With one book already out on the shelves and two more in the pipeline, Rasala, a small publishing company started by Venetia Kotamraju and Shankar Rajaraman is off to an enthusiastic start. Rasala is very niche, publishing English translations of Sankrit poetry. And they aim to make all genres of Sanskrit poetry (from ancient masterpieces to modern work) accessible and attractive to everyone.
Kotamraju’s love for Sanskrit began when she first visited India in 2003. “I was on a three-month journalism internship in Mumbai. It was also the year I met my future husband and learnt a bit of Hindi and Sanskrit too,” she recalls. Kotamraju returned to study Latin and Greek at Oxford, but kept visiting India during her vacations. In 2007 she was back — this time in Bangalore. She married Gautam Kotamraju, a designer with Myntra.com, and joined Macmillan India. “The passion for Sanskrit soon got the better of me and I quit my corporate job and formed Rasala along with a friend Dr Shankar Rajaraman. He is a practising psychiatrist, as well as a research scholar with IISc,” Venetia says.
Their translation is called Kokilsandesh, The message of the Koel, and is the work of 15th century Tamil poet Uddanda Sastri who wrote in Sanskrit. It tells the tale of a man parted from his wife. He sends the koel with beautiful love messages for her. Kotamraju actually followed the trail the poet describes. “The descriptions of the places that the koel travels through are so rich and vivid. Many of them are still there — like the temples, rivers and mountains. I even visited the house where Sastri’s descendants now live. It was amazing. His work is a literary travelogue, almost like Lonely Planet but way more beautiful,” says Kotamaraju.
When not poring over Sanskrit poems, Kotamraju goes off on biking trips with her husband. “We recently went up to the Himalayas to trace Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and the mythical city of Alakapuri,” she says. The duo plan to publish three books a year. They are currently working on a 13th century poem written by Ganga Devi, the wife of a Vijayanagar king.” The work is so beautifully written that many pandits cannot believe it was done by a woman. It describes epic battles, and ‘decapitated heads floating in rivers of blood like lotuses’. It is also a period of South Indian History which is not chronicled in detail so it has a special relevance.”