A Timeless Classic
Sabita Radhakrishna
PARTHIBHAN’S DREAM (PARTHIBAN KANAVU) by Kalki Krishnamurthy. Translated from the original Tamil by Nandini Vijayaraghavan Ratna Books, 2021, 386 pp., 599.00
July 2022, volume 46, No 7

Aprolific writer, a respected journalist, connoisseur of arts, and a revolutionary, R Krishnamurthy, better known as Kalki, was a literary giant, whose body of work includes Alai Osai, and his famous trilogy, Parthiban Kanavu, Ponniyin Selvan and Sivakamiyin Sabatham.  Kalki’s novels, written between 1941-54, belonged to a historical genre, a mix of drama, action, intrigue and passion. He chronicled social issues, where fact and fiction merged to provide the background for his stories.

Kalki to most people is the author of one novel—Ponniyin Selvan, says Gowri Ramnarayan who recently translated his biography which runs into two huge volumes. She undertook this humungous work, not because he was her grandfather, but because he was an amazing writer, whose ideals and work needed to be made available to the English-speaking public. He wore many caps—as freedom fighter with Gandhian ideals, social activist, a man whose powerful pen shaped lives with his words, kindling the spirit of the freedom struggle.

Kalki’s stories were serialized in the popular weekly Ananda Vikatan and the growing sales graph was testimony to the popularity of the series as readers waited impatiently for the next instalment. He published a magazine called Kalki at a time when publishing was rare and had little or no rewards. Rajaji was his mentor.

Translations are necessary in the literary world where the language barrier deprives readers of great works of literature. It is indeed a task which requires finesse and understanding, a rewrite in a different language without taking away the nuances of the story in the original. To this end, Nandini Vijayaraghavan has done a remarkable job of translating Parthiban Kanavu into English which runs to nearly 400 pages. She has also translated Sivagamiyin Sabatham. Overcoming the challenges of crossing over to a foreign language, giving expression to aphorisms in the Tamil narrative which are used for everyday conversation, Nandini Vijayaraghavan has seamlessly presented the storyline with near accuracy to the original.

The novel, Parthiban’s Dream, best described as ‘historical fiction’, portrays clashes between the Cholas and Pallavas, and the attempts of Vikramanan, the son of the Chola King Parthiban, to wrest control of the Chola empire from the Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman 1.

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