We all have our baskets full of regrets- the “Oh! I should have done this” moments… Well, well….I’m no exception. I have mine too, and I had added this regret to my list when I had begun reading the English translation of Kalki’s Ponniyin selvan (translated by C V Karthik Narayanan). I was hooked to the narration until I reached the 4th Volume of the book. When I laid it down, I had no more books to pick up and read. What was going to happen next? The story remained incomplete! Restlessness attacked my mind, and I was eager to know the ending, but alas!!! In the absence of the translated books (that were becoming hard to procure), I decided to read the ubiquitous tamizh version of the novel. However, my grasp over the language proved a deterrent- for, although I could speak well, my ability to read through tamizh texts was very limited, and painstakingly slow. With a heavy heart, I let go of my mission, temporarily. Life moved on.
I read Mario Puzos and John Greens and even watched the Game of thrones episodes. None of these could capture my imagination the way Ponniyin selvan did.
I stumbled upon Parthiban Kanavu, by Kalki the other day- an English translation again! The narration was gripping. I could see Parthiban and Vikraman come alive before my eyes. But, even while absorbing the incidents, a thought suddenly stuck me: “If translations could be so powerful in their narrations, how strong would the original version be?” This thought remained etched in my mind, and I suddenly found myself regretting over my tamizh reading abilities. I wanted to revel in those beautiful moments captured in Kalki’s novels by reading his works in the language in which he had written them. I knew that translations would serve their purpose in conveying the content, but, only the language could express the beauty as imagined by the artist.
A couple of days later, my thirst to read Kalki’s works surfaced again. I had learned a great deal of things about his novel “Sivagamiyin Sabhadham” from my grandmother, who had been a voracious reader during her younger days. I started surfing the internet for this work, and to my satisfaction, found the audio CD of this novel, narrated in Tamizh! I listened, and after close to 48 hrs, the CD came to an end. What a great work! What vivid imaginations!!! I felt like I had witnessed the scenes with my own eyes; I felt like I had lived during the times of the great Pallavas; I felt a close association with the characters; I thought I had been their emotions.
I wanted to capture my own emotions that were intertwined with those of Kalki’s characters, and what is about to follow is the result of my humble attempt.
Set in the beautiful Pallava capital of Kanchi, the story gathers pace with an action packed scene- a mad elephant runs through the streets of Kanchi and nears the palanquin carrying a beautiful danseuse and her father. A naïve, young boy from a village saves them by hurling his weapon on time- a Vel – that turns the elephant’s attention towards him, and saves the father and the daughter. The beautiful dancer is Sivagami, and her father- the famed sculptor ,Aayannar. The duo had been returning from Sivagami’s interrupted ‘arangetram’ at the Palace. The king- Mahendravarman had received disturbing news about Pulikesi’s (Chalukya King) army attacking Kanchi, and had hence left the stage with his son- Narasimhapallavan. The naïve young lad is Paranjyoti- who comes from his Village to learn from Thirunavukkarasar, a famed Shaivaite scholar. A villainous character – Naganandi also makes his appearance as a Buddha Bhikshu in this story.
What follows next is a complex, yet stunningly captured sequence that brings to light the nuances and intricacies of a war. The brave and well planned spy tactics adopted by the King- Mahendravarman leave you awe-struck. When the Pallava King marches into the enemy camp, dressed as an enemy camp informer, you feel a chill run down your spine, literally! Throughout the first half of the novel, you feel a sense of respect for the Pallava king’s shrewd thinking. “Only this man could have done the tremendous job of stalling a huge Chalukya Army for close to 8 months, when the enemies could have attacked, and demolished Kanchi sooner“, you think…His son, Narasimhapallavan is portrayed as a man with betrayed emotions during this segment of the story. His romantic escapades with Sivagami add color and a softer emotion to the work that revolves around war. At this stage, let’s move on to a different, yet an important aspect about this story. Having spoken about the brilliant war tactics used in the first half, let’s now talk about the woman whose actions resulted in several consequences that are to occur in the second half of this book…
Sivagami- a beautiful woman with lotus like eyes, and moon touched skin… She walks softly, swaying her hips gently; Her dance sends her audience into raptures; She is a prized possession of the town of Kanchi; she stands as an example for the town’s appreciation of culture and art. Differently, one could also think of her as a celestial beauty born on earth to capture the wildest imaginations of men. She falls in love with the young prince- Narasimhavarman (a.k.a. Mamallan), and their romance acts as a lynchpin in the war that is to follow several years later. Kalki has captured the thoughts of a woman who yearns for the love of the man she loves, quite realistically. Sivagami’s thoughts on Mamallan, which rise and fall like a wave are honest portrayals of a woman in love. Mamallan is also portrayed as a young, ardent lover who fills the heart of Sivagami through poetically framed verses. But, these thoughts, that are quintessential to a woman, prove dangerous. The fragility of her thoughts, her quick conclusions, and her vacillating opinions on the Naganandi Bhikshu (oh yes! He’s an important character who has been ignored all along in my narration till now, and shall be henceforth, too!)make you feel: “Oh! This stupid woman! Can’t she think?”
***But, for women, who’ve been in love, her actions might strike chord with their own. Many of us have had conflicting thoughts on our own relationships, haven’t we? One moment, he’s the best, and the next, he’s the worst man alive on earth.
“If he loves me, he’ll do it. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t love me”…. For many of us, our prince charming is that man, who could bring the heaven onto the earth. Sivagami, was heavenly in her appearance, but, love, for her was no different. She jumps with joy when her prince visits her, and showers her with poems. She sulks when her prince doesn’t come to pay her a visit. As a beautiful woman who is used to attention, she also sometimes assumes that certain actions have been a result of her beauty’s impact. ***
Now, let’s get back to the war for a while. The Pallavas develop a strong protection for the Kanchi fort during those 8 months when Pulikesi’s army is stalled by Mahendravarman’s chanakya-like tactics. When the Pulikesi armies finally reach the Kanchi fort, they give up their attack, realizing the futility of their approach. The Pallava king then invites the Chalukya king to visit Kanchi as a guest. However, Pulikesi gets offended when, in the name of friendship, the Pallava king discloses his war strategies. Pulikesi is angered by the fact that the Pallava king had tricked him. He then orders his army to capture Pallava men, women and sculptors. As bad luck would have it, Sivagami, and her father are captured. While her father is rescued, Sivagami is taken captive to Vatapi. Here, I would like to mention that Naganandi Bhikshu is Pulikesi’s twin brother. He often dresses like the King, and this was responsible for Sivagami’s father’s rescue, as well as for Sivagami’s capture. The Bhikshu is portrayed as a man with a deep love for Sivagami’s art. Now, when news about Sivagami’s capture reaches the Pallava king Mahendravarman, he summons a war. However, he is attacked during the war and is badly hurt. Meanwhile, Narasimhavarman, along with Paranjyoti (yes, the naïve villager, becomes the commander in the Pallava army) and their spy force reach Vatapi to rescue Sivagami. Sivagami, who has witnessed several tortures on her way to Vatapi, takes a severe oath on meeting Narasimhavarman: “That she would return to Kanchi only when Pallavas burn down the Chalukya empire”. She refuses to come back to Kanchi, and is stubborn in her oath. The Pallavas return without Sivagami to Kanchi. Meanwhile, the Pallava emperor passes away, and Narasimhavarman becomes the King. He marries a beautiful Pandya princess according to the last wishes of his father, and then garners a huge army to win Vatapi and destroy Pulikesi (that takes 9 years from then, for fruition).
Now, let’s get back to Sivagami. Why did she refuse to go with the Pallava prince when he had come with his coterie to rescue her? As a listener, you are tempted to think that her stubbornness stems out of Mamallan’s harsh reaction at seeing her in a luxurious palace in the enemy camp. Is she reacting to his harsh words with an oath? But, as the conversation proceeds, you are forced to think: “why can’t she just go away, and settle her differences after reaching Kanchi?” And, when Pallava forces reach Vatapi after 9 years of her taking this oath, and when she sends a note to the Commander Paranjyoti asking him to stall the act of burning down Vatapi, you end up getting irked at the vacillations of her thoughts, just like Mamallan does! And, while watching the unruly Vatapi crowd, when she again wishes that the Pallavas could burn Vatapi down, you are left confused: “What exactly does Sivagami want?” I think Kalki has quite beautifully captured the fickleness of a woman’s mind. She wishes for one thing at a moment, and with the slightest change in circumstances, she wishes for a different thing within quick moments. In some ways, much to the chagrin of the female chauvinists( I’m sure), Kalki has portrayed the consequences of feminine thinking in war-like situations quite well. As a listener, you can’t help but notice how Sivagami’s fragile emotions play an important role in making and breaking situations. But, would you want to blame her? Probably not. She was just another woman with her own emotional needs. Rationale thinking eluded her in times of her trouble that she brought upon herself, out of her own love for Mamallan. This work is a fantabulous historical novel. Yet, what strikes you the most is this:
“None of these incidents would have happened the way they did, had it not been for the force called Sivagami- her beauty, her dance and her love”. Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?
P.S: In this world, many of us would like to think that men and women are equals. I agree. They are, but, that’s only in a perspective. Women and men are essentially different in the way they think and act- be it in love, or be it at work(with exceptions, of course!). While the consequences of being led by the emotions of a woman could prove innocuous for an average man, it could be disastrous for a king with a bigger purpose in life. A girl would think that the guy hates her if he doesn’t pick her call on time. Her life becomes a small world dominated by her relationship with the man she loves. she is happy when showered with attention, and in the absence of it, she assumes that the love is lost. Of course, while men are more rationale when compared with women, women are better at understanding emotions (again, with exceptions in both cases). However, at the end, you understand that that life moves on, only because men and women are different. If all human beings on earth were stable in their thoughts and actions, where is the drama?
P.S 2: Like in most of my posts, I’ve expressed my thoughts in the lightest possible way. Going deep into such emotions is like falling into a bottomless pit.