary year was a momentous occasion and was marked by many events and felicitation volumes being brought forth in his honour. The centenary year welcome committee under the editorship of P. V. Narayan brought forth a centenary felicitation volume titled “Shatanamana”. Earlier in 2011, book titled “Vidvajeevita” had been brought forth in his honour. In what seemed more than a mere coincidence, exactly one hundred years after Rev. Kittel authored the first Kannada dictionary, in 1993-94, G. V. authored modern Kannada’s first work on Kannada Language Dictionary writing titled “Kannada Nighantu Shastra Parichaya” – an introduction to dictionary science in Kannada language.


A seminal work, it was incidentally brought forth at the behest of Dr S. Ramegowda’s (then Vice Chancellor of Karnatak University) suggestion during the Centenary Celebration of Prof S. S. Basavanala. This work was further expanded by Kannada Pustaka Pradikara in a book titled “Kannada Nighantu Parivara”. Prism Publishers brought forth a book with a collection of articles titled ‘Kannada Lexicography and other articles” in English.

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G. V. married smt. Lakshmi in 1937 in Mandya. His wife along with other ladies of Bangalore started “Mahila Seva Samaja” a social organization, which was inaugurated by His Highness Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar.


By 1939, the Second World War was around the corner and securing a steady job became an increasingly arduous task. Unable to secure a proper employment, G. V. began to give private tuitions to poor students earning nominal amounts barely enough to run the family. His oratorical skills, now famous, earned him several invitations across Mysore and Mandya to deliver lectures. At one such event in Mandya, hearing his lecture and deeply impressed by the depth of knowledge, the then deputy commissioner of Mandya – S. J. Mehkri pleaded with him to accept a teaching position at the local municipal high school for a salary of thirty rupees. The catch was that he had been invited to teach not Kannada but English! The need for money being absolute, G. V. continued in this position for six months.


He represented this school as teacher’s representative at the 1941 Scouts camp at Doddaballapur. While at this camp, one cold morning, G. V. took to swimming in the adjoining lake. The cold water left his legs frozen. Unable to swim, he was about to drown, when his friend Appaji Gowda saved his life with a powerful kick which sent him closer to the shore.

Prof G. Venkatasubbiah

His love for old Kannada was imbibed in him by his father and nurtured further by Kuvempu in coming years. G. V. gained admission to the B. A. Honours course in 1933 and came under the tutelage of T. S. Venkanayya who taught “Pampa Bharata”, D. L. Narasimachar who taught “Editorial Science”, T. N. Srikantaiah who taught “Kavyamimamse” and S. Srikanta Sastri who taught “Karnataka History”. During the “Mysore Student Union Celebrations”, G. V. was the proud recipient of numerous awards both in academic as well as extra-curricular fields. While conferring these accolades upon young G. V., Prof. S. Radhakrishnan is believed to have patted him on his shoulder commending him for his excellence in both arenas – inside and outside the classroom. G. V. stood among the top scorers in B. A. Honours. However, a difference of half a mark rendered him ineligible for a scholarship. While disappointing, the turn of events was not to be without a silver lining. Principal of Maharaja College J. C. Rollo came to the rescue and made sure that G. V. obtained the scholarship he so deserved thus paving way for higher studies. He was also the recipient of the “Honnashetty Award” for the best essay in Kannada in a competition held between Central College, Bangalore and Maharaja College, Mysore. G. V. joined M. A. course in 1936. His final exam viva voce was conducted by a team consisting of B. M. Srikantaiah, T. S. Venkanayya and Benegal Rama Rao. This formidable trio conducted the viva voce examination for two and a half hours and at the end concluded by saying that they were placing the future of Kannada language in G. V.’s hands!

G.Venkatasubbiah with classmates Igo Kannada - G. Venkatasubbiah G. Venkatasubbiah