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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (2 – 3)

February 15, 2015

From Part II of the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

2. Quicksand

Vandhiyathevan ran following the girl over the jungle terrain’s dunes and pits; over its pebbles and thorns. One minute she appeared, the next minute she disappeared. When it seemed that she was out of reach, she was within eye reach again. Vandhiyathevan was reminded of the tale of Ramar following maya Mareesan. But she was neither magic nor Mareesan; that her legs could carry her like the deer was certain. ‘Oh Mother! Why are we following her? What madness?’ he thought. He told himself the reason immediately. As Kodikarai got closer and closer, he was reminded of the girl Senthan Amuthan had described. She must be that Poonkuzhali. Her friendship might help to accomplish his mission here. He can also find out the direction to the lighthouse. The light of the lighthouse lamp had been visible from afar. But it had not been easy to get there. Once in the forest the lighthouse light could not be seen. They had gone round and round in the forest without finding the way. It was at this time that Vandhiyathevan saw Poonkuzhali on the parapet wall of Kuzhakar temple. When he wanted to get directions from her, why is she running like some mythical deer? There was no use in this chase but to turn around? But to lose in a race to a woman, that too was not acceptable to his mind..

Ah! There is the open ground. The blue sea was visible at a distance. What a beautiful sight is that immense sea with the calm surrounding it! There, the light of the lighthouse is visible. The flame is spreading and burning on the top. Its reddish rays are reaching out on all four sides performing magical tricks.

Leaving the woman here, should we proceed towards the lighthouse? No! No! It’s easy to reach her in this open ground. It’s not that sandy here. Feet are not sinking in the sand. Grass had made the terrain firmer. In some places there is mud caked up and dried. It’s possible to run here without stumbling. Can easily catch the girl! On top of that isn’t she running towards the sea? However fast she may run, she has to stop, once she reaches the sea! Perhaps this magical being would simply submerge and disappear in the sea! Adada! Why didn’t we come on the horse? If I had, in this open space she could have been caught in a second?

There, she is hesitating a little. Instead of running toward the sea she has turned right! To avoid being caught she is running toward the forest on the right. If she enters the forest then it would be impossible to catch her! All this running would be a waste! Vandhiyathevan’s legs were now begging him. He was panting heavily…

Perhaps she had once again changed her mind! Perhaps she has given up the thought of entering the forest. Like a spinning top she is coming running back. Perhaps she is going to the base of the lighthouse. In four long strides she can be caught. Grabbing her by the hand if I said, “Girl! Why are you running frightened of me? I have brought news from your lover to you!” how surprised she would be! It is true that Senthan Amuthan did not send any word through him. So what? Just have to make something up and tell her!…

Vandhiyathevan following his thoughts used all his strength to leap and run. His intention was to catch the girl who was coming back in four strides. Suddenly he said, “Aiyo!” Even he didn’t know at first what was happening to him. Soon it became clear. His two legs were sinking in the mud. First it was the feet. Then following the ankles, mud had come up to his knees!

“Adada! How this place had deceived us? On the surface it is dried up and cracked. Underneath the mud is not dry. Vandhiyathevan has heard about quicksands that never dry completely. Apparently cattle, horses and even elephants that get trapped in these pits can slowly sink and completely disappear! Is this such a mud pit? It does seem so. Even the knees have gone under! Are we going to continue to go down? Soon the thighs would sink in! The quicksand that swallows and burps after elephants and horses, would it leave us alone? Aiyo! Is this our fate? All our day dreams should submerge here? In this dangerous predicament the only way out is if that strange girl can give a hand. There is no other way to escape. Can give a big shout and see – with this thought Vandhiyathevan shouted, “Aiyo! I am dead! I am dying, sinking in the mud. Is there no one who can give me a hand and save me?”

His scream fell on Poonkuzhali’s ears. Poonkuzhali, who was running straight ahead of him, stopped, She hesitated for a second. She recognized Vandhiyathevan’s dangerous situation.

The next second she was drawn to the boat that lay there half on the sand and half over the quicksand. When the pit was filled with water and was at one time a deep canal the boat must have been used. She hopped into it effortlessly. She took the oar and rowed twice. Adada! What a miracle? Like a swan on water the boat glided and moved across the mud with speed. It soon reached the opposite side of the quicksand. Poonkuzhali jumped on to the firm ground. Planting her feet firmly on the ground she grabbed Vandhiyathevan’s hands and pulled him to the shore. Oh, Mother! How strong are this slight girl’s hands! Her hands are stronger than the iron grip of the Thanjaipuri general, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar!

Once ashore, Vandhiyathevan laughed out loud. His legs alone were shaking a little.

“You seem to think that you have saved me by pulling me out! Did you think that I won’t climb out without you?” he asked.

“Then why did you shout, ‘Aiyo! Aiyo!’ in that way?” Poonkuzhali asked.

“To stop you from running!”

“In that case I will once again push you into the pit. You come out by your own wits!” Poonkuzhali tried to push him back.

“Aiyayo!” Vandhiyathevan moved out of her reach.

“Why are you howling?”

“I am not afraid of my life; I am afraid of the mud! Already it’s up to my thighs!”

A smile blossomed on Poonkuzhali’s face. She looked Vandhiyathevan up and down.

“There is the sea! Go, wash off the mud and clean yourself!” she said.

“You must walk in front and be my guide!” said Vandhiyathevan. Both of them walked toward the seashore. They went around the area of the quicksand.

“Why did you run like that after seeing me? Did you think that I was a scary demon?” asked Vallavaraiyan.

“No; I didn’t think of a scary demon. I thought of an owl. Your face resembles an owl’s face!” she laughed.

Vandhiyathevan was very proud of his appearance. Therefore the comparison to an owl’s face made him very angry.

“As if your monkey face is any less than my owl’s face!” he mumbled.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. I asked why you ran like that after seeing me.”

“Why did you come chasing me like that?”

“I chased you to get the directions for the lighthouse…”

“There, the light can be seen! Why ask me for directions?”

“Once inside the forest, it could not be seen. That is why! Why did you race like that after seeing me?”

“Men are very wicked. I don’t like to see men!”

“Even Senthan Amuthan?” asked Vallavaraiyan in a soft voice.

“Whom did you say?”

“I said Thanjavur Senthan Amuthan.”

“What do you know about him?”

“I know that he is your precious lover.”

“What? What?”

“Isn’t your name Poonkuzhali?”

“My name is Poonkuzhali. What did you say about Senthan Amuthan? He is my…”

“I said he is your lover”

Poonkuzhali laughed with mirth. “Who told you that?” she said.

“Who else would? It was Senthan Amuthan who told.”

“Thanjavur is far away. That is why he got away with saying that!”

“If not…?”

“If it was here in front of me I would have dumped him in the quicksand.”

“So what? There is plenty of water in the sea to clean off the mud!”

“Cows and horses have got buried and died in the mud pit where you fell. It would even swallow an elephant!”

Vandhiyathevan’s hair follicles stood upright. He remembered the feeling of getting pulled by the quicksand slowly and slowly. If she had not come in time and pulled him out… his body shook thinking about it.

“What else did Senthan Amuthan say about me?” asked Poonkuzhali.

“He said that you were his uncle’s daughter. He said that there was no woman as beautiful as you even in heaven…”

“Sounds as if he had been to heaven to check it out. What else?…”

“He said that you can sing well. Apparently even the sea would halt its roar and listen to your song! Is that true?”

“You find that out! Here! The sea is here!…”

Both of them stood on the seashore.

3. Madness

Stars were twinkling in the sky. The crescent moon was parading like the silver boat floating in the blue sea.

The wind was blowing with more force. The sea roared; it reached out its white hands to pull those on the shore towards it.

“Why are you standing? Hurry up and wash the mud off! Have to go home now. Otherwise I will not have rice today. My sister-in law will clean out the rice pot!” said Poonkuzhali.

“Is the sea deep here?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“I have never seen a coward such as you. For a long distance here, it is not deep. For up to about five miles the water will be just up to one’s waist. That is why the lighthouse lamp has to burn every night!”

Vandhiyathevan reluctantly stepped into the water. He washed the mud off and washed his hands and legs and came out. He saw at a distance the doctor’s son coming on his horse. Vandhiyathevan’s horse also came next to him. “Oh, oh! The horse is going to step into the mud!” said Vandhiyathevan.

“It won’t; Horses are wiser than humans!” said Poonkuzhali.

“But there is a man on top of the horse. He is holding onto my horse also?”

“That is somewhat dangerous! Run and warn him!”

“Stop! Stop!” Vandhiyathevan shouted as he ran and stopped them.

Poonkuzhali also joined them. The three of them walked towards the lighthouse.

“You can get on your horse?” said Poonkuzhali.

“No; I will walk with you.”

Poonkuzhali went near the horse and patted its face. The horse shook itself and neighed softly as if to show its happiness.

“My horse likes you! This is very good.”

“In what way is it good?”

“I have to go to Ilankai. I am thinking of leaving this horse with you. Will you look after it?”

“Yes! I will take care of it. Animals get friendly with me easily. It’s the human beings who don’t like to see me.”

“Why do you say that? Senthan Amuthan has for you…”

“I too am fond of animals; I don’t like seeing people!”

“What have people done to you to deserve this?”

“People are wicked. Their job is deception and perfidy!”

“You shouldn’t say that about everyone. Senthan Amuthan is good. The one here, he is the doctor’s son, he is very good…”

“How about you?”

“I too am good. I cannot boast about myself, can I?”

“Why have you both come here?”

“The emperor is not well, isn’t he? Some roots are needed to cure his illness. Apparently there are some rare plants in this forest? The doctor’s son and I have come for that…”

“A while ago you said that you had to go to Ilankai?”

“Whatever roots that cannot be found here have to be brought from Ilankai. The sanjeevi parvatham that Hanuman brought is supposedly still in Ilankai?”

“Yes, it is. That is why thousands of people are now dying of flu there…”

“Is that so? I didn’t know, no? The palace doctor who sent us also didn’t know…”

I have never seen anyone tell lies like men. Two days ago two people came here. They were also telling lies like this. But their lies were at least somewhat believable.”

“Who were they? What lies were they saying?”

“They said that they were sent by some magician. To tie on the emperor’s hand for protection, tiger nail and hair from an elephant’s tail were needed and they said that they were going to Ilankai for that. My brother had taken them to Ilankai in his boat…”

“Oh! Oh! Is that so?” said Vandhiyathevan. He was reminded of a ruthless magician named Ravithasan. He also remembered his frightening experience while sleeping in the dilapidated building.

Oh, God! Why did we get caught into these affairs? In the battlefield one fights the enemy face to face! There one has to show his strength and expertise. Why did we get caught in these treacherous and mysterious schemes?

Who are the people who have gone in the boat to Ilankai before us? To what extent can this woman be trusted? Can she be a part of that treacherous group!… No, No! She is an innocent girl. It’s good to somehow make friends with her.

“Poonkuzhali! I will tell you the truth. I said a while back that I am here to fetch some roots, that is indeed a lie! I am going to Ilankai on a very important and confidential matter. I want to tell you about it.”

“Don’t! Don’t you know that you should not talk to women about important and confidential matters? Don’t tell me anything…”

“They say that about ordinary women. Nothing of the sort will happen if I tell you a secret.”

“How do you know that I am not an ordinary woman. It is not even an hour since you saw me.”

“Poonkuzhali! I liked you as soon as I saw you on that temple wall. I will ask you something. Will you answer me truthfully?”

“Ask and see!”

“Is it true that Senthan Amuthan is not your lover? Are you not going to marry him?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Senthan Amuthan is my friend, I don’t want to do anything against him. But if he is not your lover…”

“Tell me! Why do you hesitate!”

“I am considering applying for that position. Poonkuzhali! I don’t like you speaking negatively of love. There is nothing more holy and powerful than love in this world. Appar, Sundarar and Sambanthar, they all sang imagining god as their lover. Tholkapiyar, Valluvar and other great Tamil poets have sung about love. Kalithasan has sung about love. At Brinthavanam, Kannan fell for the kopiar’s love…”

“Sir! I will say one thing! Please listen carefully and keep that in mind!”

“What’s that?”

“I too liked you when I saw you. With you I didn’t feel the disgust I felt as seeing the people who came two days ago…”

“Oh! Oh! I am a lucky fellow!”

“But don’t start the topic of love and bluff!”

“Why? Why?”

“Senthan Amuthan is not my lover. But I have other lovers…”

“Adada! Adada! Other lovers? Who? How many?”

“At midnight I will leave the house. If you follow me I will show them to you. You can see for yourself!” Saying this Poonkuzhali laughed, “Hahaha!”

The laughter made Vandhiyathevan’s heart uneasy.

It seems as though this poor girl is afflicted with madness! It is futile to expect any help from her for our mission! It is best to not say anything to her.

They approached the house near the lighthouse. From inside the house an elderly man and woman emerged. Seeing Poonkuzhai, the two men and the horses, the elderly person stood in astonishment.

“Poonkuzhali! Who are they? Where did you find them?” he asked.

“I didn’t find them, Father! They found me!” said Poonkuzhali.

“It’s all the same. You never listen when I say ‘come home before dark.’ Day before yesterday you brought two people. Today you have brought two. Why have they come here?”

“They have come to fetch medicinal plants for the emperor’s treatment, Father!”

“Why, Sir! Is what this girl is saying, the truth?” the elderly person looked at Vandhiyathevan and asked.

“Yes, Sir! Here is the note!” Vandhiyathevan said handing him the letter from the cloth roll tied at his waist.

With that another letter fell on the ground. He hurriedly picked it up and tucked it away safely.

“I am a big fool! I have not learnt even after spoiling matters once!” he mumbled inside.

The elderly person took the letter. He looked at it carefully in the light of the lighthouse lamp. His face blossomed. He looked at his wife and said, “The junior stateswoman has sent them with a letter. We have to give them food. Go inside and tell your daughter-in-law! She is going to empty the rice pot and roll it!”

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