'Ponniyin Selvan Book 1: First Flood': After the film, the original : The Tribune India

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'Ponniyin Selvan Book 1: First Flood': After the film, the original

'Ponniyin Selvan Book 1: First Flood': After the film, the original

Mani Ratnam's cinematic adaptations of the novel have been visual spectacles.

Book Title: Ponniyin Selvan Book 1: First Flood

Author: Kalki. Translated by Nandini Krishnan

GJV Prasad

‘First Flood’ is the first in the multi-volume translation of Kalki’s epic novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’. While I have read a couple of other translations before, I can recommend Nandini Krishnan’s translation without any hesitation.

‘PS1’ and ‘PS2’ are already out in Mani Ratnam’s cinematic adaptations and most readers of this translation would have seen the movie versions already. Their motive would be to get the story straight in their heads, to relive some of the moments, to add depth to the characters (to know more about their individual stories), to fully understand the context, to immerse themselves in the world that the movie represents.

Ponniyin Selvan Book 1: First Flood by Kalki. Translated by Nandini Krishnan. Westland. Pages 286. Rs 399

Nandini Krishnan’s translation will fulfil all those desires because it is unabridged and tries to maintain the rhythm and pace of the Thamizh (Tamil) novel. It is a page-turner and even if you have watched the movies, you would want to read every sentence till the end. She gives a book that reads very well in English (after all, she is an English writer herself), while trying to keep the Thamizh language and the Thamizh world portrayed in the novel within the eyeline of the reader.

Kalki was the pen name of Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy (1899-1954). He participated in the freedom struggle and was fired from his editorial position in the famous Thamizh magazine ‘Ananda Vikatan’ for participating in the Quit India movement. He founded the magazine ‘Kalki’ as a result, stating that its only aim was national interest. He wrote three historical novels based on Thamizh history. The first two were set in the Pallava era and ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ in the Chozha (Chola) era. This novel was serialised in ‘Kalki’ from October 1950 to May 1954, and was later published in five volumes.

It must be clear by now why ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ maintains the pace it does, with many hooks to keep you reading, even though it is a long novel — it had to keep readers interested over many issues, waiting to read the next instalment, even as it went on for years. There are many strands, many stories and back stories, that go into this work — it gives us a multi-layered world but at pace. Such novels are difficult to translate, for the translator has to replicate this to ensure that the novel keeps the interest of readers in a different language. Where the translator scores is that she does not see this as a cultural challenge — while a historical novel is one in any language, the readers she is writing for are fellow Indians. So, her English will work for them, she only has to retain some Thamizh expressions and figures of speech (especially some onomatopoeic words) to show the otherness of the linguistic culture to people of other states and languages.

Introducing us to the Chozhas, the people and the kingdom, Kalki mixes imagination with historicity. He even went to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to get the topography right and read the histories available at the time. He chooses as his main character Vallavarayan Vendiyadevan. He arrives in the beginning of the novel as a messenger and is soon sucked into the intrigues of the court. This first novel is a good immersion in this world and the ending leaves you in suspense — you don’t need the extract from the second volume that ends this book to want to read more!

Nandini Krishnan must be congratulated for this wonderful translation that will add to the understanding and pleasure of movie-goers while also encouraging many to read more and more translations from Thamizh and other Indian languages.