And that’s what's been running in my head ever since I came across Arulmozhivarman ('zh' pronounced by rolling the tongue as far back as it can go) the scion of the Chozha clan, in the words of Kalki himself. These holidays have been the perfect time to catch up on all the reading I have been missing out on. Lost in the worlds the authors describe is an immensely satisfying feeling. So this holidays it’s a mixed bag of books I have so far sampled.
First up, is the Rainmaker by John Grisham, though this was on campus. I have become a fan of litigation and law thanks to reading his books. Extremely engaging and quite informative too, his lead characters are almost always upcoming lawyers…at least in the books that I have read. So, this book talks about a guy who accidentally finds the case of a lifetime against an insurance company that tries to rip off its customers and all the topsy-turvy things that happen to him in the course of fighting the case. Also made into a movie, it’s a good read. Another book of his that I read was The Associate, about some guys blackmailing a newly become lawyer on revealing trade secrets had a good pace but the end was too abrupt and the continuity seemed suddenly cut off.
Next up is Crisis by Robin Cook about medical malpractice and a concept called concierge medicine. Patients who can afford to pay a retainer fee to the physician who then makes himself available to them at all hours of the day with house visits if necessary too. Not so much to my liking as there seemed too many loose ends left. It seemed to drag on for longer than what was necessary in my opinion.
A new author in my list is Amitav Ghosh a new age Indian writer. The book, Hungry Tide, describes the tide-country of West Bengal, the Sunderbans. An extremely vivid description of scenes and leisurely paced, I have come to enjoy this book though still half way through it. Two parallel stories in the first half of the book involve a cetologist looking for dolphins in the Sunderbans and a man from Kolkata come to visit his aunt who lives on one of the 'islands' that form the delta of the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers. The intertwining of their paths is the second part of the story.
Last but definitely not the least, I have been re-reading the Kalki's Tamil epic 'Ponniyin Selvan' a story par excellence that has everything to make it the perfect script. Based loosely on historical facts and the few inscriptions found, this book will keep you engaged throughout the read. Of course, I am reading the English translation and not the Tamil version which might take me eons to finish! The first surprise of the book is that the hero of this story, in the author's own words, is not Arulmozhi Varman the 'Ponniyin Selvan' but Vandiyathevan, a Prince of the Vana clan who leads the reader throughout the story. The characters in this book just jump out at you as you are drawn into a world that probably existed millennia ago…..
Intrigue, mystery, revenge, greed, kingdoms, wars and warriors, kings, queens, ministers, commanders, devotees of Siva and Vishnu, conspiracies, conspiracies in conspiracies, counter conspiracies, not to mention spies and counterspies, magicians and bewitchingly beautiful women (all if them look like heavenly damsels! Damn that gives one such a complex!!) and the heart-throb of the people-Arulmozhivarman who gained fame as Rajaraja 1. You name it this book has it. From Kanchi to Thanjavur and Pazhayarai to Lanka, the book travels the extent of the Chozha Empire and each book reveals a new secret of the ruling dynasty.
This book, a work of fiction, is based on the youth of Arulmozhi and last days of his father Sundara Chozha. It mainly deals with the question of succession that arises at that time as Sundara Chozha was the second son of Arinjaya Chozha. He succeeds as his elder brother died on the battlefield. Arinjaya himself was the younger son of Parantaka Chozha 1 who took over from his elder brother Kandaradhitha Chozha as his nephew was still a baby. A great devotee of Siva, Kandaraditha did not want his son to rule (but lead a life devoid of material attachments) and convinces his brother to anoint Sundara Chozha as his successor.
At the time this story begins, Kandaraditha's son Maduranthaka has started to desire the throne against his mother's wishes and takes part in a conspiracy against the Crown Prince Aditha Karikalan, Sundara Chozha's eldest son, and his younger brother Arulmozhi Varman. With twists and turns, and the dead Pandya king Veerapandyan's bodyguards seeking revenge as well thrown in, it seems like the dynasty will not survive all the traitors in its innermost camp. History records a mysterious end to Aditha Karikalan's life with no info on his murderers and the book only throws suspicion on half a dozen people present in the room when this act occurs.
The reader has no time to feel bored in this book as secret plots and side stories keep one engaged throughout. Of course, the complete effect of the poetry written in Tamil is, I guess, lost in translation. However, every other description is quite vivid and colourful. The way Kalki talks about Arulmozhi in the books even before the readers meet him is in such superlatives that the picture in the reader's mind is of a superhuman character! Girls swoon for him all over the land, he says no when presented with opportunities to usurp the Lanka throne, has an amazing way with animals, is wise beyond his years, an amazing warrior, very righteous and just, totally unpretentious though being the second in line to the throne after his elder brother, model son and brother and an extremely dependable friend. In other words, a perfect persona!!
The last part of this epic novel is the cherry on the icing on the cake. A prince giving up his right to rule, not for promises made to anyone but because it was the right thing to do when someone elder than him had a right toe ascend the throne, especially when everyone around wants one to be crowned is no mean feat of sacrifice! From certain historical records the confirmation that such an act did take place in history, in itself, speaks volumes of the man who was crowned as Rajaraja Chozha I, truly a King of Kings.
Would we ever find anyone else remotely close to the character etched in the mind of thousands due to the pen strokes of a certain author, in history, fiction or the future? Maybe not but then I guess that was the point after all…..