A mother is a good story-teller, reader
Amidst the onslaught of social media, we are seeing the slow death of reading habit. However, thanks to the untiring efforts of book-lovers, several organisations are bringing back the love for books. An entrepreneur, a textile consultant and a keen book-lover, Shubha Sanjay Urs has been in the forefront of promoting literary activities. Founder, Managing Trustee and Chairperson of the Mysuru Book Clubs-2015 and Mysuru Literary Forum Charitable Trust, run on a not-for-profit model, Shubha has been successful in putting Mysuru on the world map of the book-reading world. Apart from being at the helm of literary activities, she is the mother of a seven-year-old boy. On the occasion of Mother’s Day today, Shubha tells Star of Mysore how a mother is a good story-teller and a reader herself and the role Book Clubs play in establishing this fact.—Ed
By Nandini Srinivasan
Star of Mysore (SOM): Tell us about your journey from entrepreneur to Book Club Founder.
Shubha Sanjay Urs: I loved books, being born in a family of book-lovers. My father and grandfather had a collection of books and there was always one conversation or the other around books. My grandfather D. Jayadeva Urs, who was an MLA from Hinkal (Chamundeshwari Constituency), introduced us to Ramayana and Mahabharata. Though my father travelled on work, he made it a point to read aloud to us. That was how our journey with books began.
When my grand uncle D.V. Urs was the Vice-Chancellor of Mysore University, my great grandmother stayed with him. As a result, we children spent a lot of time there. As a child, I was in awe of the huge collection of books in his house and would often go to the library and stare at those huge volumes. I was curious to know what was inside the pages and the smell of books was addictive.
SOM: How did you get the idea of starting a Book Club?
Shubha: I left Mysore for my Master’s; then got married, so stayed outside. I was elated to relocate to Mysuru with my eight-month-old son for business reasons. Here, I researched social activities and I did find a lot of cultural activities. I realised that nothing much was happening in the literary arena. I opened a Book Club on June 4, 2015.
SOM: Did the book-lovers share your enthusiasm?
Shubha: I was initially unsure about the reading habits or trends here. To understand the pulse, I suggested ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini, and called the members for a meeting 10 days later. I was impressed with the kind of discussion and emotions generated about the book. I later felt that we also needed a Kannada Book Club.
SOM: Did you expect Kannada readers to be interested?
Shubha: I wasn’t sure but was keen. I initially requested existing members to spread the word around and ask them to attend the meeting to read any book by Triveni to kick-start the activity. The response was overwhelming and ‘Kannada Oodhugara Okkoota’ was born. Coincidentally, it was Rajyotsava month and author Aryamba Pattabhi was invited for an Authors Meet which encouraged our members too. Today that small spark we started has lit a thousand lamps.
SOM: How many clubs are active, how often do you meet and who is eligible to join?
Shubha: 21 book clubs are fully active as of now. Two more are in the offing, but are on hold due to pandemic. We meet once a month. During pandemic, we met online and even Author Meets were virtual. We have many colleges enlisted in Young Adults Club. Anyone who loves to read is welcome to join by contacting us through https://www.mysuruliteraturefestival.com. We did not start out to have only women in the Book Clubs. It just turned out that way.
SOM: So the Book Club is serving regular readers?
Shubha: After regular Book Clubs, I reached out to others like specially abled, orphanages, slum dwellers, Government schools and senior citizens. Different strategy is planned for each group. Like for the specially abled, we carry small books with illustrations. We give them paper and crayons and ask them to draw from books. The next time we meet, they enact the story wearing costumes. This has instilled a lot of confidence in children. At orphanages, they are introduced to practical world. For seniors, a book is chosen after discussing with them and books are read out. We also leave a few copies for them to read during their free time. For young kids, it is books with morals.
SOM: How did the idea of a Literature Festival come up?
Shubha: The first question that popped up when I broached the idea was, does Mysuru need a festival like the ones in metropolitan cities. We launched the first festival to find out. With the support of all our Trustees and members, it was a great success. Special care is taken to have subjects on Mysuru. We have a special place reserved for self-published and local authors, where any author can walk in and leave their books for sale.
We also have ‘Meet the Author’ where authors talk about their books and interact with readers. We have had stalwarts like Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa, Girish Karnad, Amish Tripathi, Devdutt Patnaik, Jayanth Kaikini, Sudha Murty, Jeffrey Archer, Karan Thapar, Manu Pillai, Vikram Sampath, Javagal Srinath, P. Chidambaram, Ashwin Sanghi, Vasudhendra, Vaidehi, Yasmeen Premji, Tejaswi Surya, Adrian Levy, Vikram Kirloskar, Romulus Whitaker, Senani, Krupakar and Nawaaz Ahmed.
SOM: You have had the festival even during pandemic.
Shubha: Our first Literature Fest was held on June 4, 2017. I need to mention the immense support and encouragement I got from Author Aroon Raman. Our Trustees, friends, Book Club members, and family have been a constant support. This festival belongs to Mysuru and not just to me or a group of people. I am proud to say that every Mysurean takes pride in it, attends it and spreads the word. We conducted the fest online during pandemic and went live on YouTube and Facebook.
SOM: Online must have thrown technical challenges?
Shubha: Challenges were aplenty. A city lad Aryaman Urs, studying in 12th at Coimbatore who was at his grandma’s place in Mysuru, called to ask if I would give him a chance to help technically. The first panel to go online had four women from France, Germany and USA. It was a challenge to get things right. I trusted Aryaman and the 4th Literature Fest in 2020 went off well with no technical glitch. People from all over the world tuned in.
SOM: Was there any improvement in reading habit of your Book Club members?
Shubha: Many of them say they had stopped reading for different reasons. But after joining the Club, they have revived the habit. Even those who were not very regular readers are into it now. Every Book Club meeting sees a new kind of discussion. Shy people today are confident to moderate with authors. A couple of them have started writing too and brought out their books.
Every member is given an opportunity to do their bit. And membership has increased multifold. With every meet we also develop emotional bonding and support systems. To tell you, authors from all over the world are reaching out asking me to invite them for the Mysuru Literature Festival. Even Hindi authors have started showing keen interest. Earlier, I struggled to reach out to authors but today amazingly they reach out to me.
SOM: Do all Book Clubs function the same way?
Shubha Sanjay Urs: There are many who like to read, but can’t for various reasons. A Book Club is run exclusively for such people. Here we invite authors who speak about their books and initiate a discussion. In other clubs, books are suggested in advance which the members read and discuss. I also give the option for members to read a book of their choice once every 3 to 4 months. We read books of different genres.
SOM: Mothers have always been fantastic story-tellers and readers. Your Book Club too has so many mothers.
Shubha: Story-telling is an offshoot of good reading. For some mothers, it is stories which are heard that get passed on. Whether grandmothers or mothers, these stories not only fascinate kids but also evinces a keen interest in them to read. We have had Author Meets with women of all ages and professions. From Sudha Murty to B. Jayashree, we have had several authors interact with our members. Each one of them is a wonderful story-teller. We hope to continue to celebrate mother’s perspectives.
SOM: How much has your mother influenced you?
Shubha: My mother did what mothers did back in the day. She raised four children and provided boarding to students who lived away from their homes to study. She provided eight rooms and took care of their necessities. She educated under-privileged children under the aegis of Bhavani Shishu Vihara, until the Government started the Hiriya Prathamika Shaale. She was a part of the Fair Price Committee and ensured that everyone received rations regularly. Even today she helps a few students. Now at 70, she is involved in organic farming at Bogadi.
SOM: Your message on Mother’s Day?
Shubha: Mothers are magicians of a family. So without letting yourself down ever, be a shining light to your family and surroundings. Always remember God made mothers because God could not be everywhere at the same time. Mother is an endless book where every page gives us an inspiring lesson and a comforting hug. My son has been the part of every Book Club meeting, sitting with us, playing around us, writing something and turning our book’s pages.