Parthiban’s Dream

Shortlisted for the Valley of Words Award 2022 for translation

Parthiban Kanavu (Parthiban’s Dream) was a novel Kalki R. Krishnamurthy penned as a weekly serial beginning 1941 in Kalki, the magazine that he had founded. Written in simple and elegant prose, Parthiban Kanavu is a breezy fictional historical romance in which good triumphs over evil and the lovers overcome obstacles posed by dynastic affiliations, intrigue and separation to be united in matrimony. The novel was an instant hit and was made into a Tamil film starring Gemini Ganesan, Vyjayanthimala and S.V. Ranga Rao in 1960. Parthiban Kanavu is an important milestone in Kalki’s illustrious literary career. It offered tantalizing perspectives of his literary style and what would be his more critically acclaimed works that followed. Vivid descriptions of nature, flora and fauna formed memorable backdrops against which Kalki’s gripping plots unfolded. While the stories he told were timeless ones of valour, romance and hope, his characters never conformed to the binaries of good and evil, instead portraying the various shades of grey and ambiguities that encapsulate what it means to be human. Kalki’s characters communicated his unequivocal views on politics and war. That religion and politics are an undesirable and combustible combination, that the adverse impact of wars on the environment and civilians far outweighs the political gains, and that civilians ought not to be harassed when a war is under way – are recurring themes.

Multiple translations of the same book, by either enthusiasts or professionals, is quite rare. Kalki Krishnamurthy’s historical novels have achieved this incredible distinction. His Ponniyin Selvan and Sivakamiyin Sabatham have seen more than one translation into English. Ponniyin Selvan has even been translated into Sanskrit. Alai Osai, which was posthumously awarded by Sahitya Akademi, has seen a Russian translation. Parthiban Kanavu too has been translated into English and published decades ago. Nandini Vijayaraghavan’s translation of it is perhaps the second or the third.

Her translation skills are manifest in this work, as is her passion for storytelling. The sharp, engaging and steady narrative pace of the original is well preserved. The elusive flavour of the Tamil is pursued with diligence and captured with effort. Happily, the translator takes liberties here and there to mildly extend the narrative to explain concepts alien to English (as when calling a rudraksha malai – a neckpiece made of the holy rudraksha seeds).

A translator’s task is often thankless and punishingly hard. Additionally, a historical canvas poses its own challenges of word choice. But the thirst to share and express in another language what one has experienced reading, is as compelling as writing one’s own story. Nandini Vijayaraghavan’s translation of Parthiban Kanavu as Parthiban’s Dream is testimony to this.

An important element that enhances the English Parthiban’s Dream, is the evocative monochromatic illustrations in the book from one of Tamil Nadu’s most respected artists from bygone era, Gopulu, who was a household name as an illustrator and cartoonist…The drawings are redolent of the period being written about, inducing an inescapable whiff of nostalgia.


Parthiban Kanavu is a swashbuckling story of a young prince keeping alive his father’s dream of establishing a glorious kingdom. The storyline is marked by palace intrigues, betrayals, and love at first sight. Vijayaraghavan faithfully follows the plot, omitting no digressions or descriptions. Nor does she editorialise to explain plot complications. Her choice of words is impeccable, the polysyllabic and slightly archaic language reflecting Kalki’s Sanskritised Tamil, which is not easily accessible to contemporary readers.

Parthiban’s Dream features exquisite artwork by Gopulu which was part of the Tamil original when it was serialized. The volume will be a treasured addition to any bookshelf.

In lucid prose and glitch-free translation, with beautiful illustrations by late S. Gopalan, this classic is an interesting read, a page turner.
DIVYA SHANKAR (review on Amazon)


KALKI KRISHNAMURTHY (1899–1954) is among the most renowned Tamil writers. He was a novelist, journalist and music critic. This polymath, who also participated in India’s independence movement, was a recipient of India’s highest literary honour, the Sahitya Akademi Award, which he received for his social novel Alai Osai (The Sound of the Waves). His writings include over 120 short stories, ten novellas, five novels, three historical romances, editorial and political writings and hundreds of film and music reviews.


NANDINI VIJAYARAGHAVAN – analyst, columnist, author and translator – was born and raised in Chennai and lives in Singapore. As of 2021, she is the Head of Research at Korea Development Bank. Parthiban’s Dream is Nandini’s second translation. The novel’s prequel, Sivakamiyin Sabadham (Sivakami’s Oath) was her first. Nandini co-authored with former Thomson Reuters fixed income specialist, Umesh Desai, Singapore’s first corporate biography, The Singapore Blue Chips. Her columns on finance and the economy have appeared in BusinessLine, The Hindu and Financial Express. Nandini holds postgraduate degrees in Economics and Finance from Tufts University and London Business School, respectively and is a CFA charter holder. She blogs at

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