“That a work of fiction has sustained the interest of readers spanning six decades is amazing and equally so is the fact that the visuals associated with the novel are still relevant,” says Maniam Selvan, referring to his father’s drawings that embellished Kalki’s immortal epic, ‘Ponniyin Selvan.” Passing away at 45, Maniam achieved the work of a lifetime within a brief period.
“I was born the day my father came home with the first copy of Kalki carrying the opening chapters of ‘Ponniyin Selvan.’ Sixty years later, I find the work engaging the attention of an audience that includes the third generation. That speaks volumes of the genius of the writer and the artist,” marvels Ma.Se.
Indeed whatever is done with Kalki’s magnum opus generates fresh interest. The novel reprinted by Ananda Vikatan with Maniam’s exquisite visuals, found readers lapping up the volumes two years ago. Now, when efforts are made to bring it alive on stage, for the second time in fact, the spotlight is back on the Cauvery’s beloved son.
“I’m reaping the harvest of my father’s phenomenal accomplishment,” remarks Selvan with a modesty that one is so familiar with. “He has invested each character with a uniqueness, so much so that they can be recognised even out of context. Kalki’s suggestions played a big role in this.” They touched a chord in the reader, who found his imagination getting perfect visual shapes.
“I know someone, who rode his Bullet on the bank of the Veeranam reservoir just as Vandiyathevan did,” informs Ma.Se. Did he also count the number of inlets as the warrior did? “I don’t know about that,” he laughs. “Another fan told me that he can easily identify the arm of Vandiyathevan anywhere.” The sketch was so deeply embedded in his mind. “Why, when I had drawn a picture of a queen for a story, I was asked whether Chembian Madevi was a character. She wasn’t. But father’s drawing had made such an impact, it reflected in my work.”
The novel was serialised for over four years and the legend artist maintained remarkable continuity. When it was rerun in the Sixties, he wanted to do it all over again but Fate willed otherwise. “He thought it was a new era and with age his art might have matured to a new level.”
Did he catch the play in 1999? “No, I missed it. I won’t, this time. Kalki’s narration and father’s visuals create the effect of a camera panning a huge canvas of action. It will be exciting to see it on stage,” says Ma.Se.
(Maniam’s line drawing printed with permission from Maniam Selvan)