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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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