(Image Credit: Vikatan Publications)
The unparalleled story telling capabilities of Kalki attain its apogee in the concluding volume, a tome titled “Thyaga Sigaram”. No review can possibly do justice to the culmination of a saga such as ‘Ponniyin Selvan’. There are very few works where every single character in a veritable phalanx, has an influential role to play, either positive or negative. Kalki’s protagonists and antagonists create lines that are so blurring that opposing factions coalesce, warring forces combine, and seemingly indissoluble alliances cleave. A mammoth jigsaw puzzle spanning 662 pages finally comes to an indescribably emotional end following myriad bouts of jaw dropping revelations, unanticipated tragedies and unexpected triumphs.
Arul Mozhi Varman’s cover is blown apart when he is forced to leave the shores of Nagapattinam and proceed to Tanjavur to both assuage his ailing father Sundara Chozhar and meet Mandakini Devi, the reclusive woman who although bereft of the faculties of speech and hearing, has been Arul Mozhi’s saviour on more occasions than one, and whose physical wellbeing seems to be threatened. The hitmen of the deceased Veera Pandiyan, led by the dangerous Ravidasan get wind of this plan and scheme a chilling plot which would ensure the assassination of three titular figure heads in the Chola Kingdom. If allowed to succeed, this would signal not just the downfall, but a virtual decimation of the Chola dynasty. Aditha Karikalan, currently camping within the precincts of Sambuvarayar’ s fort in Kadambur, Sundara Chozhar, finding himself in a state of physical and mental disability in Tanjavur, and Arul Mozhi Varman in transit, are all in mortal danger of being reduced to three helpless puppets whose strings are pulled by adversaries who neither believe in the Dharma of war nor in the Satya of courage.
If the imperiled Chola Kingdom has to extricate itself from this insidious web of deceit woven by schemers both within and without its own Empire, then an astounding degree of collaboration in the form of Kunthavai Devi’s acumen, Arul Mozhi Varman’s astuteness, Mandakini Devi’s acuity and Vanthiyathevan’ s appetite for adventure needs to bear fruition. However, the perpetual anger of the unpredictable and eccentric Aditha Karikalan may stand as the biggest proverbial spoke in an otherwise salvageable wheel.
Nandini, camping in Kadambur, in the firm belief that years of arduous penance are now nearing their unstoppable fruition, dispatches a reluctant Periya Pazhuvettariyar on a seemingly trivial errand to clear the ground for her insidious motive. Chapter 39 titled ‘Karirul Suzhendadhu’ (Darkness Envelopes), containing a fateful and cathartic exchange between an anguished Nandini and an apoplectic Karikalan contains some of the most seminal passages ever penned in the annals of historical fiction.
In the meantime, a timely or an untimely (as may be appropriate from opposing perspectives) discovery triggered by the sudden appearance of a seemingly deranged individual who pulls more than just a rabbit out of his mad hat, intensifies the kingly ambitions of Maduranthagar Devan and fuels him into indulging in indiscreet enterprises.
There can be discerned in the concluding volume, a perceptible shift in attitude in the otherwise cavalier and carefree Vanthiyathevan. Shouldering the unenviable burden of rescuing a glorious empire from the tentacles of its deadly enemies, Vallavarayan in Volume 5 is more Alwarkadiyan than Vanthiyathevan. Alwarkadiyan is his usual methodical and meticulous self, leaving no stone unturned in his continuing endeavours of peeling away layer after layer of carefully constructed vile.
Manimeghalai, the younger sibling of Kandamaran, essays a stellar role in the concluding volume as she brings to bear her pure selflessness and altruism in assisting Vanthiyathevan in one crucial escapade after another. She is also responsible for the readers being deprived of a dry eye on more occasions than one.
Personally, for me, the standout feature in the entire series has been the prominence accorded to the feminine figureheads in the epic. The absence of even a single woman protagonist or antagonist would not just have derailed the entire plot/narrative, but also would have transformed an otherwise immortal magnum opus into a meek attempt at storytelling. There is no Ponniyin Selvan without Nandini, Kunthavai, Poonkuzhali, Mandakini, Vanathi, Manimeghalai, Sembiyan Mahadevi, Rakammal…… (you get the gist). This also demonstrates the visionary qualities of Kalki who places his exalted female characters at par with or on an even higher pedestal than their male counterparts. Emblematic of the wily Chanakya in intrigue and epitomizing Arjuna in courage, these formidable ‘Kalki’s Angels’ are a magnificent bunch of marvelous memories!
Once the covers fall back down upon the book, the reader would do well to close her eyes, draw a deep breath and pay revered obeisance to an absolute genius whose storied breadth and unrivalled depth of imagination birthed an epic whose reverberations will last so long as the murmur of the birds, whistling of the winds, lapping of the waves, clapping of the thunders, song of the rains and turn of the seasons remain the proud prerogative of Mother Earth.