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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (4 – 6)

March 1, 2015

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

4. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

Following dinner Vandhiyathevan privately met with the lighthouse chief and informed him that he needed urgently to travel to Ilankai. The elderly person whose name was Thiyagavidanka Karaiyar expressed his regret.

“At one time on this shore there were many big vessels and small boats. They have all now gone to Sethukarai. They have gone to aid our garrison in Ilankai. I own two boats. My son has taken one with the people who arrived yesterday. I don’t know when he will be back. What can I do?” he said.

“Who are those men? Your daughter said that they were somewhat strange?”

“Yes; I also didn’t like them when I saw them. It’s not known who they are; it’s not known where they are going. They had Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palmyrah seal. Even then I would not have asked my son to go. But my daughter-in-law likes money. Hearing that they will give a bag full of money she insisted on her husband going…”

“What is this Sir, a joke? Does your son have to listen to a little girl at home who has no experience of the world?” said Vandhiyathevan. Then gently he added, “Forgive me, this is your family matter!”

“Son! There is nothing wrong in your asking. My family has a curse. My son…” he hesitated.

Now, Vandhiyathevan was reminded of what Senthan Amuthan had said about this family.

“Your son cannot speak?” he asked.

“Yes; How did you know?” asked the elderly person.

Vandhiyathevan told him about Sentahn Amuthan and his mother and about his stay at their house.

“Aha! That person is you? News about you has reached here already. Aren’t they looking for you all over the country?”

“Could be; I don’t know about it.”

“Now I know why you want to travel to Ilankai urgently.”

“Sir! What you are thinking is not right. I am not going to Ilankai just to save my life. I am taking an important letter to a person there. If you wish you can look at it.”

“No need. What the junior stateswoman has written about you is sufficient for me. But I am unable to help you this time!”

“You said that there was another boat?”

“There is a boat. There is no one to ferry it. If you and your friend can ferry it I will give you that…”

“We both don’t know how to ferry the boat. I am somewhat afraid of water. If it is the sea…”

“Even those who know how to ferry, without experience cannot take it on the sea. Once you go a little way in the sea the shore will disappear. After that you have to struggle without knowing the direction.

“Also, I cannot take the person who accompanied me here. I have to leave him here to collect medicinal plants. You must find a way to help me.”

“There is a way. It is not an easy one. You also try! If luck is on your side…”

“What do I have to do? Sir, if you tell me I will certainly do it” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Around here there is no one who can row a boat as well as Poongkuzhali. She has gone to Ilankai many times. I will tell her; You also ask and see!”

“Please call her now; we can ask her.”

“No; she is very stubborn. If she says ‘can’t’ now to us then it would be impossible to try to change her mind later. Tomorrow I will find the appropriate time to speak to her. You also ask her in private!”

After saying this, Thiyagavidanka Karaiyar went towards the lighthouse.

Vandhiyathevan slept on the veranda of his house. The doctor’s son who came with him was already asleep. Tired from the long journey Vandhiyathevan’s eyes were heavy with sleep. Soon he was asleep.

All of a sudden his sleep was dispelled. He heard the sound of the door opening. With difficulty Vandhiyathevan opened his tired eyelids. There was a person leaving the house. He looked carefully. He saw it was a woman. The light of the lighthouse fell on the figure. Ah! It was Poongkuzhali! No doubt.

Didn’t she say something to me? ‘At midnight follow me! I will show you my lovers!’ she said. Didn’t we take it to be some kind of joke? Now she is really leaving at midnight? Where is she going? If she is going to see one lover or many, would she say that to us? Would she say, ‘Follow me and I will show you.’ There must be some secret meaning here! Or perhaps… whatever it is, why not go behind her and see? Tomorrow I must speak to her nicely and make her agree to ferry the boat to Ilankai. It might help me with that if I follow her now. Some danger might befall her! If I save her from it, tomorrow won’t she give in to my request?

Vandhiyathevan got up without making a noise. He followed Poongkuzhali’s path. He remembered very well his experience in the quicksand that evening. He didn’t want that to happen again. Therefore he must not let Poongkuzhali out of his sight.

For some distance from the lighthouse it was open space. Therefore Poongkuzhali’s figure was visible. There was no difficulty in going in her path. Thinking of catching up with her he walked fast. But it was not possible. As he walked faster and faster, her speed also increased. It didn’t even seem as if she had noticed him following.

Beyond the open space the ground turned uphill with the dense forest. Without climbing it directly Poongkuzhali went around it. The uphill forest land ended at the cape. She went around the cape. Vandhiyathevan hurried behind and as he turned the bend he saw her walking at a distance. “Oh, good!” he was encouraged. But the next second all of a sudden she disappeared.

How did she suddenly disappear? Is this supernatural or phantasmagoria? Could there have been a ditch? He ran and walked to just about where he thought Poongkuzhali had disappeared. He looked around in all four directions. He ruled out the three directions where she would have been within his eyesight. He made sure that there was no quicksand by cautiously pressing his foot in. Therefore, she must have climbed the dune and gone into the forest.

Upon closer scrutiny a footpath meant for the uphill trek amid the tightly packed low shrubs came into view. Vandhiyathevan climbed on it. His heart beat ‘tick, tick.’ The lighthouse lamp’s dim light didn’t reach there. The evening’s crescent moon had already disappeared into the sea. He had to find the path by the light of the twinkling stars. Even that path disappeared after a short distance. The low shrubs and dwarfed trees assumed frightening shapes. Their shadows loomed like evil demons. When the leaves on the shrubs moved the shadows also danced. Each move shocked Vandhiyathevan’s heart. Who can see what danger awaited where in the darkness of these grim shadows? Poisonous critters and wild animals can pounce from their hiding places. Danger can descend from above; or from all around; or from behind. Adada! What is this, getting trapped here? Didn’t even bring the spear in hand?

What is that bustle? What is that dark figure on that tree? There are two tiny light spots twinkling from amid the dark shrubs, what can they be?

Vandhiyathevan’s legs shuddered without forewarning. Yes! Yes! What business do we have here? Why did we come here? – What foolishness? Must get down and leave at once!

Just at the moment when he thought of turning back a voice was heard. A voice to break one’s heart; a woman’s voice. A sob. Then this song:

while the sea with its waves is quiet

why is the inner sea so tumultuous?

while earth-girl is sleeping

why is my soul so disturbed?

Vandhiyathevan gave up the idea of going back. He climbed up towards the place where the voice was coming from. Soon the top of the summit came into view. She was standing there. Poongkuzhali. She was the one singing. She sang looking at the stars sparkling from the sky. Perhaps she considered these stars her audience and fan club. The stars trembled hearing the sad melody.

Thoomakethu was among the stars. Its long tail of rays spread out like a fan. The woman’s silhouette on top of the summit, her voice and song, combined with the comet in the sky made Vandhiyathevan lose his senses. His legs carried him over to the top.

He stood right in front of Poongkuzhali. Behind her seemingly far away was the red light of the lighthouse. Beside it the sea lay spread wide. As if demarcating the sea the white wave line curved and went around.

“You are here? I saw you sleeping like Kumbakaranan on the veranda…”

“I woke up when I heard the house door opening. You walked so briskly! Didn’t even glance back. Oh, mother! What hardship it was to come running behind you?”

“Why did you follow me?”

“Good question! Didn’t you tell me to come? You have forgotten?”

“Why did I tell you to come? Do you remember?”

“Why wouldn’t I remember? You said you will show your lovers! Where are your lovers? Show them, let’s see!”

“There, turn and look behind you!” said Poongkuzhali.

5. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEA

Vandhiyathevan turned and looked behind. His intestines heaved up from his stomach and blocked his chest. They heaved even further and his throat was blocked. A thousand flashes of lightening hit his body. A hundred thousand heated needle points pierced his entire body – the frightening scene in front of his eyes was such.

In the infinitely spreading dark here and there appeared ten, twenty, one hundred fire bombs. There was no smoke; no light; they were not flames arising out of burning firewood. Just fire-mouthed ghosts. They somehow came out of the earth and stood there. Suddenly some of them disappeared. Few others came up new.

A humongous dark demon, with no head but a mouth in the belly like Kapanthan. But the mouth was not just one; many. These mouths, he frequently opened them and closed them. When the mouths were open flames darted out from the belly. When they closeed the flames disappeared.

Vandhiyathevan felt as if blood was oozing out of each hair follicle on his body. Never before had he been subjected to such fear. Not even in the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s underground cellar.

‘Ha Ha Ha!’ Laughter was heard from behind him. He turned.

It was indeed Poongkuzhali! In another instance her laughter alone would have created immeasurable fear. Now the same laughter produced courage. That there was a woman of blood, flesh, body and soul standing next to him helped like a foothold to a falling man.

“Did you see my lovers?” asked Poongkuzhali.

“These fire-mouthed devils are my lovers. I come here in the middle of the night to see them and chat with them” she said.

There was not an iota of doubt that this girl was afflicted with madness. Is it realistic to use her help to travel to Ilankai? – Vandhiyathevan was thinking along these lines. There was something else his mind was grappling with. What’s that? What’s that? Something to do with these fire-mouthed demons.

“Can your friend Senthan Amuthan compete with these lovers?’ Poongkuzhali’s voice sounded like coming from deep inside a well. Because his mind was preoccupied with trying to remember something. Ah! In the end a mighty struggle; in the head! Memory…

Where earth has sulfur and water has stagnated to form marshes and bogs this phenomenon is seen at night. When sulfurous gas is exuded from inside the earth it appears as a flame. Sometimes it lasts. Sometimes it’s a series of puffs that disappears. Ignorant folks become frightened of this natural phenomenon. ‘Fire-mouthed devils’ – giving such scary names they become terrified…

He remembered hearing this from elders. There was a struggle between his knowledge and his sense of fear. Knowledge won.

But there was no use speaking about it to this mad woman. There was no other way but to talk to her nicely and take her away from here.

“Girl! Your lovers will not go anywhere. They will be here. We can come and see them tomorrow also, right? Let’s go home, come!” he said.

Poongkuzhali didn’t reply. She started sobbing and crying.

‘What’s this headache?’ thought Vandhiyathevan. He remained quiet for a while.

“Girl! Shall we go?” he asked again.

Sobbing did not end.

Vandhiyathevan lost interest.

“Alright; Do as you wish! I am feeling sleepy. I am leaving,” he said going down.

At once, Poongkuzhali stopped sobbing. She started to climb down. In four leaps she took over Vandhiyathevan and was ahead of him.

Vandhiyathevan ran and caught up with her.

Both of them started walking towards the lighthouse. Trust this mad woman and get on a boat? Cross the sea? But there does not appear to be any other way? Shall we say something good to try and make friends with her?

“There appears a star with a tail in the sky! What is your opinion about it?” Poongkuzhali asked.

“I have no opinion. A star with a tail appears; that is all!” said Vandhiyathevan.

“They say that when a star with a tail appears in the sky bad things will happen on earth!”

“That is what some people are saying.”

“What do you say?”

“I have not studied astrology. I only know that people say such things.”

They walked in silence for a while. Poongkuzhali then asked, “They say that the emperor is not well. Is that true?”

Vandhiyathevan thought that the girl was not altogether crazy. He began to feel hopeful.

“I saw with my own eyes. The emperor is bedridden. There is no feeling in both legs. He cannot even take one step. I have come to fetch medicinal plants to cure him. Will you do me a favor?” he asked.

Without answering Poongkuzhali asked, “The emperor will not be alive for long. They say he is going to die soon, is that true?”

“If you don’t help this time it may happen. It seems there is a rare medicinal plant in Ilanaki. The emperor will get better if we bring it. Will you ferry the boat to Ilankai?”

“In case the emperor dies who will come to the throne next?” Poongkuzhali’s question threw Vandhiyathevan off balance.

“Girl! What does it matter to you and me? What do we care about who comes to the throne?”

“Why shouldn’t we care? Aren’t you and I citizens of this country?”

This girl is not afflicted with madness. I must be careful with her. There must be another reason for her strange behavior.

“Why aren’t you talking? Who will come to the throne next?” Poongkuzhali asked again.

“Athitha Karikalar is the one who has been crowned Prince. Lawfully he would be the one to take the throne next.”

“Mathuranthakar, hadn’t he got any rights?”

“Hadn’t he said already that he does not want to rule?”

“He said it before; now it seems he’s saying that he wants to rule?”

“Is it sufficient if he said it? Hadn’t the citizens got to agree?”

“It seems that there are some prominent men on his side?”

“That’s what I have also heard. To think that all of this had reached your ears, I am very surprised.”

“If Sundaracholar died suddenly, what will happen?”

“There would be calamity all over the country. To prevent it only I need your help now…”

“What can I do to help?”

“I already said it. It is urgent that I go to Ilankai to fetch the medicinal root. For that you must row the boat.”

“Why are you asking me? Aren’t’ you ashamed to ask a woman to row the boat?”

“Your father says that there is no one else. Even your brother had left yesterday it seems?”

“What if he had left? Haven’t you and the fellow who accompanied you got two hands each?”

“We don’t know how to ferry a boat…”

“Is rowing a boat a supernatural effort? Simply move the oars and the boat goes by itself!”

“Doesn’t one have to know the direction? In the middle of the sea if we lose the direction…?”

“If you are lost in the middle of the sea then drown and die! What can I do about it?”

They were now near the lighthouse. Vandhiyathevan wanted to end this discussion. He did not want to continue and thereby confirm Poongkuzhali’s refusal. Even though her response was firm, her voice and manner of speech had sparked a flicker of hope in his heart.

Sleep evaded Vandhiyathevan this second time when he was in bed. His mind was turbulent owing to various thoughts. He slept only at the beginning of the fourth quarter of sundown.

In his sleep Vandhiyathevan had a dream. In the small boat with the open sail Poongkuzhali and he were seated opposite to each other. On all four sides was the sea; water, wherever one looked; a pleasant fragrant breeze; the boat moved as if it was floating in that breeze. Poongkuzhali’s face glowed in its beauty. Her curly hair flittered across her forehead. The sari border flew. Vandhiyathevan had forgotten where he was going and why he was going. It seemed as if he had journeyed all these days just to be going in that boat with Poongkuzali. Just one thing was missing. What is it? What is it? Ah! Poongkuzhali’s song! Didn’t Senthan Amuthan tell him?

“Girl! Won’t you open your pearl-like lips and sing a song?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“What did you say?” Asked Poongkuzhali with a smile. Aha! Isn’t that smile worth all seven worlds?

“I said whether you won’t open your sweet mouth and sing a song.”

“If I sing what will you give me?”

“I will come near you and on your beautiful cheek…”

Poongkuzhali at once drew out a sharp knife from her waist. She raised her hand with the knife.

“Look here! If you move even a micron this side of that sail I will stab you with this knife. The fish in the sea are ravenous!” she said.

6. THE PALACE BENEATH

The next morning the red rays of the sun fell on Vandhiyathevan and woke him up. Even after waking, it took him a while to fully regain his senses. It took him a while to know if the light was from the sun or the lighthouse lamp. When he thought about the previous night’s events he was confused as to which was real and which was dream. In the house, there were only the elderly person’s wife and daughter-in-law. They told him that the elderly man had gone to the temple to gather and arrange the flowers. He didn’t dare ask them about Poongkuzhali. After finishing the breakfast that they offered he looked around intently. Poongkuzhali was nowhere to be found. He went to the temple in search of her. Her father was there. He was plucking flowers for pooja from the trees around the temple. He said that on some days Poongkuzhali came to tie the flowers into garlands but that day she had not come.

“She will be somewhere in the jungle chasing the deer. Or she will be roaming the beach. You find her and ask her!” he said.

“Son! Be careful about one thing. She is tough. Don’t say anything to her that can be misconstrued. Don’t think of the romantic classics you have  read and start composing! She would in an instant become the angry goddess Kali. After that your life is no longer yours!” warned the elderly person.

Vandhiyathevan’s body trembled at the thought of the previous night’s dream. He went in search of Poongkuzhali inside the forest. Where can one look in the forest? After a short time he got tired of it. It was enough to get out of the forest. After coming out he went towards the seashore. Even after wandering along the shore for a long distance there was no use. Poongkuzhali could not be spotted. ‘In any case didn’t she have to come home for lunch? Can see her there!’ He turned back. All of a sudden he had an idea. He wanted to bathe in the sea that was calm devoid of any big waves. He had heard before that the sea wasn’t very deep around here. Poongkuzhali had confirmed it the previous evening. So, what’s to stop him from getting in and having a bath? It is important that he cures himself of the fear regarding the matter of the sea. It has now become necessary to travel by boat and ship. Is this possible if one is afraid of the sea? It is necessary to get rid of this fear.

After placing the cloth roll tied around his waist, and the knife, on the beach, he stepped into the water. Slowly he picked his feet up and walked. As he proceeded water was never more than up to his knees. When small waves came and crashed water came up to his waist. Not more than that. ‘Nice ocean this is! Not even enough water for a dip?’ He told himself as he went further.

Adada! Have I come too far thinking it wasn’t deep? What if the sea surged all of a sudden? If the waves rose higher and crashed? With this thought he turned and looked back toward the shore.

It was true that he had come too far from the shore! But the sea won’t suddenly rise in that manner…! Oho! There is Poongkuzhali! Let’s get out and meet her. Plead with her again. It does seem as if she has seen me! She is coming towards me! She is even signaling me something!…

Oh! Oh! What’s this? What is she bending and looking at on the shore? What is she taking? She’s taking the cloth that I wrap around my waist? ‘Girl! Don’t take that! That’s mine…’ She cannot hear me! The noise of these waves!

There, she has heard me! She is looking at me and saying something! Poongkuzhali! That’s mine. Don’t take!…

Here! You won’t listen if I asked you? You are going off with it as if it’s your own, stop, stop!…

Vandhiyathevan started running toward the beach! Poongkuzhali turned and looked at him once. Then she too started to run. She ran opposite to where the house and the lighthouse were, towards the forest!

Aha! This is a wicked girl! Wicked girl? Or just plain mad? I have got to somehow get my cloth roll back from this mad character…?

After tripping and falling twice and drinking a mouthful of salt water Vandhiyathevan stepped out on to the shore slowly. Then he started running behind the woman. As he ran her speed increased. At a distance a deer flock of fifty or sixty gathered. Deer running scared, leaping and jumping – what a beautiful sight! Why? Here, this girl is running, leaping and jumping? It is no less beautiful than the deer? These women who live naturally and freely, their beauty is rather special!… But I should not tell her all of this. If I tell it would spoil matters! Hasn’t the elderly person warned me?… Nevertheless, why is she racing so stubbornly! How to find her once she enters the forest?… Here, she has gone into the forest. End of story. There cannot be a bigger fool than me in this entire world!… Can the garland be retrieved from the hands of a monkey?

In a short while Vandhiyathevan also entered the forest. He walked here and there with no direction. In his hurry and excitement by rushing headlong into the bush without separating the plants he cut himself all over his body with thorns. He shouted, “Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali!” Then he began to ask, “Hey Tree! Did you see Poongkuzhali?” and “Hey Crow! Did you see Poongkuzhali?”

Just as he began to think, “What’s this? Looks as if I too would be afflicted with madness!”, something dropped from the tree above!

Ah! It was his cloth roll! He grabbed it anxiously and unwrapped it. The letter, gold coins, were all safe! “Is the money safe?” A voice came from above. Poongkuzhali was seated on the branch of the tree.

Excited and tired Vandhiyathevan said in uncontrollable fury, “I have never seen a monkey like you!”

“I have never seen an owl like you. Oh, mother! What a sight?” said Poongkuzhali.

“Why did you vex me so? If you needed money…”

“Chee, chee! Who wants your money here?”

“Then why did you take this and come running here?”

“If I didn’t do it you won’t have entered the forest. You would have gone back to our house!”

“What if I went back?”

“Climb this tree, then you will see!”

“See what?”

“Ten to fifteen horses! And the glitter of swords and spears!”

From her face it looked as if she could be telling the truth. Nevertheless wanting to be certain Vandhiyathevan climbed the tree. Before climbing he secured the cloth roll tightly around his waist. Perhaps she may have dropped it accidentally from the tree. Now may be she is scheming to get it back, who knows?

He climbed the tree and looked in the direction of the lighthouse. ‘Yes, what Poongkuzhali said was true.’ There were ten to fifteen horses. On the horses were soldiers with swords and spears.

Who can they be?… Indeed they are Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men who have come to arrest me! Who else can it be?

Poongkuzhali had saved him from great danger. Why? What is her intent? – Still there were issues that weren’t clear!

Both of them climbed down from the tree.

“Poongkuzhali! You have saved me from great danger. Thank you very very much!” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Absolute lie! Do men have gratitude?” said Poongkuzhali.

“Don’t think of me like all men!”

“You are not like everyone; you are indeed special?”

“Girl! Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course; answering is my prerogative.”

“Why did you think of saving me? What’s the reason for the sudden show of mercy on me?”

Poongkuzhali was quiet. It was obvious from her face that she was taken aback.

Collecting herself, she said, “I have always felt a bit sympathetic toward the slow-witted.”

“Very happy; How did you know that these soldiers were here in search of me?’

“Can’t one guess that by looking at you? Even yesterday I surmised that you were on the run looking to hide. Today through your friend, the doctor’s son – it got confirmed.”

“What did he blabber?”

“In the morning soon after waking up he said he had to search for the medicinal plants in the forest. I said I will go with him and brought him here. He started making love to me. I told him ‘Your friend has beaten you to it!’…”

“What did you say?”

“Wait; just listen! I said that you have been making love to me. Then he came out with his doubt about you. Along the way owing to several indications he had begun to suspect that you were running away from some government persecution! ‘Don’t trust someone like him and be wasted in vain! Marry me!’ He said. ‘You are in such a hurry? Shouldn’t we ask the elders?’ I said. ‘Just like in the old Tamil culture let’s elope!’ said your beautiful friend. How do you like it?”

“Oh! The vile cutthroat!” cried Vandhiyathevan.

“At that time there was the sound of horses. I got on the tree, then came down and told him to go up and take a look. I can laugh even now if think of how his legs started shaking when he was up on the tree,” said Poongkuzhali laughing.

“Stop fooling around; What happened after that?”

“He came down from the tree. ‘Did you see? What I said turned out to be correct. Soldiers are here to arrest him!’ he said. ‘In that case they will catch you for accompanying him. You run and hide somewhere!’ I said. ‘That is what I must do,’ he said. He left me and went. It happened just as I expected…”

“What? What happened?”

“After telling me that he was going to hide, he went straight in the direction of the horsemen and got caught to them…”

“Oh! Sad!”

“Don’t be too sorry! Hold some back!”

“Why do you say that?”

“Listen to the rest! You will find out! He went straight to them. They looked at him in wonder. Staring at him they whispered to each other. “Who are you all?’ this guy asked. “We are hunters. We are here to hunt for deer’ said one of them.’No. I know what you have come to hunt for’ he said. They became surprised and encouraged him. ‘You are here in search of Vandhiyathevan. I will show you his palce. Will you leave me alone?” he asked. They agreed to it. He took them in the direction of our house…”

“Turncoat, cutthroat!!…”

“After they left I came in search of you. You were bathing in the sea…”

“Why didn’t you tell me this there? Why did you come running here with my cloth roll?”

“If not, would you have come running here so fast? Let me take on those hunters, you may have said and gone in search of them! You won’t have listened to me. Before I could explain all of this and made you go with me, they probably would have spotted you…”

Aha! Vandhiyathean was embarrassed for thinking that she was a mad woman.

I have to have complete faith in her. Without her help we cannot cross the sea and reach Ilankai. Traveling this far would have been in vain. I may even get caught to the Pazhuvertaraiyars again.

“Girl! I cannot tell you how great a help you have performed for me. You are the one who has to perform the rest of the help…”

“What are you telling me to do?”

“You have seen my friend’s splendor? You have found out how useless it is to trust him? You are the one who has to row the boat and take me to Ilankai!”

Poongkuzhali was silent.

“Can you build the faith that I am incapable of doing anything unlawful? Girl! I have to go to Ilankai at once because of an urgent matter. You have to provide this help to me…”

“What will you give me if I do?” asked Poongkuzhali. For the first time her face showed signs of self consciousness. Her cheeks dimpled; the beauty of her face glowed ten times more intensely.

Vandhiyathevan remembered his dream the previous night where Poongkuzhali asked a similar question. He also remembered the answer he was about to give. The same words were now at the tip of his tongue. He bit his tongue and put an end to the thought.

“Girl! If you give me this help I will not forget it as long as there is life in me; I will forever return my gratitude. I cannot think of anything that I can do for you to reciprocate this. If you ask me to do something, I will certainly do it!”

Poongkuzhali was immersed in thought. It seemed as if she was undecided about whether she should put her thoughts into words or not.

“If there is something I can do for you in return please tell! I promise…”

“Do you promise?”

“Promise! Promise!”

“In that case, I will ask when the time comes. You won’t forget then?”

“I will never forget. I will wait for you to request your payback. Until then I will consider myself in your debt.””

Poongkuzhali was again thoughtful for a while.

“Alright, come with me! I am taking you to a spot in this forest. There you must wait until dusk. You will be hungry…”

“No worries there! In the morning your sister-in-law gave me the old rice. Just to annoy her I ate more than was necessary. I don’t need food until night…”

“Don’t know if there will be food in the night even? I will try and bring something with me. You have to wait in this place until it gets dark! After it’s dark I will return and signal you. Have you heard the koel sing ‘cuckoo’?”

“I have heard it. Even if I haven’t I will recognize your voice.”

“Once I signal you have to come out of this place. We should leave in the first quarter after sunset.”

“I will wait for the koel’s sound.”

Poongkuzhali took Vandhiyathevan to a sand dune in the middle of the forest. On the other side of the dune the growth of the trees, shrubs and climbers was more dense. She pushed them with knowing ease and stepped down into the ditch alongside a tree. Vandhiyathevan also went behind her. An old building’s outer perimeter came into view. Upon closer scrutiny two pillars could be seen in the darkened hall. All of it was hidden by trees and shrubs. From the outside the hall was completely hidden.

“There was a cheetah here in this building. After it left I have moved in. I am keeping this as my own personal house. When I don’t want to see people I usually come here. There is water in the pot. You wait here during the day! Even if you hear people, or horses running, or any other upheaval please don’t show your head outside. Don’t look from the top of the dune!” said Poongkuzhali.

“Are you telling me to wait here in the dark also? Forest animals, tiger, cheetah, if any of this come?…” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“There is no tiger or cheetah here now. If at all foxes and wild boars may come. You are not afraid of fox and pig?”

“I am not afraid. But what to do if they come and fall on top in the dark? I don’t even have a spear in hand. I left it at home.”

“Here! Take this weapon!” Poongkuzhali gave the weapon from the building. It was a strange weapon. On both sides it had sharp thorns like a sword. The thorns were sturdier than iron. Perhaps Indran’s thunder-bolt was like this!

“What is this weapon? What is it made of?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“This is the caudal fin of a fish! When a cheetah that was living in this building leapt on me I killed it by hitting with this!” said Poongkuzhali.

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From → Notes

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