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Only Sanskrit daily gasps for life

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By K.M. RAKESH
  • Published 14.07.11
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Bangalore, July 13: Naughtiness killed the News of the World , but it’s a holy tongue that has made life hell for Sudharma.

The world’s only Sanskrit newspaper that turns 41 on Friday is tottering under the weight of overall disinterest in the language of the gods.

“We can’t even cover half of the operational costs,” said K.V. Sampath Kumar who edits the two-page newspaper.

Based in Mysore, some 140km from here, the newspaper is gasping but still alive, unlike Rupert Murdoch’s scandal-sheet, though that’s not the sole difference between the two.

Unlike the 168-year-old British tabloid, which closed down following allegations of phone-hacking and bribery, Sudharma — as the name suggests — is a straightforward newspaper whose staple is mainstream news and articles based on Hindu scriptures and yoga.

Literally home-made, the single-sheet product, which has a cover price of Re 1, is edited, composed and printed at the residence of Kumar and his wife Jayalakshmi, both Sanskrit scholars. Some 3,000 copies are printed and posted to subscribers every day except Sunday.

But apart from the academic interest in being the “world’s only” Sanskrit newspaper, what purpose does it serve?

“After we started our daily, AIR started to broadcast Sanskrit news. Twelve universities were established in the country exclusively for Sanskrit studies. Thousands of students are now studying the language,” Kumar told The Telegraph today, explaining what kept the product ticking despite no big-ticket sales pitch or circulation schemes like the state’s more popular vernaculars and English-language dailies.

There’s an emotional reason, too.

When Kumar’s father, Pandit Varadaraja Iyengar, started the newspaper on July 15, 1970, he had just one aim — to serve the mother of all Indian languages.

More than 20 years later, as he lay on his deathbed, his one wish was that his son must carry on with the paper — come what may.

But does it make economic sense today? “That word I gave to my father is driving me and my wife in this mission,” Kumar said.

The 50-year-old prefers to keep a low profile with no circulation or revenue targets. “We are not competing with any other newspaper. We are just serving Goddess Saraswati and Sanskrit lovers from around the world,” he said, emphasising that love for the language was the only reason why the paper was still being printed.

In keeping with the times, Sudharma went online three years ago and the site gets regular hits from some 85 countries. “Lots of foreigners are keen on Sanskrit even today,” Kumar said.

While rising input costs are gnawing into the revenues, Kumar’s support is his wife and a few die-hard Sanskrit lovers. Besides the couple, two honorary editors and a few Sanskrit scholars contribute a few hours every day to fine-tune the articles and set the pages. All of them work for free.

To break even, the couple have taken up external print jobs. “That pays for the material and the four workers who handle the printing,” said Jayalakshmi, 40, who has been part of the show for 18 years.

To mark the paper’s foundation day, a gathering of Sanskrit and Kannada scholars has been scheduled for July 30 and 31. “We expect to create more awareness on the need to preserve and popularise this great language,” Jayalakshmi said.