They say that good books and great authors can transform lives. I have found it to be true in my case. Ten years ago, a motley group of fans of Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan met online in one of the many Yahoo groups to discuss, ponder and chat. What began as an interesting pastime manifested into a passion that found an outlet through many a medium. Some of us became writers, some became historians, some wrote historical epic novels, some became art connoisseurs, while some took on the ponderous work of deciphering inscriptions. Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan has truly touched many lives and here are the lessons that I have learned from this epic novel.
Learned that I could write too
Ten years ago, when I began to translate Ponniyin Selvan, I had no ambition or a plan to become a writer. For me, this translation project became an outlet to express, to reach out and to indulge in the beautiful world of Cholas that Kalki brought alive and without Ponniyin Selvan, I couldn’t have realized that I could write too.
Learned how to take a plot forward
For an author, Ponniyin Selvan has many valuable lessons to teach. How to develop characters? How to give depth to your characters? How to carry the plot forward? No chapter, sub-story, character or circumstance can be cast-off as useless or irrelevant in this novel. Even the most minor characters have a definite arc and role to play in the overall scheme of things.
Creating unforgettable characters
Why is Ponniyin Selvan still so popular? Undoubtedly because of its memorable characters! Charming Vandiya Devan, intelligent Kundavai, clever Poonguzhali, humorous vaishnavan spy Azhwarkadiyan Nambi and the mysterious Nandini. Nowhere in Tamil literature would you find characters such as these, enticing us back to the book again and again…
What makes epic stories epic?
There are many authors who have written phenomenal books in Tamil literature after Kalki Krishnamurthy but Ponniyin Selvan still remains the most popular book ,widely read by all. Why? If you analyse, you would learn many interesting lessons. Ponniyin Selvan has the right mixture of all things that makes an epic – political intrigue, conspiracy, betrayal, huge dollops of romance, betrayed love, seductive passion, alluring women, unrequited love, sacrifice and pure love.
There are still questions that are being debated to this day – Who killed Aditya Karikalan in the end? Was it Nandini or was it Ravi Dasan? Did he commit suicide? Who is Nandini, in truth? Was she Veera Pandyan’s daughter? Who did Nandini truly love – Aditya Karikalan, Veera Pandyan or Vandiya Devan? Who did….
The debate continues to this date…
When Kalki abruptly ended Ponniyin Selvan with the death of Manimegalai, many were literally up in arms. Why would you want to end a novel that employs humour as one of its strong points, with a sad incident?
As far as I could understand, I have learned that this is the very essence of an epic story. Manimegalai dies in Vandiya Devan’s arms and Kalki ends the novel with a note that he would never be the same man again. As a novelist, Kalki astutely gauged his audience’s reaction. After wooing his audience for almost four years with a hero who personified charm, humour and chivalry, he ends the novel saying that Vandiya Devan would henceforth be a sedate calm man sans humour and mirth. That’s exactly why we read the book again and again because we choose live in a world where Vandiya Devan is back on the horse bearing messages and dreaming about beautiful Kundavai. As an author, I feel that this is a brilliant ending for this lovely novel.
I have begun my translation exercise again after a break of almost ten years and I am sure there will be more lessons to learn during the course of this project but the most important lesson that I have learnt in life is from Vandiya Devan. He taught me to fearlessly go on in life, irrespective of hurdles, accusations and criticism and for that I will be eternally thankful to him and the author.
Blogger, author and freelance writer, Sumeetha Manikandan lives in Chennai with her husband and six year old daughter.