Ponniyin Selvan

We had maybe five more hours before we had to leave for the airport to get on the plane back to NJ.  Amma and I decide to do a quick visit to a cousin that we hadn’t seen in over 15 years.  The girls were squeezing in a few last games of hide and seek with their cousins, and had no time for either N or me.  N, feeling better after popping antibiotics and with time to spare, decide to make an impulse trip to the Higginbothams on Mount Road.  Despite protests from me that he was crazy to head out that way during evening rush hour traffic.  “It’s always rush hour traffic there”, he rightly pointed out.  So, I decided to adopt my new words (“Let go”) and did let him go.

Best.decision.ever.

Ironically, I, who was taking a “straight road” (what does that mean?) to the cousins’, got delayed in rush hour traffic, and N got back home waaay before me.  With all five volumes of Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan, translated into English by Karthik Narayanan.  What a mind-blowing masterpiece!!  Made me regret (for the first time in my life) that I didn’t learn tamil in school as a second language.

Set over a 1000 years ago in the Chozha Kingdom in Tamilnadu circa 950 A.D., this historical novel is rich with suspense filled plots and sub-plots, and numerous complex characters that are deep and well-developed.  No surprise that when the novel was first published as a weekly series in Kalki magazine from 1950 to 1954, apparently, the circulation of the magazine exploded from 12,000 readers to over 75,000 readers!  The translator notes that he himself, as a young boy, used to impatiently await each weekly installment of the magazine (and fight with members of his family for first reading rights) to enjoy the adventures of Vandiyathevan.  Indeed, N and I have been vying with each other every night to get ahold of the first volume of the book before the other did.  The pressure should ease a bit since N moved onto the second volume last night (although little N was seen reading the first few pages of Book 1 and could likely be my next competitor – sigh!).

Thought it was v. interesting that the story has people eating puliyancham and thenga sadam for adi perukku in 950 AD (considering I ate the same two delicacies made by Amma on the same occasion in July.  Some things never change, huh?).

Overall, the novel is an absolute delight to get lost in.  Can you tell I am a smitten kitten?

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One thought on “Ponniyin Selvan

  1. Ponniyin Selvan played a big role in my consistent good performance in Tamil in school. I would wait eagerly every Wednesday for Kalki. There was also Sivakamiyin Sabadham, which I didn’t understand much at that time, but would read nevertheless.
    Now, in retrospect, I realise that Kalki’s language is not as elegant as it could have been, but the plot, narrative and extrapolation of known history are amazing.
    As for Aadi perukku food, I seriously doubt if the pulyodharai and coconut sadam you ate in 2012 is anything like that ate in 980 AD ! For one, rice was less used at that time than now considered “alternate grains” like kezhvaragu, varagu and thinai. I suspect it could be creative excess of superimposing current practices on history. No harm done, though.

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