A mother is a good storyteller, reader
Amid the onslaught of social media, we are witnessing the slow death of the reading habit. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of bibliophiles, several organizations are reviving the love of books. An entrepreneur, textile consultant and book enthusiast, Shubha Sanjay Urs has been at the forefront of promoting literary pursuits. Founder, Managing Director and Chairman of Mysuru Book Clubs-2015 and Mysuru Literary Forum Charitable Trust, run on a not-for-profit model, Shubha has successfully put Mysuru on the global map of the book reading world. In addition to being the head of literary activities, she is the mother of a seven-year-old boy. On Mother’s Day today, Shubha tells Star of Mysore how a mother is a good storyteller and reader herself and the role book clubs play in establishing that 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 into a family of book lovers. My father and my grandfather had a collection of books and there was always some conversation or the other around the books. My grandfather D. Jayadeva Urs, who was an MP for Hinkal (Chamundeshwari constituency), introduced the Ramayana and Mahabharata to us. Although my father traveled for work, he made a point of reading aloud to us. This is how our journey with the books began.
When my great-uncle DV Urs was 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 impressed by the huge collection of books in his house and often went to the library and looked at these huge volumes. I was curious to know what was inside the pages and the smell of the books was addictive.
SOM: How did you come up with the idea of creating a book club?
Shubha: I left Mysore for my Masters; then got married, so stayed out. I was thrilled to move to Mysuru with my eight month old son for work reasons. Here I researched social activities and found a lot of cultural activities. I realized that not much was happening in the literary field. I opened a book club on June 4, 2015.
SOM: Did bibliophiles share your enthusiasm?
Shubha: Initially, I wasn’t sure about reading habits or trends here. To get the pulse, I suggested ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini, and called the members together for a meeting 10 days later. I was impressed by the kind of discussion and emotions generated by the book. Later, I felt that we also needed a Kannada book club.
SOM: Did you expect Kannada readers to be interested?
Shubha: I wasn’t sure but I was excited. First I asked existing members to spread the word and ask them to come to the meeting to read any Triveni book to get the business started. The response was overwhelming and ‘Kannada Oodhugara Okkoota’ was born. Coincidentally, it was the month of Rajyotsava and author Aryamba Pattabhi was invited to a writers meeting which also encouraged our members. Today, this little spark that we have lit has lit a thousand lamps.
SOM: How many clubs are active, how often do you meet and who is eligible?
Shubha: 21 book clubs are fully active to date. Two more are in sight but are on hold due to the pandemic. We meet once a month. During the pandemic, we met online and even author meetups were virtual. We have many colleges enrolled in the Young Adult Club. Anyone who enjoys reading is welcome to join us by contacting us via https://www.mysuruliteraturefestival.com. We didn’t start having all women in book clubs. It turned out so.
SOM: So the book club is at the service of regular readers?
Shubha: After regular book clubs, I reached out to other people like people with disabilities, orphanages, slum dwellers, public schools, and the elderly. A different strategy is planned for each group. As for people with disabilities, we produce small illustrated books. We give them paper and pencils and ask them to draw in books. The next time we meet, they’re staging the story in costumes. This instilled a lot of confidence in the children. In orphanages, they are introduced to the practical world. For seniors, a book is chosen after discussion with them and books are read aloud. We also leave a few copies for them to read in their spare time. For young children, these are moral books.
SOM: How did the idea of a Literature Festival come about?
Shubha: The first question that arose when I approached the idea was, does Mysuru need a festival like those in metropolitan cities. We launched the first festival to find out. With the support of all our directors and members, it was a great success. Special care is taken to have topics on Mysuru. We have a special place for self-published and local authors, where any author can come in and leave their books for sale.
We also have “Meet the Author” where authors talk about their books and interact with readers. We had stalwarts like Dr SL 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 had the festival even during the pandemic.
Shubha: Our first literature festival was held on June 4, 2017. I must mention the immense support and encouragement I received 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 any group of people. I’m proud to say that every Mysurean is proud of it, attends and spreads the word. We held the festival online during the pandemic and uploaded it to YouTube and Facebook.
SOM: Online must have launched technical challenges?
Shubha: The challenges were many. A city boy Aryaman Urs, a 12th grade student in Coimbatore who was staying with his grandmother in Mysuru, called to ask me if I would give him a chance to help technically. The first panel to go live included four women from France, Germany and the United States. It was a challenge to do it right. I trusted Aryaman and the 4th Literature Festival in 2020 went smoothly without any technical issues. People from all over the world connected.
SOM: Has there been an improvement in the reading habits of your book club members?
Shubha: Many of them say they stopped reading for different reasons. But after joining the club, they picked up the habit. Even those who weren’t very regular readers are into it now. Each Book Club meeting sees a new type of discussion. Shy people today are confident to moderate with authors. A few of them have also taken up writing and released their books.
Each member has the opportunity to do their part. And the number of members has increased several times. With each encounter, we also develop emotional connections and support systems. To tell you, authors from all over the world contact me to ask me to invite them to the Mysuru Literature Festival. Even Hindi authors have started to show keen interest. Previously, I found it difficult to reach the authors, but today, surprisingly, they reach out to me.
SOM: Do all Book Clubs work the same way?
Shubha Sanjay Urs: There are many who like to read but cannot for various reasons. A book club is run exclusively for these people. Here, we invite authors who talk about their books and initiate a discussion. In other clubs, books are offered in advance for members to read and discuss. I also give members the opportunity 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 storytellers and readers. Your book club also has so many mothers.
Shubha: Storytelling is a consequence of good reading. For some mothers, it is stories heard that are passed on. Whether it’s grandmothers or mothers, these stories not only fascinate children, but also show a keen interest in reading them. We had author meetings with women of all ages and professions. From Sudha Murty to B. Jayashree, several authors have interacted with our members. Each of them is a wonderful storyteller. We hope to continue to celebrate the perspectives of mothers.
SOM: To what extent did your mother influence you?
Shubha: My mother did what mothers did back then. She raised four children and housed students who lived away from home to study. She provided eight rooms and took care of their necessities. She educated underprivileged children under Bhavani Shishu Vihara, until the government launched the Hiriya Prathamika Shaale. She was part of the fair price committee and ensured that everyone received regular rations. Even today, she helps a few students. Now 70 years old, she is involved in organic farming in Bogadi.
SOM: Your message for Mother’s Day?
Shubha: Mothers are the magicians of a family. So, never be discouraged, be a shining light to your family and those around you. Always remember that God created mothers because God could not be everywhere at the same time. Mother is an endless book where each page gives us an inspiring lesson and a comforting hug. My son attended all the book club meetings, sitting with us, playing around, writing something and turning the pages of our book.