Monday, 15 February 2016

Samrat Asoka - Book release

Speaker : Chidambaram

"Much of American English is stylistic error. Much of Indian English, especially pulp fiction is not even English," said P Chidambaram at the book release of Siddharthan's Samrat Asoka. It was organized by Madras Book Club, at the Binny room of Vivanta by Taj, formerly called Hotel Connemara, on 13 February 2016. Mr Madhu compered the program.

“Many of you may know I have become a publisher in the last six months. We undertake to sell new authors' first books. We commit to sell 2000 books but we can barely sell a few hundreds.

In a way Kindle has killed books. I have a grand daughter who is a book worm. She stopped buying books after she got a kindle. I've nothing against the kindle, it is a library you can carry along.

I know Tamil writers who have given up writing because they can't publish and sell. Latin and Sanskrit are virtually dead. And Tamil is faced with death. Schools and colleges don't buy books anymore.

I'm glad there is a book club but depressed it has only 350 members. Teach your children and grandchildren to read and love books.

We love listening to the Ramayana over and over even though we know how it ends and what episode comes next. I don't think in any other country, the same story is told so many million times as the Ramayanam and Mahabharatha, in so many languages. I have forgotten the Greek stories of Theseus and Perseus that I learnt in school.

Asoka's story is almost as well known. I congratulate author
Siddharthan for rewriting his four volume Tamil book into English.
Clearly he is influenced by Kalki and acknowledges it.”

Speaker : Ramnarayan

“Talking after Chidambaram is like batting after Tendulkar,” said V Ramnarayan, editor of Sruti magazine. “I had the pleasure of listening to Mr Gauthama Neelambaran analyse the Tamil version of Asokan at Tamil Puthaga Nanbargal. We visited Mr Siddharthan later, and he sang for us. What an allrounder!

We live in an era of intolerance for the other voice. I suppose intolerance has become a bad word now. Asoka was the king who signified great tolerance, after his change of heart of Kalinga war. I congratulate Rishikesh who edited and Maniam Selvan who did the cover art. 

He wrote a book called Vaishali about a trade union leader and a book about the period when Pallava rule ended and Chola role began. 

Technology is the enemy of good editing and proof reading. In Era Murugan’s book Arasur vamsam, the word Ayyan had been changed to Ayyar just before printing and we had to go through it all over again.

Our club membership is mostly geriatric but hopefully we can encourage our children to read.”

L-R: Siddharthan's wife, Ramnarayan, Chidambaram, Narasiah. Siddharthan

Speaker : Siddharthan

Author Siddharthan, said “I came here only to listen; what I want to say I've written in the book. 

Sivakamiyin Sabatham had released when I was young and I was first to read every episode in my club.

Historical writing is confined to a framework of history. Historians will jump on your mistakes. But the advantage is that the character can be different from the real person. The novel can suppress a historical character’s bad qualities and promote his virtues.

I wanted to avoid writing about kings. I met writer Sivapadasundaram who had traveled Buddhist sites like Gaya. I was inspired to write about Buddha (whose original name Siddhartha I have used as pseudonym). Constantine was the Asoka of Christianity. Asokan period of Indian history was an international period of Indian history, not national or regional. As Nehru said, he sent missions to other countries, not as a superpower but in peace.

Kalki wrote about greatness of Tamil, arousing Tamil nationalism the before Independence. He exhausted the national movement also with Alai Osai.
 So I had to find a different era to write about.

We have assimilated so many cultures that conquered our nation. My elder sister Rajam Krishnan is my guru. She would go to the territory of her novel and move with the people before her books. I adopted that method. Many incidents in my novel are set in Kashmir. Srinagar was founded by Asoka. He visited Burma too, which he called Swarnapuri.

I found Asoka the ideal hero for my book. I took five years to write the Tamil book two years to translate to English. I don't know if some one else could have translated as well so shortly though their English vocabulary may be better. 

Intolerance has always been there. But the majority of Indians are not intolerant. In every thing Buddha advices Madhyama maarga. Jains asked for fasting to clean up all sins. Buddha tried that but consuming Sujatha's offer of milk he chose a different path.. Middle way. Madhyama marga. This we have assimilated in our nation. Sober people will always be the majority and they will and have always chosen Madhyama marga

'Poorana jnanam pongiya naadu..Buddha piran puzhangiya naadu..' said Bharathi. 

There are all kinds of preachers emotional and extremist, but the middle way, best advocated by Buddha will prevail. Jai Hind," he finishes.

Speaker : Narasiah

KRA Narasiah  in his presidential address, said, “Fictionalisation of history and historisation of fiction are always competing. Kalki was perhaps more historical than Chaandilyan, but they both had lots of gray areas to deal with. To a sailor like me, who has travelled the oceans, Kadal Puraa is laughable, but others may enjoy it. But their books are still popular! Publishers tell me they are still best sellers at every book fair.

Siddharthan differs from them. He has taken Asoka, a difficult character. Who ruled 37 years, a quarter of the Mauryan era. Asoka's history is well recorded. We know Maurya history from the Nanda period well before Maurya era. Nanda hoarded treasure as he was greedy and Chanakya tried to distribute it to the people. In Kurnthokai, song 75 by Moosu Keeranar, a lady tells her friend, “If what you say about the hero is true, I will give you as much treasure as Nanda has.” In Agananooru song 265 by Mamoolanar also, the wealth of Pataliputra ruled by Nanda is mentioned. These songs may be 500 years after Nanda period. And in that period, history was recorded and preserved well and captured in literature.

Siddharthan did not have the freedom of Kalki and Chaandilyan, and he has kept sincerely to narration of Asoka. 

I knew Sivapadasundaram personally, friend of my uncle, the writer Chitti. The author has borrowed perhaps from Sivapadasundaram’s book Buddharin Adichuvattil. His Tamil is wonderful. He has written fairly well in English also. Very readable. As he said it was easy for him than any other translator, because he had to retell, not reconstruct.”

Speaker : Smt Siddharthan

Mrs Siddharthan, who gave the vote of thanks, said her husband has become tolerant and he forgave her when she made some mistake that nearly ruined a days work. She produly quoted VaVeSu, who quipped that the book will make any reader a better human being.


Mr Venu Sundar, son of author Chitti Sundararajan, introduced me to the author, after the event, and the latter invited me to visit!

Earlier, the pav bhaji was good, the brownies were better. At least one gentleman had his dinner and the next day’s breakfast too. Friends Muralikrishna, Bafna, Viswanathan, David Michaelangelo were also in attendance. 

Corrections (Feb 15, 2016)

1. I had wrongly listed Agananooru song as number 375, Mr Narasiah says it is 265, by the poet Mamoolanar.

2. I had written that "Kalingathu Barani also mentioned Asoka’s Kalinga war, a thousand years later." Mr Narasiah says that what he actually said was : "Continuity in reporting has been throughout, from Asoka's war to Chola's war" 

3. The right word is historisation not historification, Narasiah adds.

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