‘Ponniyin Selvan is our Tamil Game of Thrones’ : Preetha Rajah Kannan

'Ponniyin Selvan is our Tamil Game of Thrones' : Preetha Rajah Kannan

Preetha Rajah Kannan

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Preetha Rajah Kannan is a homemaker and writer. She has been interested in Indian mythology since long and has written quite a few books on them. ‘The Tiger Throne’ is ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ concised into 800 pages in one volume as a gift to her readers.

“I did not have to be bribed with chocolates for a story.”

My love for storytelling began when I was a plump (very plump!) toddler. I did not have to be bribed with chocolates for a story. If no one else wanted to hear my take on Kannagi and Kovalan, I just made our maid and cook sit on the back steps and listen: a captive audience. 

Growing up in a home with a library, I went on to read every book I could lay my hands on. My school library allowed me to borrow only one book a fortnight: this was definitely not enough for ravenous me. I made my friend, who was allergic to all books (including her text books), borrow a second book and devoured two books every fortnight. 

Embarking on a journey called ‘writing,’

My first efforts at writing were in ‘English Composition’ in school. I usually got 9/10 for my essays, along with a satisfactory, ‘Very Good!’ At college in Chennai, I summoned up the courage to enter some writing and poetry contests and went on to contribute to our college magazine. I would have loved to do journalism after that, but those were days when most of us girls docilely followed the school-college-marriage path. Later, I sent a couple of ‘Middles’ to the Indian Express. Family came first and I turned down their offer of a job. But I did a series of articles for their local edition and contributed stories to the Express School Magazine. 

It was only in 2015, at the ripe old age of fifty-two, that I decided to try my hand at writing a book. Why did I choose Indian mythology? I’ll be frank with you: I thought this genre gave me the best chance of getting published.

As a homemaker, I have the luxury of working on my own schedule. I enjoy writing my books: each one of them has been a voyage of discovery and a celebration of the precious stories I grew up with. I hope my books will stand as a reminder of our rich heritage and strengthen our roots. I hope my readers will pass on these stories to their children and grandchildren, to endure and be cherished over the generations. 

On writing and research about Indian mythology

Indian mythology seemed to be almost exclusively devoted to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Surely there was more to it than that? And so, I discovered our Tamil puranams. My first book, Shiva in the City of Nectar, is based on the Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam, whoseheart-warming, enchanting stories are set in my own city, Madurai. Son of Shiva tells the story of Kartikeya – or Murugan, the Beautiful One, as we Tamilians fondly know him. Hounds of Shiva portrays the lives of our Nayanmars, whose small granite idols stand with their arms frozen in eternal homage to the Lord in our Shiva temples. The Warrior God is my fond tribute to amma, an ardent Ayyappa bhata who trekked to Sabarimalai thrice in her lifetime. Dance of Shiva comes from my love for our temples and the sthala puranams associated with them: stories which, like our prayers, are an exhilarating mix of devotion, legend, history and folklore. 

‘The Tiger Throne’ – Let’s get to know more about the book

The Tiger Throne came up when my editor and I were discussing our favorite books and she said, ‘Ponniyin Selvan is our Tamil Game of Thrones.’ My own earliest recollection of Ponniyin Selvan is of five hardbound volumes standing tall in amma’s book collection. To my eternal regret, the convent-educated-English-speaking me had my nose too deeply into English novels to explore one of the greatest Tamil novels ever written. The years passed and I stepped into the courtyard of Thanjavur’s ‘Big Temple’ for the first time. I froze: the towering gopuram drew my eyes like a magnet and automatically lifted my head up to the evening-sun-splashed sky. The huge lingam in the sanctum thrilled my soul with its stark, truly ‘God-sized’ grandeur. I came to Raja Raja Chola, the emperor who had the audacity to think big and built the Brihadeeshvara Temple on this vast scale. And so, The Tiger Throne was born. 

Also read : My book is an attempt to rediscover India : Ashutosh Mehndiratta

Why should a reader pick up ‘The Tiger Throne’?

Compressing Kalki’s 2000-page magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan into an 800-page, one-volume treat was challenging. I was determined to remain completely faithful to Kalki: after all, who dares take liberties with a masterpiece which is perfect as it is? I wanted to retain the body and soul of Kalki’s work in a compact version, suited to today’s ‘fast’ world. It was difficult to sacrifice even the smallest bit of the glorious original; I often rebelled against page limits suggested by my editor; I suffered agonies over my attempts to capture Kalki’s wry humor in crisp English. But finally, I think it’s a job well done.

This is The Tiger Throne’s USP: a concise, one-volume telling which retains the essence of the original and has everything you will find in five volumes.   

“Writers have a plethora of options in publishing…”

My journey to being published was pretty straightforward. I googled ‘Top Indian publishers,’ short-listed eight who accepted fiction, and submitted my manuscript. Then came the wait: not a peep out of them, not even an acknowledgement. There I was, oozing confidence that I had a story to tell and that there was a whole wide world of readers out there, dying to hear it … and there I was, faced with this dreadful silence! Finally, Jaico got back to me with a contract. The editor happened to be a south Indian: perhaps my book struck a chord with her. I so strongly associated self/partnered publishing with vanity publishing (I admit there are clear differences), that I stubbornly held out for traditional publishing. I now realize that the publishing world has changed and writers have a plethora of options. 

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