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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Author Interview : Kalyanaraman Durgadas, author of 'Songs of the Cauvery' (Part 1)

Kalyanaraman Durgadas
Read up, the first part of the Interview with Kalyanaraman Durgadas, author of 'Songs of the Cauvery'. The book was brilliant, while the author's answers to my questions held their own, since they were intense and penetrating. 

In fact, I could not capture their brilliance in a single part and so it is in two parts. In this part of the Interview, he tells us how the story first happened, the kind of research, which was put into this book, and what according to him was different about the book, Folks...

How did ‘Songs of the Cauvery’ happen?  Could you describe the journey? 

Well, it was a strange and fulfilling journey -- from the moment I started conceiving the story, to when I won the award for the best debut writer of 2016.

A couple of years back, I chanced upon a manuscript among some old papers of my late father, in an old steel trunk. It was a set of, around 300 shlokas entitled ‘Gaanesatatwasudhalahari’, written by my paternal great grand father, Sri Nilakantha Sastry. I read through it, and translated it, summoning my sparse knowledge of Sanskrit, and I was fascinated…

Apart from the main subject matter of the book, which was Ganesa as the Non-dual Being, what I found interesting was that the first chapter of the book was devoted principally to his lineage (and therefore mine) -- both the familial and the gnostic Sishya Parampara (the lineage of disciples) -- and I found that all of them had lived on the banks of the Cauvery river, in the delta area.

As I read, I got in touch with the man himself -- his feelings, longings, ambitions and so on, and I was hooked.

I simply had to write a story set in the Cauvery delta around the time he lived. The result was the ‘Songs of the Cauvery.

What kind of research was put into the writing of this book?

In short, a lot of research. The Cauvery, already sacred to me, became an obsession. I put together a map of the course of the Cauvery River using Google Earth and assembled a large 4’ by 3’ map of the region, she flows through.

I went and revisited the Samadhi of my Great grandfather (he died a monk) at Tiruvaiyaru, next to Sri Thyagaraja’s. I wandered through the land. I re-visited all the places that were to become a setting for my story. Thanjavur, Tiruvaiyaru, Kumbakonam, Mayavaram, Madras, and Pondicherry. I read various accounts of the period… the turn of the 19th century.
UV Swaminatha Iyer : Wikipedia

There were accounts by evangelical churchmen, by memsahibs, soldiers, ICS officers. I chose to concentrate on works by Indians. I re-read books like 'En charitram' of U V Swaminatha Iyer, Subramania Bharati’s stories and poems, Kalki Krishnamurthy, Thi. Janakiraman and others.

I read the history of Chola kingdom and the subsequent kingdoms. 

I read anything of that period. Railway timetables, University syllabi, books that were prescribed by the University of Madras, biographies, about Devadasis, about the dance, music and cultural pursuits of that period and region, accounts of the freedom struggle in British India and French Pondicherry, administrative and police structures, court cases… anything.

I even had to research many word frequencies in the English spoken those days to ensure that the language in dialogues was not anachronistic.

I had to do this because I chose to write the novel as an insider and not from the point of view of what may be best described as a tourist.

Even though, I discovered many things that were of immense interest to me, a very small fractional percentage of them made it into the book. All this immersion, however, helped me to write with confidence about the period and write with authenticity.

What according to you is different about your book?

A couple of things:

1) This period and the South have not been written about in fiction, at least in English fiction.
2) I think the book is authentic and engaging.

To quote, N Ravi of TheHindu (Director, Kasturi holdings), “Set in the backdrop of the Cauvery, under the British rule, the book fills the vital gap in the understanding and appreciation of the region.

I have journeyed through to the end of Mr Kalyanaraman’s gripping and extremely well-written book in two consecutive evenings, which is a measure of how compelling a read it is. In fact, I am used to reading two or three books at the same time and I have many partly-read books with me, but this is one that I read through from start to finish without putting down.”

How did you come up with the main plot line and develop it? 

I have already described, how I came to set the story in the Cauvery Delta and chose a particular time in history. I had always wanted to explore the theme of ‘Tyaga’, loosely translated as sacrifice, more properly as ‘letting go.’ I used 'Cauvery' not just as a physical presence, but mainly as a metaphor in the novel.

Once I had decided on the climactic scene and the characters, the plot unwound more or less by itself.

To summarize, to begin with I had a space, a time period, a theme, an incident and the characters. The plot happened because of the longings and motivations of the characters and the various choices they made during the course of the story.

You can Read the Review here and Buy the Book right here, as well.

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