Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Beginnings and Ends

A whole sentence in a Tamil word, that I can still quote by heart after all these years:
"ஆதி அந்தமில்லாத கால வெள்ளத்தில் கற்பனை ஓடத்தில் ஏறி நம்முடன் சிறிது நேரம் பிரயாணம் செய்யுமாறு நேயர்களை அழைக்கிறோம். "

Loosely translated, it means "In the flowing waters of Time, without beginning or end, in the boat of Imagination, we ask our readers to travel with us for a little while."

That was the starting line of the 20th century Tamil epic novel 'Ponniyin Selvan' written in serialized form by Kalki. It was also the first line in any Tamil novel, that I, a neophyte who had only laboriously made my way through tiny jokes in the magazines, was attempting to read. My mother plunked the book down in front of me "You can try reading this, to improve your Tamil", she suggested.
What did the first word mean, then the next, then the next. I think that I asked her several times before I manage to complete the first page, till she told me. "Don't worry about not knowing the meaning of every word. Just keep reading."
So that's what I did. To my amazement, I was hooked on the storyline by about chapter 3 or thereabouts, and continued reading in every minute of spare time I could muster. I would glare at the clock, showing me that it was time to leave for school, begging for another 5 minutes to finish the chapter, which never came. That had to wait till I tossed my satchel and grabbed the book after I raced home.
This was my equivalent of the Lord of the Rings craze, or in later years the Harry Potter phenomenon. A book so well-crafted, wonderful characters and plots galore that I would spend entire evenings making lists of characters and drawing trees connecting each to another in terms of relationships.
The years passed, the memories faded, but that of the first enchantment still lingers. Now and then, whispers build up of X the famous actor, or Y the famous director, optioning the book to make a movie out of it. But how will they compress five volumes of non-stop action, intrigue, chivalry and romance into a two or even three hour screenfest?
It's just as well that such projects have either been shelved or set on the backburner. Let the dreams of the dreamers reading the book remain just so. The book still commands a fan club all its own, after all these years.


Lekhni said...

I too, have similar fond memories of having "Ponniyin Selvan" read to me as a kid. I don't remember having read too much of the book by myself - at that time my Tamil was good enough only to read the jokes in Tamil magazines. But I still have a certain fascination for the book. I've never read any of Kalki's other works, though.

Sujatha said...

I did go on to read all of the other works by Kalki, including Sivagamiyin Sabatham and his social novels. But all paled in comparison with Ponniyin Selvan. If you ever feel inclined to try reading it again, it is available in full at, look for Work no. 169. There is also a fairly decent English translation by Indira Parthsarathy at

Balachandran V said...

Thanks! I got the story saved. I was in Chidambaram for 3 years ( 1980-83) working in a bank. On short holidays when I could not go home to Trivandrum, I used to wander around or go on short trips to nearby places like Sirkali and Kollidam river and Kaveripoompattinam. I was happy and eager to read further.

Sujatha said...

I've been more ambitious, trying to save the Ponniyin Selvan files to a mobi format so that I could read it on my Kindle. But the Kindle isn't kind to the Unicode format used by the file, so all I see is frustrating wingding fonts that must someday in the not-too-distant future, translate to proper Tamil. (I know there is a hack, but that would invalidate the warranty. Maybe I'll be brave enough to try that once it goes out of warranty.)

Anonymous said...

Check this for tamil font in Kindle