Parthiban’s dream and my project

I technically have the ability to read Tamil.But even on my best days,i don’t think i could manage a page of Tamil prose without making my brain go bonkers.Obviously, i am not proud of this as Tamil is my mother tongue and I have studied it as my second language for a decent period of time.My reading habit started courtesy random books available at home. It is a little surprising that i have to slave over a passage of Tamil when both my parents read quite a bit of Tamil literature and we had tonnes to Tamil novels at home.

I had bought an English translation of “Parthiban’s Kanavu”,a very famous Tamil historical novel sometime last year and promptly forgot about it.A few days back, i decided to read something different and picked up the book.I must say the book has opened several doors for me.For one,i realized that translations and transliterations cannot do complete justice to the original.The lushness of words and the original import gets lost in many ways.In the next one year ,i plan to teach myself to enjoy Tamil literature .And “Ponniyin selvan”(another very famous book by Kalki) is going to be my guinea pig !.It’s a huge body of work and has 6 bulky parts to it.But everyone who has read the book tells me that its a masterpiece that has to be read in the original language.

Coming back to Parthiban’s dream, the Tamil version was translated by a 15 year old girl,Nirupama Raghavan.Commendable effort,i must say.The translation is not lucious enough when it comes top the choice of words,but despite the simplistic writing,the plot keeps you immersed in it at all times.Ok,let me tell you more about what the book is all about…

Parthiban is a Chola king.His empire is heavily marginalized with the Pandiyas,Cheras and Pallavas pressing into his territory from all directions.Pallava ruler,Mamalla Narasimha Chakravarti is the most dominant king in the southern lands and makes all other rulers pay tax to him.Parthiban refuses to pay up and decides to go into a war against the Chakravarti ,knowing very well that his troops are nowhere comparable to the Pallava army.Before marching into the battle ground,Parthiban unveils his dream(Chola kingdom becoming the strongest in the region) to his son ,Vikraman.

Vikraman is but a boy at his stage ,but decides to make his father’s dream a reality. Parthiban goes into war and is killed.However,before he dies ,a Shivanadiyar(Shaivite devotee) promises to help Vikraman realise his father’s goal.The rest of the story is about how Vikraman realises Parthiban’s dream.He is aided in his quest by several people like Ponna,a boatman,his wife,Valli ,Siruthondar and the mystery Shivanadiyar.

Vikrama has a love interest as well-Kuntavi,who is the daughter of the Chakravarti.And a bunch of villains to foil Vikraman’s resolve.The main supense aspect is “supposed”to be the identity of Shivanadiyar.However,the narrative gives you enough clues early on to figure out who he is.So that is not exactly too surprising when at the end of 250 pages the Shivanadiyar reveals himself. I have no clue whether the subtelity got lost in the translation or whether Kalki’s work is liberal with the clues too.

Its a highly entertaining read that rarely sags and almost every page has something wild and racy happening.People who like stories of kings and conquests will definitely like this.I am a history junkie,so i am not really surprised that i liked the book despite the very ordinary language.But one can’t deny the fact that the abridged translation is neat and edited tautly.

I have also bought myself the blaft anthology of tamil pulp fiction and am super excited about reading it.. There is a whole world of popular writing in vernacular languages that i have never considered before and regret not having considered them before.My only brushes with translated writing has been a few Tagore novels and i wasn’t too impressed with the quality.And oh,please do share your recommendations on good translated books.

Wish me luck on my quest.I wish i had a Shivanadiyar like Vikraman had to guide me through my project.

13 thoughts on “Parthiban’s dream and my project

  1. All the best, all the best… and pray and hope you meet your Shivanadiyar soon and be successful in your pursuit 🙂

    Translations and transliterations rarely do justice to the original. For one because, the same ethos cannot be created with the new language. Those one words which conveys a variety of meaning in the original will take long winding sentences or a transliteration to do the same which dulls some effects!

    but translations are the best way to know literature of an unknown language… 🙂

    peeves and pet peeves


  2. LOL, how is it different from the movies of the 80's ?? 😀 😀 😀 Father has a dream, father killed by bad man, son decides to fulfil fathers dream, son takes revenge on the bad guy, meanwhile son falls for the villains daughter ! 😀 😀


  3. Very well said. There is a huge difference between spoken Tamil and written Tamil. Written Tamil is very formal. Plus, historical novels have words that are not usually used nowadays.

    Thirukural is just a simple couplet. But I cannot tell the meaning just by reading it. I have to look at the “urai” (contemporary explanatory notes).

    I hope that is the correct translation for “urai”. Otherwise, I have to look for a urai for urai.


  4. PNA.. lol! thanx,dear.So true that the ethos gets so totally lost when you translate into another language..have you read any translated stuff from malayalam to english ?

    Vimmu..So true!! most of our movie have teh same plot,right?.But Kalki wrote this book 50-60 years ago.. so maybe all our filmmakers have a copy of the book !

    SG.. Oh,don't even get me started on the Thirukural ..i think the basic issue why I never loved reading tamil literature was because, schools force it down my throat.. If only they didn't focus on making people mug up the lines ,but on helping kids discover the richness of the language, I would have ended up reading more tamil books !


  5. Ahaaa I Wish I could read and read as much in Malayalam as in english. But I need to be somewhere near my mother, otherwise, I would be lost… your story 😛

    I've read the classics and their translations, and most of them have the context wrong, partly because olden days translations!!


  6. Translations are important, and your review really proves that point. It is sad we do not have better translators, I would love to read this and a better translation of this would be so good to read!

    There is really a plethora of regional literature, not available to us just because of the language barrier! I hope this will be corrected soon!


  7. All the best on your quest. Keep us posted on how it is going.

    I personally think translations cannot do justice but I am interested in the 15 year olds translations, Do you have the name of the book?


  8. PNa..ha ha!!..

    Veens.. i have been searching for other translations of this book,but havent been able to find it.There is apparently a huge dearth of translators as mostly only literary classics get takers.

    Geeta..Thanks. the name is “PARTIBAN's DREAM”. It was originally written by Kalki.


  9. I'd recommend “Best of Satyajit Ray” -translated by Ray himself and partly by Gopa Majumdar. I loved the bk immensely.
    I am the only one in the family who hasn't read these Tamil gems. I used to be really good in Tamil and Tamil grammar while at school, but thanks to keyboard typing, language has suffered a big blow.
    Any plans to read Vairamuthu's works?


  10. BB.Thanks for the surely going to try that.i used to suck at tamil in school ..doesnt vairamuthu write verses?Have you read his works?..I am currently reading the blaft anthology of tamil pulp fiction and i find Rakesh Kumar's stories different.I am planning to read them in tamil.We should have a tamil readers club,wat say?


  11. Same here… There is a tamil version of Parthiban Kanavu at home, but I can't read it. I'm going to buy the english version on my next trip to India- I'm adding it to my looooong list of things to buy! Have you read Ponniyan Selvan?


  12. Sound horn.. i just started the tamil version of Ponniyin selvan.. manage about a para everyday …never realised reading tamil could be so difficult ;-)..We have parthiban kanavu too but i guess i 'll have to finish ponniyyin selvan and tackle it !


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