Poetess A. Vennila gives a fresh lease of life to writer P.Sivanadi's mammoth work, Indhiya Sarithira Kalanjiyam
It was five months after the British looted and destroyed Veerapandiya Kattabomman's magnificent fort at Panchalankurichi. It had thrown a pall of gloom over the villagers. But things changed when the warrior Oomathurai came to the village. People rushed to greet him — he was Kattabomman's brother. He had escaped from prison.
In just two-and-a-half days, Oomathurai resurrected the fort. The British heard the news and planned another attack. They arrived by the thousands to destroy the fort once again. But they couldn't budge a single brick — the fort was that strong. It was only when a crafty general coaxed a villager into divulging the secret of the strong construction, that they could do it. “Strike at the four corners,” the villager told the general.
“It took 48 days to destroy the two-and-a-half-day-old fort,” says poetess A. Vennila. She is speaking at a symposium jointly organised by PSGR Krishnammal College for Women and Semmozhi Tamizh Aaivu Madhiya Niruvanam. Her audience is made up of Tamil Literature students. She tells them about the buildings of the Sangam Period. Temples and forts were much more than mere buildings for Tamil kings and their people, says Vennila. “Kings saw temples as symbols of eternity, impervious to the ravages of time. They left behind temples, just as a writer leaves behind a book and an artist leaves behind a painting.”
Vennila is a math teacher but she has always been interested in history. Her interest grew when she came across P. Sivanadi's ‘Indhiya Sarithira Kalanjiyam', which was written 25 years ago. Vennila has republished the 14-volume series as a consolidated eight-volume one. “I first read the sixth volume when I was working on ‘Vandavasi Por-250',” she says. “I scoured Chennai and Puducherry for information on Vandavasi, when a friend suggested the book for reference. That's when I realised it was sitting in my bookshelf untouched since 1998!”
Vennila read the book and was instantly hooked. It was a treasure-trove of information. With help from friends, she collected all of the 14 volumes. Through ‘Indhiya Sarithira Kalanjiyam', Sivanadi planned to trace the history of Tamil Nadu, India and the world from 1700 A.D. to 2000 A.D.
“The book is unbelievably extensive. For example, under a chapter dealing with 1701 A.D., one gets a load of information on various events of the time. Politics, science and literature, the births and deaths of important people, the invasions, and plenty more are documented in it. Sivanadi starts with Tamil Nadu and branches to the rest of the world in each chapter.”
Vennila says that Sivanadi planned to cover a decade in each volume. “But he could only cover events that took place till 1840 A.D. He passed away before he could finish it,” she says. Sivanadi single-handedly carried out the research for his books. “Imagine, he was 60 years old when he started it,” says Vennila. “He had his work well-planned. He maintained files for each year and started writing only after he had material ready for 30 books.”
As she delved deeper into Sivanadi's books, Vennila was awed by the man who remained invisible to the world during his time. She sought to dig out details on him, but was disappointed that she didn't get much. “He did not get enough media attention back then,” she says. “We could get hold of just one interview of him. We've published it in the series.”
Vennila wanted to resurrect the series. She edited it with the help of her husband Mu. Murugesh, Dr. M. Rajendran and artist Trotsky Marudhu. “We've included pictures wherever possible to make it visually appealing,” she says. Vennila even put aside her own historical novel-in-progress in order to work on Sivanadi's work.
The work was grinding. “Once, the CPU with the complete edited version caught fire! The entire household froze in horror. But we managed to retrieve it,” she smiles. But sadly, ‘Indhiya Sarithira Kalanjiyam' has not been well-received, says Vennila. “We are now taking it form one college to another to promote it.”
Though Vennila had the opportunity to talk to Sivanadi's family and friends, she never got to see a photograph of the writer. She says, “None of us knows what he looked like.”