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The 'Athree' Man

Richard Lasrado

Published, Jul 16, 2014 in the "The Mangalorean"

Click here for the link to the original artcile in The Mangalorean


Caricature by Harini

Having known the man for over thirty years for his no-nonsense, non-compromising and unorthodox approach towards life and matters, his traits seem to be as distinct as his trade-mark handlebar moustache.

On every occasion meeting him in his Athree Book Centre (ABC) in Balmatta, one often wondered if he was indeed in the right profession or trade.

Guddehitlu Narayanarao Ashokavardhana, after being in the field as a bookseller and publisher for 36 years, handed over his bookshop into the safe hands of the Navakarnataka group a couple of years ago. Now he continues to pursue his other interests and hobbies like nature-oriented cycling, trekking and fighting for environmental issues with undeterred passion.

Most of his time goes into his pet nature project on a sprawling 15-acre 'Ashokavana' near Bisile on the laps of the western ghats. Rest of the time, he spurs other like-minded nature-lovers to go on exploration trips.

When the bookshop had opened decades ago, the readers, by the sound of its name, thought that it had some sagely background. But everyone came to know that it stood for the three A's in the family - he and two brothers whose names also begin with A, Anandavardhana and Anantavardhana. Thus came the coinage Athree, derived from A-3.

Ashoka is famously known to call a spade a spade. He may have got into a few people's bad 'books' with his straight talk. Whether it is publishers or government agencies and officials looking for a 'cut', he would cut them short with minimum words.

In spite of holding a post-graduate degree in English literature, Ashoka has remained a dedicated Kannada-lover, almost running the risk of being considered a fanatic. He uses absolute Kannada in conversation, but at the same time he does not need to cull out or choose words from his memory. He is just at ease with the language. A mobile phone is 'jangama vani' and a landline is 'sthira vani' for him.

Often we would discuss, besides new books that had seen the light in print form, the subject of various awards, which have almost become a joke or at least a butt of jokes.

Also under subjective criticism were the way some awards are hankered after, lobbied for and how self-sponsored awards are stage-managed and similar matters. All along he has been opposing the very concept of awards, which has been degraded by self-seekers and limelight-hoggers in the past decades.

Against this backdrop, when, a few days ago, a report said that Karnataka Sangha of Shivamogga (Shimoga) had chosen him as one of 12 achievers in various fields, many eyebrows were raised. The Kukke Subrahmanya Shastri award was for his Kannada book 'Kumara Parvatada Suttamutta' (Round and about the Kumaraparvata Mountain) which was a true tribute to his environmental concern and mission. Curiosity was rife amongst his friends as to how he would react to the announcement, let alone accept the honour.

Quite reluctantly, he chose to receive it, more so, in his own words, to recognize and respect the credentials, track record and the bona-fide intentions of the organization, the Karnataka Sangha of Shivamogga (Shimoga) which has been functioning from the pre-Independence days, for well over eight decades. His decision was also in deference to the advice from some elderly well-wishers like Dr B A Viveka Rai, Dr Ananthamurthy, Vaidehi, Prof C N Ramachandran and others, asking him to go ahead with a positive attitude.

Ashoka says that his experience as a recipient in Shivamogga was something unique. Every detail, from protocol to the arrangements for accommodation to the holding of the award function was meticulously handled and well taken care of.

The time management too impressed him a lot. The functionaries had done their homework very neatly. Other organizations had to learn a lot from them, he feels. That apart, he and his wife were too happy to meet other awardees and some literary celebrities they had always admired and who they never expected to meet anytime in their lives.

About Ashokavardhana

Born in 1952, as one of the three sons of G T Narayana Rao and Lakshmi Devi, Ashoka had his education in Madikeri, Bellary, Bangalore and Mysore. It was because his father, known by his famous initials, GTN, was in the teaching profession. He was also an NCC officer, a man of not only physical strength but moral fibre and discipline as well.

GTN was a steadfast rationalist and a staunch advocate of 'scientific temper'. If he had named his three sons with the suffixes of 'Vardhana' it was to prove to the world that he and his family had cast off the shackles of casteism and wanted a secular label. It may also be recalled that when GTN died a few years ago, no religious rites or rituals were held. As pledged well ahead, his s was donated to a research hospital.

Brought up in the same mould, Ashoka's independent spirit and love for his language and literature motivated him to set up a bookshop in Balmatta, 'Athree Book Centre'. Now looking back it may look amazing as to how he survived for long 36 years in the middle of the onslaught of crass commercialism, invasion of media revolution in the form of TV and the Internet and base business tactics among the contemporaries.

In his march ahead in life, through thick and thin, Ashoka has been supported by his wife, Devaki, his only son Abhayasimha and daughter-in-law Rashmi Abhay. (Perhaps it needs no mention that Abhayasimha is a film-maker trained at FTII, Pune with award-winning films like 'GubbacchigaLu' to his credit.)

All said and done, Ashokavardhana neither looks tired nor can he be deemed to have retired.

Postscript: It may be pertinent to record here that Ashokavardhana, with great respect and politeness, donated the amounts of the award as well as the amount received towards expenses back to the organization.

He owns the blog www.athreebook.com, which is a fund of information.