By Sandhya Sridhar

Seetha Ravi, former editor of the legacy Kalki magazine and Kalki Krishnamurthy’s granddaughter, speaks to The Indic Trails, revisiting the Ponniyin Selvan trail in Tamil Nadu and Lanka.

Filmgoers would now be familiar with the cocky Vandhiyathevan or the smart-alec Nambi who magically appears whenever there is a twist in the tale, thanks to Maniratnam’s cinematic adaption of the novel. While much of the action is seen in places on the banks of the Ponni river immortalised by the title, Kalki walks on the trail of history as he sets parts of the story in the Buddhist vihara at Nagapattinam and in parts of Lanka. Fascinated readers and viewers, have wondered at the geographical accuracy of the settings.

This is because Kalki himself travelled widely, accompanied by his then teenage son Rajendran, so that he could visualise the grandeur of his story better. For interested fans, Seetha’s sister, Lakshmi Natarajan, who now runs the Kalki online platform, conceptualised a tour of the trail traversed by Vandiyathevan in his adventures. The tour, curated by Kalachakkaram Narasimhan, writer and former chief editor of The Hindu, is supported by a series of videos available for free viewing on the Kalki online YouTube platform.

In this video podcast, Seetha talks of her experiences in taking the ‘Ponniyin Selvan Trail, and marvels at some of what she saw, like a pile of bricks that was visualised in the novel, which she saw exactly where it was described!  She also touches on the novel itself, its epic richness, and her father, Kalki Rajendran’s relationship with his father, Kalki Krishnamurthy, when he accompanied him on the numerous travels he undertook.

So who was Kalki and why is the novel Ponniyin Selvan so beloved to Tamil readers? 

Ponniyin Selvan is the magnum opus of Kalki Krishnamurthy, a firebrand freedom fighter, journalist and author. For fans of Kalki as he was known, Ponniyin Selvan is a novel they have read time and again. The novel has been translated by many into English, by popular demand. However, for many of the generation next, it’s Maniratnam’s film in two parts, that has drawn their attention to the original novel. 

Kalki Krishnamurthy began his career editing several magazines including Ananda Vikatan. He began the eponymous ‘Kalki’, a magazine that was respected and popularly read not just for the news and views, but also for the short stories, and the thodar kadaigal or the serialised stories. Ponniyin Selvan began as a serial story in the magazine Kalki, and was later published as a book. 

Kalki Krishnamurthy’s son Rajendran, himself an author of note, became the editor of the magazine after his father’s time. Ponniyin Selvan was serialised time and again to the delight of its readers, who never tired of enjoying the fast-paced and thrilling historical saga.

The Indic Trail had the opportunity to speak to 88-year-old Kalki Rajendran on the memories of his travels with his father. He said, “I am blessed that I have accompanied my father on most of his travels.” Kalki travelled extensively to explore the actual geographical settings for his novel, not just in South India, but Lanka as well. Kalki Rajendran cherishes those memories, as a young lad, remembering his travels with his father.

He explains, “My father’s health was poor and he needed support and so I went with him on his travels. I would pack his things, his hold-all, and help him in all that he did.”

Kalki Rajendran admires his father, and idolises him. He says, “It was my good fortune and those are memories I hold dear.” Kalki Rajendran adds, “It was not just his explorations for his writings that I went with him. I went with him on his other trips which he made as a journalist too.”

He recalls plot and story discussions that his father and he would have, when Ponniyin Selvan and the other historical and social works that Kalki became famous for, were being written. 

In this video podcast, Seetha speaks of the stories behind the writing of the novel, some cherished family memories, and other remembrances based on her father’s recollections. Watch the interaction here.