(Image Credit: Thirumagal Nilayam)
Interspersing his magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan, the Sahitya Academy Award winning Alai Osai, and the magnificent Sivagamiyin Sapatham, are a few small gems that lend an insight into the versatility of Kalki as a formidable writer of the contemporary in addition to being a maestro of historical fiction. Kalvanin Kaadhali (Burglar’s Lover) is one such testimony. A breezy story that begins with an arresting Joie de vivre before taking on portentous hues, Kalvanin Kaadhali is a thoughtful blend of contrasts, conflicts and contradictions.
Mutthaiyan, a youth of vigour and effervescence inhabits the quaint village of Poonkulam. An orphan, Mutthaiyan shares a humble dwelling with his little sister Abhirami. Abhirami is emblematic of a pure innocence that is vulnerable to the lures of deviousness. Mutthaiyan is incorrigibly in love with Kalyani, a childhood friend. However, the financial status of Mutthaiyan precludes him from realising his dreams of marrying her. More unfortunate circumstances contrive to transform his uncomplicated life into one of deceit and intrigue. The mischievous village bumpkin becomes a dreaded thief instilling fear into the hearts of people spanning three districts surrounding Poonkulam. How Mutthaiyan comes to terms with an unforeseen predicament that threatens to permanently derail his life forms the nub of Kalvanin Kaadhali.
The story in itself cannot be termed extraordinary by any stretch of imagination. In fact the reader can intuitively and accurately predict the unfolding of events as and when she is racing through the book. But what makes it so compelling is the narrative. Kalki never looks at Mutthaiyan with a judgmental eye. The impudence of an inevitable fate is laid out with the same precision and impartiality as is reserved for describing the lay of the land. As are the peaks and troughs punctuating any terrain, so are the outcomes of destiny – memorable and melancholic. Employing a vitriolic sense of wit, Kalki also takes a dig at prevailing mores and conventions, while calling for wholesome reforms.
Kalki as usual is at his brilliant best while describing Mother Nature and her resplendence. The fictitious canals, rivers, forests and birds of Poonkulam come alive in the hands of this ingenious writer. In fact, Poonkulam can easily be another Malgudi with its own set of attractions and repellents.
If Mutthaiyan is a towering personality holding his own in every passage, phrase and page that contains his exploits, Kalyani stands toe to toe with her lover in perpetuity. A woman of calm yet steely nerves, she bows to the dictates of no one. She is neither malleable nor ductile. Yet her strength is also her unfortunate weakness.
Kalvanin Kaadhali was initially serialized in the popular Tamil magazine Ananda-Vikatan way back in 1937. Taking a cue from the enthusiastic response stemming from the readers, the story was published as a book in the year 1954. There is even a movie adaptation of the book, starring Sivaji Ganesan and Bhanumathi. Sivaji’s astonishing versatility is matched by the effortless grace of Bhanumathi and the movie is an absolute treat for anyone still inclined to spend a couple of hours immersed in the prosaic world of black and white cinema!
For the rustic and the unsuspecting, Kalvanin Kaadhali provides an indicative flavour to the prowess of an author who went on to be recognised as a colossus in every right.