Songs Of The Cauvery
By: Kalyanaraman Durgadas

There is a sloka in the Kaivalya Upanishad that my father quoted often,’ said Panju, ‘Not by performing Vedic rituals,/ Not through one’s progeny,/ Nor through wealth;/ through sacrifice alone/ did they achieve immortality.’


The time: the transition years between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. The space: the fertile delta of the Cauvery. The backdrop: the early stirrings of a freedom struggle against British colonialism in South India. 


Nothing can disturb the serenity of Tiruvaiyaru, South India, until Panju, a brilliant boy from an orthodox family, decides to join the revolutionary freedom movement. His actions affect not only him, but those he holds close—his sister Janaki who, breaking age-old tradition, aims to becomes first local woman with a college education; his father Sambu who finds himself getting waylaid from his spiritual quest; and the beauteous temple dancer Ranjitham who covets  Panju.  


As Panju’s decisions come with ripple effects, Sambu, Ranjitham and Janaki are compelled to make compromises they had never bargained for. Like the Cauvery—who exhausts herself to a mere trickle to enrich those around her—the characters in the novel much learn the true meaning of sacrifice. With a cast of unforgettable personalities, Songs of the Cauvery is a poignant meditation on grace, virtue and renunciation.

  • “If she were older than thirteen, or had someone with whom she could have shared her problems, Mangalam wouldn’t have decided to kill herself. She was at an age when the smallest problem grew larger and larger to blot out her mental horizons entirely, till she was guided, not by the clear voice of reason, but by the ghostly whisperings of pale ideologies that distorted time by yanking her to and fro between the imagined guilts of the past and the fearful uncertainties of the future.”
  • “Vichu left Thillaistanam on an auspicious day and hour and boarded a train from Tanjore, his eyes metaphorically filled with stardust at the prospect of an English education and the consequent job opportunities with Her Majesty and actually full of coal-dust from putting his head out of the window.”
  • ‘I somehow feel that today is going to be important in our coming together,’ said Sambu and quoted: ‘When, during Swati, a drop of rainwater falls into an oyster in the ocean, a pearl is formed.’ He made Bhavani repeat the mantra ‘Ahirasi sutam’ as he recited it softly.