Archive for the ‘Tamil literature’ Category

I finally got around to watching the film adaptation of Kalki’s classic historical novel, ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘ (‘Ponni’s Son’). I wanted to watch it in the theatre, but being the couch potato I am, I just sat on it, and when it came out on Amazon Prime, I watched it in the last couple of days.

What is the story about? Well, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ has a long, epic, rambling plot. I’ll just repeat here, what I wrote in my review of the first part of the book, last year. You can find the whole review here. ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ is a historical novel set at around 970 C.E. It is about the Chola king and queens and princes and princesses and their friends and enemies. It has everything that one would expect in a historical novel – many characters, intricate plot, conspiracies, palace intrigues, romance, war, amazing adventures, secrets from the past, charming characters, spies, badass villains, many surprising revelations. The influence of Alexandre Dumas is deeply felt in Kalki’s book – there is a young man, Vandhiyadevan, who looks like D’Artagnan, there is a beautiful woman, Nandini, who looks like Milady de Winter, and there is even a minister like Cardinal Richelieu. Of course, the actual plot and characters are different and fascinating in their own way.

So, what do I think about the film adaptation? I think that the film is well made. The settings look natural and real and it brings the Tamil period of a thousand years back, vividly alive. The songs all sound natural and feel part of the story, and they don’t feel forcibly tucked in. The acting by all the actors and actresses feels quite natural and they represent the characters very well. The cinematography is excellent. The last scene with the ship stuck in the storm is amazing and realistic and beautifully made. I haven’t seen something like this in a Tamil movie ever. Mani Ratnam has definitely broken new ground here.

Now something on the cast and the characters.

From left to right : Vandhiyathevan, Kundavai, Aditha Karikalan, Nandini, Arulmozhi Varman

Aishwarya Rai as Nandini was perfect! I can’t imagine anyone else in that role. I think Ramya Krishnan in her prime would have been perfect in that role, but outside of her, I don’t see anyone else as good. I think this might be Aishwarya Rai’s finest role ever. Glad to know that Mani Ratnam and Aishwarya Rai got that right.

Aishwarya Rai as Nandini
Aishwarya Rai as Nandini
Nandini as depicted in the book

Trisha as Princess Kundavai was very good. Not like the Kundavai from the book, but still very good.

Trisha as Kundavai
Kundavai and Vandhiyathevan as depicted in the book

Kundavai’s best friend, Vanathi, is very different in the movie compared to the book. In the book, Vanathi is a shy, introverted character, who is in love with the prince, but in the movie, Vanathi is a cool, stylish, mischievous, extroverted character. Very different! But still, the movie Vanathi is good, and Sobhita Dhulipala depicts her very well.

Sobhita Dhulipala as Vanathi
Vanathi and Kundavai as depicted in the book

The boatwoman Poonguzhali in the book is a quiet, introspective, melancholic character, but the movie Poonguzhali is different. She is definitely not melancholic. But the character of Poonguzhali in the movie is very well depicted and Aishwarya Lekshmi plays that character very well. I liked the bantering she does with Vandhiyathevan.

Aishwarya Lekshmi as Poonguzhali
Poonguzhali as depicted in the book

There are too many characters in the story to talk about in detail, but I’ll just talk about two more. Karthi as Vandhiyathevan is very good. He shows style, humour, flirts with women. But he is not the Vandhiyathevan that I imagined. The Vandhiyathevan of the book is a legendary figure, and he is probably the greatest character that Kalki ever created. It is hard to get him perfect on the screen. I think MGR in his prime would have been a great Vandhiyathevan. He would have been perfect. Maybe Kamalahasan in his prime. Maybe Parthiban in his prime. I can’t see anyone else playing that role. But these actors are older now or they are not around. So the director has done the best he could. Karthi has done pretty well.

Karthi as Vandhiyathevan

I never thought that Jeyam Ravi would be Arulmozhi Varman. I always saw him as an angry young man. Arulmozhi from the book is a prince who never gets angry, who loves peace, and everyone loves him. But Jeyam Ravi does his best to depict this Chola prince, and one can’t fault him for that.

There is one thing though, that I’d like to nitpick. The screenplay. The story as depicted in the movie is an open book. We know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what is exactly happening. There are no surprises. That is not at all how the book is. The book is filled with surprises and that is one of the pleasures of reading it. The movie reveals everything upfront. For example, in the first scene in the movie, the crown prince Aditha Karikalan calls Vandhiyathevan and tells him that he has to go on a mission and gives him all the details. This is not how the book starts. In the book, Vandhiyathevan is riding his horse near the lake during festival time. We don’t know why he is there. Lots of surprising things happen after that, and the truth is slowly revealed. Even when things are revealed, we have a suspicion that there is still more to it. This is how Kalki keeps the reader riveted to the book. But in the movie, there are no surprises. If I have to give an analogy, in the first Harry Potter book, we see Harry living in his uncle’s and aunt’s place, being treated badly. Then one day, suddenly, a giant man arrives, and frees him from there and takes him to a strange place. This is how the book starts. This beginning of the book has got a lot of unexpected surprises that we don’t see coming. If the movie version of the book didn’t start with this, but started with a conversation between Dumbledore and Hagrid, with Dumbledore asking Hagrid to bring Harry to Hogwarts, then there are no surprises. The pleasure of the surprise is lost. This is what I saw in the Ponniyin Selvan film adaptation.

I can understand why the director and screenplay writers made this significant change. A movie filled with surprises at every turn and in which we are not sure about the intentions of the main characters, is pleasurable to watch. But in the past, when Tamil filmmakers experimented a little like this, they were taking a big risk, and the movie bombed at the box office. It is a surprising thing, because the same audience watches English movies and French movies and are able to enjoy the mysteries, and the twists and turns, and the subtext. But when they come in a Tamil movie, they reject it. It is one of the mysteries of the Tamil movie audience which is difficult to fathom. So with a big budget movie like this, I can understand why the director didn’t want to take any risks and revealed everything upfront. For movie goers who’ll never read the book (most won’t because the book is more than 1500 pages long), this change in the screenplay won’t have any impact, because the movie is excellent. But for fans of the book, this is a significant change, which makes the story as told in the book, much better and more pleasurable than the movie.

I enjoyed watching the film adaptation of ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘. Can’t wait for the second part! Now I have to go and dust the copy of the book I have (I have atleast 4 editions I think) and read it from the beginning before the next part of the movie comes out.

I also hope that this is the start of an era when more Tamil historical novels will be adapted into movies. Kalki’sSivakamiyin Sabatham‘ (‘Sivakami’s Oath’) deserves to be adapted into a movie. So does Sandilyan’sMannan Magal‘ (‘The King’s Daughter‘) and Akilan’sVengayin Mainthan‘ (‘The Tiger’s Son‘). There are more, there are lots. Tamil historical fiction is a field which is rich and which is a gift that never stops giving.

Have you watched ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘? What do you think about it?

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Anuradha Ramanan was one of the popular Tamil writers during her time. She mostly wrote novels and short stories. She was quite prolific and wrote hundreds of novels and I think her short story count is beyond a thousand. In other words, if you are a completist, you can’t read her entire work – there is too much. I’ve seen my mom read her novels and gush about her as a person, but I never got around to reading an Anuradha Ramanan story till now. Whenever my dad saw my mom reading an Anuradha Ramanan story, my dad used to ask my mom why she was reading this rubbish. Anuradha Ramanan herself replies to that in her introduction to this collection. She says that her stories may not be great literature, but they are definitely not rubbish. She says that a normal person’s life is reflected in every story in the collection. She says that there is a resounding ring of truth in every story. She hopes that readers will like them.

There are 15 stories in this collection. Most of them are about women who are suppressed by their family, culture, society. Many of them defy the restraints imposed on them, sometimes quietly, sometimes with fire. In one story a woman continues to be happy, when society expects her to be unhappy. She is defiant with her happiness. Some stories have happy endings, others are dark. Some stories end in an unexpected surprise. Occasionally, the main character in a story is a man.

Anuradha Ramanan’s most famous short story, ‘Sirai‘ (‘Prison‘), is featured in the book. In this story, a young woman gets married and moves to her husband’s house in the village. One of the influential men in the village eyes her from the first day. One day when the husband is not at home, he enters their house and rapes her. When he comes out, the husband sees him and he immediately realizes what has happened. The husband is a spineless coward. He doesn’t have the courage to fight with the rapist or complain against him to the police. But he is not ready to ignore this and live on as if nothing has happened. So he does what cowards do – he abandons his wife and leaves the village overnight. The wife doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t have anyone. She requests people around for help, but she doesn’t get any. She has to live in the temple and the post office and the railway station like a homeless person. One day she decides that she’s had enough. She takes her things and walks into the rapist’s house, and occupies part it. When her rapist tries to get in to find out what she is upto, she looks at him with fire in her eyes, and stops him at the entrance. Then she tells him that she is going to live there from that day onwards. Her rapist fears her and respects her and so do his servants. What happens after that, when these two people live in the same house in this strange, uneasy situation, forms the rest of the story. This story was made into a movie by the director K.Balachander, who liked making movies about unconventional, defiant women. I think the actress Lakshmi, who is an unconventional, defiant person in real life, played the main character in the movie.

Anuradha Ramanan was herself an unconventional, defiant person. She lost her husband at a young age, but refused to behave like a heartbroken widow (which was what was expected in her conservative community). She dressed up, was always happy, her enthusiasm was infectious. She worked as a staff writer in a magazine, wrote stories, became a popular writer, brought up her two daughters as a single mom, inspired young women who read her stories and her essays. In other words, she kicked ass. When we read her introduction to this collection, we can feel her warmth, her affection, her energy there. It feels like our big sister is talking to us. And we feel this warm and affection throughout the book, even when the stories are sad. Anuradha Ramanan was a happy person and it shows.

I loved this collection of Anuradha Ramanan’s stories. Hoping to read more.

Have you read any of Anuradha Ramanan’s stories? Which are your favourites?

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Sujatha is one of the great Tamil writers. He wrote books is many genres — crime fiction, science fiction, literary fiction, short stories, essays, nonfiction. He was a true all-rounder. He was kind of the founder of Tamil science fiction, or atleast its most famous exponent. I started reading Sujatha’s books when I was a teenager. I read his crime fiction first and loved it, and then later his science fiction. I loved that too. Later I read his plays, and was surprised by how good and fascinating they were. I feel that Sujatha reached his peak as a literary artist in his short stories and his plays. So it is odd that I’ve only dipped into his short stories, but never read a collection properly before. So I thought I’ll redeem that now, and read this collection of his short stories.

This collection has fifty short stories. They were written in a period between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. Sujatha says in his introduction that he was always working under the pressure of the deadline, and so many times he felt that he could have rewritten a particular short story in a better way, if he had more time. Sujatha says that the stories which didn’t make him feel that way — that is they looked good though they were written under deadline pressure — he included those stories in this collection.

There are all kinds of stories in this collection. Some have surprise endings, some are about small people who struggled in life but win in some way in the end, while other stories are about small people who are crushed by the system and by society. There are a couple of stories about depression which are heartbreaking. There are stories about women who struggle hard and try to get through each day, and there are other stories about women who show their defiance in unconventional ways. (One of the women, when she is asked why she is in a particular profession, replies that it is because she is arrogant and defiant 😁 She was one of the coolest characters in the book.) There were stories about how the government and the bureaucracy work and they were mostly Kafkaesque and hilarious. There were also stories about riots and the meaninglessness of violence. Sujatha is a master of the first paragraph,  the first page, and it shows in every story. Sujatha’s writing is breezy, conversational, cool and stylish, and it is a pleasure to read.

I loved all the stories in the book. I loved some more than the others, but I loved them all. It was 422 pages of pure pleasure. Hoping to read the second volume of this series soon.

A couple of Sujatha’s books have been translated into English. I’m not sure which stories are featured in them, but if you want to get a feel for his style, you can dip into them.

Have you read Sujatha’s short stories? What do you think about them?

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I recently read and loved a friend’s reviews of a couple of collections of R.Chudamani’s short stories. I realized that I had one collection of her stories at home and so decided to read that. R.Chudamani was one of my mom’s favourite writers. Everytime I went to the library, my mom used to ask me to get a book by her. But, inspite of this, I’ve never read a story by her. So I was very excited to read these stories by her.

This collection that I read had 63 short stories. Most of them were around 10 pages long. The stories were written in a period spanning 50 years, starting from the early 1950s to the early 2000s.

Many of the stories in the book depict the delicate, infinite states of the human heart, including love in its different forms. There are also many stories about women who fight in gentle ways against the restraints imposed by society and the patriarchy, and who sometimes win their freedom and independence. One of my favourite stories on this theme was about a woman who suffers her whole life. When she dies, a secret about her is revealed. We discover that there came a point in time when she was presented with two alternatives. She could have surrendered her freedom and lived a comfortable life, or she could have been free and would have suffered. She chose to be free and was defiant till the end, in her gentle soft way. There is also one interesting story in which the husband supports his wife when she pursues her interests and her dreams while their daughter is upset that her mom is independent and doing her own thing. In one of my favourite stories about love and attraction, a single mom encourages a young man who is courting her daughter, but the young man starts turning up when the daughter is not around and the mom discovers to her surprise that the young man is courting her. In another of my favourite stories a man is grieving the loss of his wife, and he is just ignored at the funeral, and the person who understands him and comforts him is his lover. In a couple of stories a young man’s heart opens up to love and desire for the first time, and the way Chudamani narrates the story is incredibly beautiful. There are also stories about the relationship between parents and children, about people who try bridging socio-economic barriers through love and friendship which sometimes doesn’t work. There is even a story in which God is the narrator. That story was fascinating.

I loved the whole collection. I knew that it would be good, but I didn’t know that it would be this good. Chudamani’s short stories didn’t read like short stories which came in popular magazines, which mostly had surprises with happy endings, but were complex, subtle and sophisticated. The editors say in their introduction that Chudamani’s art as a short story writer reached its heights in the 1970s, and when I read the book, I realized that it was true, because many of my favourite stories were those which came out in that decade. But I liked her stories from the other decades too. There is a beautiful interview by Chudamani at the end of the book in which she shares her thoughts on short stories. In reply to one of the questions, Chudamani says that writers shouldn’t use short stories as a training ground for writing their first novel, but should respect and love short stories as an independent art form. This is exactly what Alice Munro said years later when she won the Nobel Prize.

Ambai’s tribute to Chudamani

Chudamani was a prolific writer during her time. She has written around 574 short stories, but this collection which has around one-tenth of that, is the largest collection there is. Her stories have been translated into English during the past few years. There are atleast three translated editions in English, and they seem to be subsets of this Tamil collection.

Chudamani lived a simple life. She didn’t go to school and get a formal education, because of a health condition. She was homeschooled in her younger years. This makes her achievements as a short story writer even more astounding. She never married and stayed single all her life. Before she passed, she made a will and gave everything she had to charity, to help poor kids. It is unthinkable in these materialistic days. She was an amazing writer and a beautiful soul.

Have you read Chudamani’s short stories? What do you think about them?

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I got into a deep reading slump in the last couple of weeks and so to come out of it I decided to read one of my favourite writers from my early teens, Tamilvanan. The book I read was called ‘Fly With Me‘. I thought I had read it before, but the plot was new to me – it looked like I had confused it with another book.

The story told in ‘Fly With Me‘ goes like this. A mysterious rich man invites one of his young associates one day to his home. This rich man tells his associate that he wants to hire a pilot who can steal a plane from the Airforce airfield and fly it and land it in a forest at a specific location. The associate says that he knows such a pilot but that pilot is in prison right now and he’ll try to get this pilot out. So this associate gets into prison himself and escapes alongwith the pilot. Then these two gentlemen go to the Airforce airfield and the pilot gets into a specific plane and starts it. While he is getting started, a beautiful, young woman jumps into the plane, just before it starts taxiing down the runway. The plane takes off with the pilot and the unknown woman inside it. To find out what happens after that, you have to read the story 😊

I enjoyed reading ‘Fly With Me‘. The first half was fast-paced and gripping with cool, stylish characters, but somewhere in the second half, the story lost steam, and the ending was too rushed and contrived – too many things happen in the last three pages that it feels like the author wanted to complete the story in a rush. The story seems to be inspired by Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel and movie ‘Thunderball‘ and one of the characters in the story even refers to it in an indirect way. There is even a Tamil version of Blofeld in the story. He doesn’t have a cat though.

Tamilvanan was probably the first Tamil novelist that I ever read. I read my first Tamilvanan novel when I was twelve and I continued reading him till my late teens. He was probably my most favourite author for a significant part of that time. Tamilvanan mostly wrote crime fiction, murder mysteries, action thrillers and noir fiction. He started his career writing literary fiction, but soon switched to crime fiction. His arrival heralded a breath of fresh air in popular Tamil fiction. He wrote in genres which no other Tamil author had attempted before – like action thrillers and noir fiction. His heroes were handsome, dashing, chivalrous men and his heroines were beautiful, elegant, strong women. Even his villains were cool and stylish. Before his advent, Tamil crime fiction was mostly humorous and cozy, with only a few authors writing in it. Tamilvanan reinvented that genre with his gripping, page-turning, sometimes dark and gritty stories and his cool, stylish characters. I think he can be rightly called the father of modern Tamil crime fiction.

Tamilvanan’s most iconic character was a detective called Sankarlal, who was a combination of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. When he solved murder mysteries he assumed his Sherlock Holmes persona but when he went on international adventures to exotic locales like Berlin, Paris, Hong Kong and Geneva (exotic locales for Tamil readers), to solve international mysteries and catch the bad guys, he assumed his James Bond persona, frequently being involved in car chases and boat chases with typically a beautiful, kick-ass woman accompanying him. At the peak of his popularity, Tamilvanan couldn’t resist a narcissistic streak and introduced a new detective who was a fictional version of himself, had the same name as himself, and who sported a hat and dark sun glasses as the author himself. This new detective was a loner. He was not married or have any family or friends like Sankarlal, he didn’t drink tea or coffee but drank only fruit juice, he lived alone in a big house, and he solved mysteries. Though readers missed the handsome Sankarlal and his family of charming, eccentric characters, they were not complaining. The stories of this new detective were equally gripping and readers loved him.

One of the things that I loved about Tamilvanan was his prose. His prose was spare with short sentences, and he wrote in pure Tamil which was a pleasure to read. Even the conversations in his stories were written in this style, and they had nothing in common with the casual language in which people have conversations in the real world. This made the conversations in the stories so pleasurable to read. Most Tamil writers would use commonly used English words in their stories, but Tamilvanan refused to use even words like tea and coffee and juice in his stories, but used their Tamil equivalents. When I first read his books, I didn’t know the meanings of some of these words, because no one used them in everyday life, and I had to ask my mom what they meant. I still remember encountering the Tamil words for ‘juice’ and ‘file’ for the first time in his books. The characters in his stories also had pure Tamil names, inspired by names from classical Tamil literature, names which were beautiful and always had a meaning attached to them, the kind of names which parents don’t give their kids. His women characters had some of the most beautiful names that I had encountered in Tamil fiction.

Another thing that I loved about Tamilvanan’s stories was the way he reimagined Chennai. His Chennai was not the Chennai of the real world, in which people got up early in the morning and went to sleep early at night and life was simple and nice and boring. Tamilvanan’s Chennai was exciting – in the city depicted in the pages of his books, there were car chases and bike chases, boxing matches and horse races, there were night clubs which had beautiful dancers who had a gun inside their purse, and there were mysterious, powerful men living in dark bungalows in the middle of the city who plotted big crimes. It was a mythical Chennai which was present only in the pages of his books. Readers loved it. Many of them believed that it actually existed. Some of them went in search of these exotic places described in the book. Some of these places were present in the real Chennai, like the racecourse, but others were present only in the pages of his books, like boxing rings and night clubs filled with beautiful dancers. Tamilvanan’s mythical Chennai was a glorious reimagining of this beautiful city, where the imaginary version was more exciting than the real one.

In addition to crime fiction, Tamilvanan also wrote nonfiction. Most of his nonfiction was written for a young audience. He wrote inspiring essays dispensing advice to young people and also wrote books on fitness, health, martial arts, learning new languages and even the occasional biography. His book on Tamil hero Kattabomman was against the grain and controversial and his portrayal of Kattabomman was not at all flattering. Tamilvanan even wrote a sex manual which was popular among young men and women. It was unique in Tamil because it was the first time anyone had written a sex manual in Tamil – Tamil writers shy away from this topic – and it was a pure one-off because no one has written a sex manual in Tamil since. Unfortunately, it is out-of-print now.

By the time he passed away in the late ’70s, when he was in his middle fifties, Tamilvanan was probably the most popular writer in Tamil – he published his own magazine which serialized his stories and essays and he had his own publishing company which published his books. He was like a one-man army. He had inspired a whole generation of young people to become more confident, to read more, to acquire more knowledge, to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of their language, to have an international outlook. There had never been anyone like him before. There has been no one like him since.

Tamilvanan’s sons kept the flame burning and carried forward the family business after him. One of them handled the editorial responsibilities of the magazine he founded and wrote columns in it himself. The second son took care of the publishing company. The writer / editor son tried reviving Tamilvanan’s most famous fictional character Sankarlal and wrote a novel featuring him. It achieved modest success, but not at the same level as his dad’s books. Soon, this son gave up fiction writing and decided to focus on the columns that he wrote in the magazine dispensing inspiration and advice to young people. These columns became famous and the son became a famous writer in his own right. The son also delivered talks on topics which he addressed in his columns and he became famous as an inspiring public speaker who spoke in colleges and universities and on TV channels and who was admired by a young audience. At some point, the fame of the son eclipsed that of his dad and young readers started associating the Tamilvanan name with the son.

Tamilvanan’s novels led to an explosion of the crime fiction genre in Tamil. Many aspiring writers started writing crime fiction including crime fiction legend Rajesh Kumar, who became one of the most prolific writers in the world. It led to new monthly magazines which were exclusively dedicated to crime fiction and some of them were dedicated to just one author. One of these magazines paid homage to Tamilvanan by introducing an annual special issue which carried a Tamilvanan novel, which introduced Tamilvanan’s fiction to a whole new generation of readers. Unfortunately, the genres of action thrillers and noir fiction in Tamil died with Tamilvanan’s passing. Tamil writers were more comfortable writing about the things they knew and they didn’t like doing research and so there was no question of setting an action thriller in a ship or a plane or an exotic foreign locale. Tamil readers mostly like their crime fiction in black-and-white featuring good guys and the bad guys, with the good guys winning in the end, and a noir fiction novel in which everyone looked bad or there were shades of grey made readers uncomfortable. It was amazing that Tamilvanan ignored this and went ahead and wrote noir novels and encouraged readers to step out of their comfort zone. But later novelists decided to play it safe and avoided noir fiction because they didn’t want to antagonize the readers and noir fiction died a quiet death.

When I first moved to Chennai, one of the first things I did was to visit Tamilvanan’s publishing company, Manimekalai Prasuram. I was like a devotee on a pilgrimage visiting a temple for the first time. The office of the publisher was present in a modest building which looked like a house. It was so hard to believe that this was the place which brought out magazines and books which inspired millions of young people. Well, great things happen from modest places. It gave me goosebumps.

In recent years, the publishers decided to revive Tamilvanan’s fictional work and introduce it to a new generation of readers. They brought out beautiful, hardback, omnibus editions of his most famous novels. I went and got some of them at the book fair. It was nice to read them again and experience again the joy I experienced during my teens.

Have you read any of Tamilvanan’s books? What do you think about them?

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I haven’t read a book in my native language Tamil in a while. So I thought that before I forget it completely, I’ll read a book in Tamil  I decided to read ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘ (Ponni’s Son) by Kalki.

Ponniyin Selvan‘ was first published in the 1950s, when it was serialized in Kalki magazine. It was probably the first (or one of the first) historical novels in Tamil and it got great acclaim and a huge fan following when it first came out. It led to a whole historical-fiction-industry in Tamil, when everyone and their brother and sister started writing historical novels. I think that craze died sometime in the 1990s.

I first read ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘ when I was in school. It was reissued again  in Kalki magazine. We used to read a couple of chapters every week and then wait for the next week’s issue. The story ran for nearly three years. A few years back, one of the publishers decided to publish the book in the format in which it originally came out in the 1950s, with the same font, and the illustrations by the original artist. When this edition came out, I got it. It was beautiful. That is the one I am reading now. I finished reading the first volume today.

What is the story about? Well, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ has a long, epic, rambling plot. It is a historical novel set at around 970 C.E. It is about the Chola king and queens and princes and princesses and their friends and enemies. It has everything that one would expect in a historical novel – many characters, intricate plot, conspiracies, palace intrigues, romance, war, amazing adventures, secrets from the past, charming characters, spies, badass villains, many surprising revelations. The influence of Alexandre Dumas is deeply felt in Kalki’s book – there is a young man, Vandhiyadevan, who looks like D’Artagnan, there is a beautiful woman, Nandini, who looks like Milady de Winter, and there is even a minister like Cardinal Richelieu. Of course, the actual plot and characters are different and fascinating in their own way.

One of the things I loved about the book is that it focuses on the plot and the characters. There is a lot of charming dialogue, but there are no long monologues or boring descriptions. There is rarely a dull moment in the story. Another thing I loved about the book is that, the author gives the required historical background, whenever it is required for a better understanding of the story. He doesn’t push the historical background into the footnotes or into the notes at the back of the book, but provides it in the middle of the story. That way he makes us learn history on the way and I loved that. Another thing I loved about the story is that different characters in the book quote classic Tamil poetry, and they follow it up with a commentary on the poem. Sometimes a poem has mythological allusions which are not readily apparent while reading the poem and the author, through a character’s voice, explains them. It was fascinating to read.

I read the book for the first time when I was fifteen and now when I am reading it again after many years, my reading experience is totally different. For example, when I read it the first time, I unconsciously classified the characters as good and bad, the way we tend to do when we are younger. But reading it now, I realized that the way Kalki has depicted the characters, they are complex and imperfect and fascinating. The bad characters are not really bad, and the good characters are not really perfect. It is fascinating how we see a book with new eyes, when we read it again after many years.

The artwork in the book by Maniom, is very beautiful. It has a classical, vintage feel to it. I’m sharing some of my favourite pictures from the book, below. Hope you like them.

Left : Vandhiyadevan ;
Middle : Aazhvarkadiyaan
Left : Nandhini ;
Right : Vandhiyadevan
Palace sculpture
Palace sculpture
Left : Vanathi ;
Right : Kundhavai
Left : Vandhiyadevan ;
Right : Kundhavai

Hoping to start the second volume later today 😊

Have you read ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘? Do you like re-reading your favourite books? Do you relate to them differently when you read them again?

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