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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (7 – 9)

March 16, 2015

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

7. THE SEA PRINCESS

On that day for Vandhiyathevan, daytime elapsed easily. He spent more than half the time sleeping. The time awake was spent thinking about Poongkuzhali’s curious nature.

What an extraordinary girl? What a sweet and fitting name? But what a tough nature? Is it only toughness? There was sweetness also! How nonchalantly she described the incident about hitting and killing the cheetah! What a sharp wit! How astute! – In spite of all this sometimes she behaves as if she is insane, why is that? Some bitter incident had taken place in this girl’s life! Bitter incident or sweet incident? A woman can turn insane like this by both! Or with no cause, was this her nature from birth? There was nothing out of the ordinary in her parents’ nature? They are quiet and pleasant!… Whatever her character. What is the reason for her interest in me? She has helped me to escape the Pazhuvertaraiyar men! She has said that she will ferry the boat to Ilanakai! Is there some deception in all of this?…Not at all. But, still, what is the reason for her change of mind? What does she expect from me in return? She has said that she will tell later! What can it be?…

While Vandhiyathevan was having such thoughts, as Poongkuzhali has predicted, all around him outside there was much hustle and bustle. Horses galloping, men rioting, the alarmed critters of the forest screeching, the outcry of the birds – all of this contributed to the pandemonium for a short time. Then silence took over. Vandhiyathevan realized that all of the uproar was for his capture. The betrayal by the doctor’s son also hovered in his mind!

Stupid fellow! Already he was imagining that he was in love with Poongkuzhali! Like a small pool of water falling in love with vadava muhakini! The story of the mouse wanting to wed the lioness! However, look at how this woman had taken advantage of his foolishness! How she had ignited the fire of jealousy in his heart? In fifteen minutes she had turned him into an enemy! The power of womanhood is immense!

Vandhiyathevan! You must agree on this! You have thought yourself to be very clever! You were proud that there was no one like you when it came to the art of subtlety and craftiness! But this unsophisticated woman out of the wilderness had triumphed over you! What’s to say of the strategy she employed to bring you here to this hidden hall from bathing in the sea? If she had not run off with your cloth-roll, by now, what might have happened? You would have got caught to the Pazhuvertaraiyar men! The mission would have been completely destroyed!… Yes, hereafter one cannot be so careless.

The sun set in the western sea. This is an extraordinary sight at Kodikarai. The southbound beach at this point turns at an angle and heads west. Therefore if one looks from the Kodikarai dune the sea can be seen spreading in the three directions of east, west and south. During certain months one can see the splendor of the sun and the moon rising from the eastern sea. One can also see them disappear in the western sea turning it bright and gold. Vandhiyathevan was tempted to climb on the sand dune to view the sunset. He suppressed his desire with great effort.

Night came surrounding from all four sides. The darkness that had inhabited the hall grew ten times darker. Vandhiyathevan could not wait there any longer. He climbed out. He stood on the sand dune that covered the hall. The light of the lighthouse lamp was visible from far away. In the sky the stars sparkled as diamonds. Many strange sounds originated in the forest. There was a difference between the daytime and the nighttime sounds of the forest. The night sounds were filled with mystery creating fear in the heart and goose bumps on the limbs. At day the heart does not flutter even at the sight of a tiger; there is no fear. At night one is paralyzed even at the sound of a tiny mouse in the bush!

The sound of the koel; ‘cuckoo! cuckoo!’ It sounded as music from heaven in Vandhiyathevan’s ears. He went in the direction of the sound. Poongkuzhali stood there. ‘Come with me without making a noise’, she signaled. The beach was close-by from there.

On the beach the boat was ready. In it were the mast and the rolled up sail and rope to tie the sail. From the boat there were two rods sticking out. A large piece of wood was tied to these rods. Vandhiyathevan went to help lower the boat in the water.

“You just wait!” Poongkuzhali gestured.

She moved the boat into the water with ease. The boat went in without a sound.

Vandhiyathevan tried to climb in. “Sh! Wait a while! After I go a short distance you can get in!” Poongkuzhali said in a soft voice as she dragged the boat in.

Vandhiyathevan also pushed the boat thinking he could help. The boat stopped. “If you just came along that would be sufficient!” said Poongkuzhali.

Once they had come beyond the crashing waves of the shore she said, “Now we can get in!” and climbed in first. Vandhiyathevan also jumped in. The boat rocked unnervingly. It looked as if Vandhiyathevan would fall into the sea; he managed to sit down. Yet his heart was pounding, ‘thud’ ‘thud’.

“Now we can speak, can’t we?” he asked.

“Of course you can. If you are no longer shaking you can!” said Poongkuzhali.

“Shaking? Who is shaking? Nothing of the sort.”

“If you aren’t, then alright!”

“Shouldn’t we tie the mast?”

“If we raise the sail those on the shore might see us. They’ll come running and catch us.”

“Now if they come I will take care of them. You don’t have to be afraid at all!” Vandhiyathevan began to talk about his fearless nature.

“Now the wind is blowing in the opposite direction. If we raise the sail it will push the boat back to the shore. After midnight the wind might change. Then the sail will be useful!” said Poongkuzhali.

“Oh! You seem to know all of this well; that is why your father recommended you.”

“My father? Whom do you mean?”

“Your father. Thiyagavidanka Karaiyar from the lighthouse.”

“On the shore he is my father, once in the sea…”

“Even your father is no longer yours, is it?”

“Yes; here the ocean king is my father. My other name is ‘princess of the sea.’ No one told you this?”

“No! What’s this strange name?”

“Don’t some people call the emperor’s younger son, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’? Like that!”

Upon hearing this Vandhiyathevan felt around his waist for his cloth-roll.

Observing his action Poongkuzhali asked, “Is it there securely?”

“What are you talking about?”

“About what you have in your cloth-roll.”

An alarm went on in Vandhiyathevan’s mind. A suspicion was born.

While speaking to him Poongkuzhali rowed the boat. The boat was moving.

“When will we reach the island of Ilankai?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“If two people rowed we can be there by sunrise, if the wind is on our side!”

“I will also row; I won’t leave you to it?”

Vandhiyathevan took the oar near him and started rowing. Ah! Rowing isn’t an easy task. Rather strenuous work. The boat whirled around and came to a complete stop.

“What’s this? When you row, the boat is moving. As soon as I touched, it came to a stop!”

“Aren’t I the sea princess? That is why! If you just wait that’s enough! Somehow I will land you in Ilankai; alright?”

Vandhiyathevan felt embarrassed. He remained quiet for a while. Looking around his eyes fell on the rods extending from the boat and the piece of wood.

“What is this wood for?” he asked.

“To prevent the boat from rocking too much.”

“Can the boat rock more than this? Isn’t it rocking plenty now? I feel that I am going to be dizzy.”

“You call this rocking? You should see during October, November when the north wind blows!”

From the shore the sea looked as quiet as a sheet of metal. But in truth it wasn’t so, Vandhiyathevan realized. Waves devoid of any froth were rising and falling. They were rocking the boat like a cradle.

“When there is heavy wind what can this piece of wood do?”

“Depends on how heavy the wind is. Normally even during heavy wind this piece of wood will prevent the boat from capsizing. In case of a cyclone, if the boat turns over this piece of wood can be untied from the boat, holding on to it one can try to save his life.”

“Aiyo! The boat will turn over in the wind, will it?”

“If there is a cyclone even big ships will go to pieces. What can this small boat do?”

“What is a cyclone?”

“Don’t you know? When winds from opposite directions crash into each other there is a whirlwind. In the months of January and February the wind is from the east here. There is no danger then. Easily one can go back and forth between Kodikarai and Ilankai. One can go and return during the night. From May there is the southwest wind. It’s a little difficult going to Ilankai from here with the southwest wind. Now the season is between southwest and north winds. Both winds will sometimes meet over the sea. The wind will churn the sea like a rod churning milk to produce curd. Waves the size of mountains will rise and fall. There will be huge depressions in the sea. In these depressions water will churn like a centrifuge. If the boat gets caught in this centrifugal force there is no return.”

A sudden fear appeared in Vandhiyathevan’s mind. With it dawned a suspicion.

“Aiyo! I don’t want to come! Take me back to the shore!” he shouted.

“What are you howling? Be quiet! If you are afraid close your eyes or go to sleep!”

Vandhiyathevan’s suspicion was now confirmned. “You are a cunning woman! You are planning to drown me in the sea. You think that if I sleep your job will be easy!”

“What madness is this?”

“I have no madness! Will you turn the boat or not? If you don’t turn I will jump into the sea!”

“Jump, by all means! But before you jump give me the letter that you are taking to Ponniyin Selvan!

“Oh! How did you know about that letter?”

“By opening the cloth-roll tied around your waist. Would I agree to ferry the boat without finding out who you are and why you are going to Ilankai? In the morning I sat on the tree and opened your cloth-roll and saw the letter…”

“Deceitful woman! I came trusting you! Will you turn the boat or not?”

Vandhiyathevan’s fear and frenzy escalated ten fold. “Turn the boat! Turn the boat!” he screamed.

“If I was junior stateswoman Kundavai I would not have sent such an important letter through an unsteady fellow like you!” said Poongkuzhali.

“Oho! You even know who sent the letter! There is no doubt that you are a traitor. Will you turn the boat? Shall I jump in the sea?”

“Jump! Jump all you want!” said Poongkuzhali.

Furiously Vandhiyathevan jumped into the sea.

He had assumed that the water will be the same depth as it was near the shore. He did not know that the boat was by then in the deep sea. He realized it after jumping. Screaming, he fought his way in the water.

By now Vandhiyathevan had learnt to swim. But his usual fear of the water turned his hands and legs weak. In the river or pond, having the shore within eyesight gave one courage; this was the great ocean. There was nothing but water on all four sides. The waves were not strong. Yet, one took him up and one brought him down. When he was up his eyes saw the boat. “Oh!” he shouted. When he went down the boat could not be seen. All around was a dark wall of water. His tongue lost the ability to even shout, ‘Oh!’. When the sea wave brought him up a third time it seemed as if the boat had gone farther away. ‘That’s it! I am going to drown in the sea and die’, the thought appeared in his mind! Not only I will drown; but my cloth-roll and the letter in it will also drown! Kundavai Devi’s face came before his mind’s eye.

“This is what you did?” it seemed to ask.

“Aha! What dreams I had? What fantasies I built? How I dreamed of redeeming the old kingdom of Vanar tribe, being seated on the throne set in diamonds with the junior stateswoman next to me? All that had been ruined! This miserable woman had ruined it! She is not a woman; a devil in a woman’s body! She is with the Pazhuvertaraiyars. No, she is with that treacherous devil Nandhini. There is no harm even if I drown in the sea and die. If only this female devil would get caught to me I will strangle her neck… Chee chee! What manner of thinking! Let’s think of something good before dying! Think about god! Umapathy! Parameshwara! Lord of Pazhani! Lord who sleeps on the sea of milk!… Kundavai Devi! Forgive me. I am leaving without finishing the work I agreed to do… There is the boat. If only that woman will get caught in my hands!…”

After Vandhiyathevan jumped in the sea Poongkuzhali didn’t pay attention for a while. She thought he will somehow swim and climb back into the boat. Wishing to let him struggle for a while she put more distance between the boat and him. Soon she knew she had been mistaken. ‘He doesn’t know swimming that well; in addition he is also frightened; his cries of ‘Ah’ and ‘Oh’ are not for fun; he is genuinely terrified. In a short while he will begin to gulp the saltwater! Then he will drown. After that no one can even find his body. Oh no! I have made a mistake? It’s as if this comedy will end in a tragedy! I should have kept my mouth shut until the opposite shore was reached. I should not have disclosed that I knew his secret. I was in too much of a hurry. But who knew that this moron will behave this way? Who knew that he was so afraid of water?’

When Poongkuzhali saw Vandhiyathevan again on top of the wave she began to row the boat towards him. In a second the boat was near him. “Come! Come! Come and get in!” she said. But it didn’t appear that it fell on his ears. Even if it fell it didn’t seem as if he was going to grab the boat and climb in. Along with hearing he appeared to have lost his ability to see as well. But he retained his ability to howl. He raised one hand, lifted his head and cried ‘Oh!’ for a second. Poongkuzhali knew that it was the lamenting cry of a man who had lost all hope and was about to drown. When he lifted his head in the dim light of the crescent moon his face came into view for a second. It was the face of a madman at the height of his desperation! It was futile to think that he would come by his own volition and climb into the boat!… I will have to save him and get him on the boat. A fine predicament I invited myself into! They say that a woman’s wit is second rate, it is indeed true!

Poongkuzhali at once went to work. She tied one end of the rope that lay with the mast in the boat to the wooden piece that was jutting out from the boat. She tied the other end around her waist; she jumped into the sea. She threw her hands out and swam in style. She went close to Vandhiyathevan. She stopped when she was at arm’s length of him.

Vandhiyathevan also saw her. On his face and in his eyes lurked a murderous rage.

Poongkuzhali’s mind reasoned at high gear. She knew about the reflexive impulse of those who didn’t know how to swim and those about to drown through fatigue. If anyone came to save them, they will grip that person’s shoulder or neck with such force as to render that person unable to swim. Their love for their own life at that moment will give them an elephant’s strength. Their death hold on the person who comes to save them will in effect drown that person. This person cannot relieve himself from their demonic clutch or swim. Together both will head towards the bottom of the sea!

Knowing all of this Poongkuzhali thought at lightening speed; she made a decision. She went closer to Vandhiyathevan who was desperately fighting for his life. She moved to face him. Using one hand to swim, she clenched her fist and raised the other hand. She punched Vandhiyathevan on his face. It fell between his nose and forehead. Borne from the hand toughened by rowing the punch struck Vandhiyathevan like vajrayutham. His head fragmented a thousand times. His eyes were ten thousand tiny bits. In front of each bit flew a hundred thousand lightening sparks. In each lightening spark appeared the face of the sea princess laughing demonically, ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha’. His ears turned deaf in the formidable laughter of a thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand demons. After that he was unable to hear; he was unable to see! He lost consciousness! Endless darkness! Unlimited silence!

8. SPIRIT ISLAND

The goddess of the skies; perhaps her intellect is of the same order as the human race! Human beings allow themselves to lose the eternal light that is god from the spiritual universe of their heart. They then search for the eternal light in dark temples by lighting a thousand lamps in courtyards and sanctuaries.

The celestial goddess also performs a similarly ‘wise’ act everyday! She allows the brilliant sun-god to descend into the sea. Then she becomes desolate over the absence of her mate. She lights a hundred thousand lamps to search for the sun! Is it only a hundred thousand lamps? Her lights are in the order of millions, never fading while sleeplessly she searches for the sun!

When Vandhiyathevan came to his senses and opened his eyes, he saw thousands of flames flickering in front of his eyes; he wondered which temple it was where they had lit so many lamps. He realized then that they were not lamps, but the luminescent stars of the sky. He saw that he was lying on his back in the boat and that a rope was tied to the wet cloth around his waist. The cool breeze that touched his body gave him immense comfort. The affirmative chant of the quiet sea created an extraordinary degree of peace in his mind.

Amid the chant a song was heard. What is this song? Where and when has he heard it before?

while the wind crawls and the ocean is calm  

why is there a tornado in this girl’s heart?

while the sea with its waves is quiet

why is the inner sea so tumultuous?

Aha! That strange girl! Poongkuzhali! He raised himself a little and looked. Yes, it was her! She is ferrying the boat! Singing that sad song she is rowing the boat! Like a stroke of lightening that sheds light fleetingly on objects in the dark, Vandhiyathevan remembered the previous night’s events in a flash. Which is, that Poongkuzhali jumped into the sea when he was struggling and swam towards him. He didn’t remember anything that happened after that. She must have saved him and got him onto the boat. To prevent him from again jumping into the sea while the boat was going she had tied the rope around his waist with the other end secured to the cross bar of the boat. So that the rope will not graze his skin she had tied it around his waist cloth.

Vandhiyathevan touched the cloth-roll wrapped around his waist. The money and the letter were safe.

Aha! What a big mistake on his part to doubt this woman! If her intentions were bad she need not have saved him! How she must have struggled to get him on the boat in his tired and unconscious state? How did she manage it alone? An extraordinary girl!

There, she is getting up, why? Is she coming near him knowing that he is awake? What is she going to do? No! No! She is doing something else. Aha! She is going to raise the sail. What a tough job! And to do it all by herself?

“Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali!”

“Oho! You are awake?”

“Untie me! I will also help you.”

“You just wait. That would be a big help. If you want to untie the rope, you can do it yourself. But don’t jump into the sea again!”

Vandhiyathevan untied the rope that was fastened around him.

Poongkuzhali raised the mast upright. On it she let the sail spread! The boat now moved effortlessly; it also went fast.

“Sea Princess!”

“Why?”

“Thirsty!”

“You have gulped salt water, haven’t you? How can you not be thirsty?”

The sea princess took a flask and came near Vandhiyathevan.

“I even brought you food. When you jumped into the sea it also fell into the water! Fortunately this flask survived.”

She removed the cork from the flask and offered it to him. Vandhiyathevan took it and drank the water.

Clearing his throat he said, “I was mistaken about you; I am sorry about that.”

“There is no harm. Who are you? Who am I? In the morning we will go our own ways.”

“What time is it now?”

“Look at the sky and find out. Look at the saptarishi constellation!” said Poongkuzhali.

Vandhiyathevan looked at the north sky. From the time they started in the boat the group of seven stars had moved up a half circle. How faithfully the star of Arunthathi follows Vasishtar! It is a wonder! The north star alone had not moved from its place. Eons following eons, the north star has stayed at the point where the immense sky touches the far sea! It points the direction to scores of sailors. The north star! Someone used it as an example to describe someone? Who was it? I remember; Kudanthai astrologer did. He compared prince Arulmozhivarmar to the north star. Am I really going to have the opportunity to see the prince? Am I getting this opportunity through this girl’s help?

Poongkuzhali returned to her seat.

“Did you find out the time? It is half way through the third quarter of night. The wind has changed. By sunrise we will be in Nagatheevu,” she said.

“Nagatheevu?” Vandhiyathevan was startled.

“Yes; there are several islands along the northern edge of Ilankai. One of them is Nagatheevu. From there one can walk along the shore and reach the island of Ilankai without having to cross the sea again…”

“After dropping me what will you do?…”

“What do you care about me?” said Poongkuzhali.

“You did a great service to me, didn’t you? Shouldn’t I thank you? You said you will ask me for something in return, what is that?”

“I have changed my mind. I am not going to ask you anything. You have no gratitude.”

Vandhiyathevan realized that there was good reason for her rejection. Once again he confirmed the presence of the letter by feeling around his waist.

“Sea Princess! I am embarrassed for doubting you and for my behavior last night. Please forgive me!”

“Alright; you too forget about it! Think of what needs to be done! After I leave you in Ilankai what will you do? How will you find out the prince’s location?”

“God who had helped me to cross this sea would help me with that also!”

“You seem to have a lot of faith in god. Do you think that god pays attention to the concerns of ordinary people like us?”

“I haven’t gone that far with the philosophical inquiry. If there is a danger or difficulty I would pray to god. God also helps me in time. Didn’t god send you to ferry the boat in this sea?”

“Don’t be so vain. I didn’t come to ferry the boat for your sake. God didn’t appear in my dream and tell me to help you…”

“Then why did you save me yesterday? Why are you ferrying the boat now!”

“You don’t ask me about it. It is my private matter.”

Vandhiyathevan sank into a silent reverie. A thought appeared in his proud mind. He wondered whether this girl had fallen for his good looks. He immediately ruled that thought out. Her talk and behavior didn’t leave any room for such thought. There is another mysterious reason. I must dig her mouth and find out.

“There is something that worries me…” he said.

“What is that? Even you have worries?”

“They say that Ilankai is full of mountains and forests.”

“More than half of Ilankai is indeed mountains and forests.”

“They say there are wild animals all over.”

“Herds of wild elephants can be found. Sometimes groups of them can be found outside the forest also.”

“I have heard that the people there are uncivilized.”

“That is completely untrue.”

“In that case, alright; if you say then it must be so. In this wilderness I have to find out where prince Arulmozhivarmar is.”

“You said just a while ago that it should not be difficult?”

“Yes; I did. I was thinking at first what possible difficulty could there be in finding the location of the sun.”

“Now your thoughts are different?”

“The clouds can be hiding the sun; Or it may be at the bottom of the sea.”

“Neither cloud nor sea can hide this sun. The cloud that tries to hide Ponniyin Selvar will receive light; the sea will shimmer!”

How she becomes excited while speaking about the prince? Like most citizens of Chola Nadu this girl also considers him to be god! What is this power of attraction that Arulmozhivarmar holds? – With these thoughts in his mind he said, “In that case are you saying that it won’t be difficult to find the prince in Ilankai?”

“If you inquire along the way where the Chola garrison is, then that will reveal where the prince is.”

“How can that be? I heard that the Chola garrison is spread over half of Ilankai?”

“Yes; I too heard that the Chola troops are spread from Mathottam to Pulastiya town…”

“So? In such a big area who knows where the prince might be? It will take many days to find my way through the forest and locate him. I have to deliver this letter to him immediately. You have seen the letter? You know how urgent it is?”

The sea princess remained silent without answering.

“If I know for certain where the prince was I can head there straight without wandering around,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“There is a way,” said Poongkuzhali.

“I asked you in that hope.”

“In the morning I said I will drop you off at Nagatheevu, didn’t I?”

“Yes!”

“Near Nagatheevu is Spirit Island.”

“Even the island’s name sounds scary!”

“Don’t be afraid! The island’s name used to be Spiritual Island. When Lord Buddha visited Ilankai this is where he is said to have landed first. He sat under the fig tree there and preached the Buddhist philosophy. Therefore it received the name Spritual Island…”

“Later on it changed into ‘Spirit Island.’

“Yes! Most people are frightened like you when they hear the name ‘Spirit Island.’ Usually no one goes to this island. Only those who aren’t afraid of ghosts will venture.”

“That is, only strong people like you would. Aren’t you the one not even afraid of the fire-mouthed ghost? Alright; what were you going to say about Spirit Island?”

“If you wait for half an hour at Spirit Island I can find out where Ponniyin Selvar is in Ilankai…”

“Whom will you ask at Spirit Island…?”

“In Spirit island dwells a spirit. I will ask the spirit…”

“You will also show this spirit to me?”

“That, I cannot. You should not follow me into the island. If you promise me that you will keep an eye on the boat and wait on the shore then I will go and find out.”

“Alright, that is fine!” said Vallavaraiyan.

The wind blew pleasantly. Aided by the sail the boat tore into the water and sped. The affirmative chant of the sea continued.

Sleep was closing in on Vandhiyathevan’s eyes. He slipped away from his surroundings into the land of sleep.

9. THIS IS ILANKAI

When Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes again he was overwhelmed by the sight in front of him. In the eastern ceiling of the sky the sun was rising. The sea underneath shimmered like melted gold. The sun-goddess shone in the golden silk dress she was wearing. Facing him in the direction of the boat was an emerald island wrapped in the blue robe of the sea. On the right was another patch of lustrous green earth. It wasn’t clear if it was an island surrounded by water or land that extended and spread. Between the two emerald landmarks a closer look revealed the presence of more islands situated farther displaying many shades of green. All around the boat there were the seven colors of the rainbow as well as seven thousand combinations of these shades. To sum it up, this scene did not appear to be real. It appeared as if a gifted painter had taken the vow, ‘Let me show you what heaven would look like!’ and had gone on to prove it.

“This is not heaven; this is Ilankai!” The words fell on Vandhiyathevan’s ears as he stood mesmerized by the scenery and woke him up.

“Yes; it is true that I was wondering if this was heaven!” said Vandhiyathevan.

“This is not heaven on earth; but it is heaven-like earth. Evil demi-gods in the form of humans have been for a long time trying to turn this heaven into hell,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Who are you calling evil demi-gods?” he asked.

“People like you who have turned war into an occupation.”

“Even Ponniyin Selvar?”

“Why are you asking me about him?”

“You said that you will find out about the prince?”

“I said I will inquire about where he is. I didn’t say that I am going to find out if he is human, demon or god?”

The boat was approaching the islands. Instead of the mid-ocean’s monosyllabic chant the sound of the waves crashing on the shore could now be heard.

“What do you say? Directly opposite, that is Spirit Island, on the right is Nagatheevu. Where shall I go? Shall I drop you in Nagatheevu? You can make your inquiries and proceed.”

“No; Let’s go to Spirit Island. Even if it would delay me, it’s better to proceed knowing the whereabouts of the prince.”

“In that case, alright; remember the promise you made me!”

The boat stopped on the shore of the small island. Asking Vandhiyathevan to keep an eye on the boat Poongkuzhali went into this emerald island. Vandhiyathevan looked in the direction she was going. Soon she disappeared between the green trees.

Vandhiyathevan thought about how Spiritual Island had morphed into Spirit Island. Then he wondered what kind of spirit lived on the island. From there he went on to contemplate about the nature of the mystery that resided in this strange girl’s heart.

As she had said Poongkuzhali came back in half an hour. She climbed into the boat and asked Vandhiyathevan also to get in. The boat went towards Nagatheevu.

“Were you able to find out anything?” asked Vallavaraiyan.

“Chief minister Anirutha Bramahrayar has come to Mathottam to see Ponniyin Selvar. Yesterday the prince also must have arrived in Mathottam. It is not known for how many days he may stay at Mathottam. You can go there and find out,” said Poongkuzhali.

“How far is Mathottam from here?”

“About a mile or so. All forest land. Don’t think it’s like the Kodikarai jungle. Dense forest with sky reaching trees. Even during the day some places would be dark. There are herds of elephants and other wild animals. You have to go carefully.”

“If only there was a smart girl like you to show the way through the forest…?” Vallavaraiyan sighed.

“Then, what are you here for! Give me the letter! I will deliver it myself… No, I cannot! I am speaking like a madwoman. I absolutely cannot. You accepted the mission from the junior stateswoman, didn’t you? You must complete it!” she said.

“Alright, Poongkuzhali! I will carry it out. Even if another person begged me I will not give it. Haven’t you helped me already? That is enough!”

The boat was approaching Nagatheevu. Poongkuzhali’s hands were rowing the boat in the usual manner. But it was obvious that her mind was far away in a dreamland.

“Sea Princess!” She came back to this world, startled by Vandhiyathevan’s voice.

“Why did you call me?” she asked.

“You wanted a favor in return? It’s better if you tell me now. The shore is nearing.”

Poongkuzhali did not reply at once; she seemed to be thinking. Therefore Vandhiyathevan was emboldened to go further.

“This is a very big help that you have done for me. You didn’t just help me; you have helped the Chola empire. You have performed a great service to the Chola emperor’s kin. My mind will not be at peace if I do not reciprocate this,” he said.

“Do you really mean what you are saying? Or are you being deceitful like all other men in the world?”

“I promise in the name of the ocean king.”

“You mean a promise written on water?”

“I promise in the name of the goddess of the sky, the goddess of the earth, the regents of the eight cardinal points, the sun and the moon.”

“I am not saying because of your promises and vows. Those who lie and deceive, would they bow down to promises and vows? From the first time I saw you, you appeared to be a good man. That is why I am saying…”

“First impressions are the best. You don’t have to change it.”

“After meeting Ponniyin Selvar and handing him the letter, after discussing everything that needs to be discussed, when he has time ask him, ‘Do you remember the Sea Princess?’ If he says, ‘Yes, I remember,’ then tell him ‘She is the one who ferried the boat and dropped me off in Ilankai!”

‘Poongkuzhali! Are you aiming to fly that high? Can a little bird hope to mimic the flight of the falcon, the king of the jungle? This is not good for you, is it?’ – Vandhiyathevan thought to himself. To Poongkuzhali he said, “Is this what you were so reluctant to say? I thought that you were going to ask for something big. I will certainly tell the prince! Even if he does not ask I will tell!…”

“Aiyaiyo! If he does not ask you don’t have to bring it up!”

“Can’t; I will tell!”

“What will you say?”

“I will tell exactly what happened. ‘Prince! Ponniyin Selvar! You remember the Sea Princess? If you don’t remember, now please remind yourself! She is the one who saved me from getting caught to the murderous Pazhuvertaraiyar men. She is the one who rowed the boat singlehandedly and brought me to Ilankai. She is the one who saved my life and got me back on the boat when I was drowning in the sea. If not for the help of the Sea Princess I could not have come to see you alive. You would not have got this letter also!’ This is what I will tell, alright?”

“Up to now, correct. Don’t add anything more! Don’t say that I told you to tell him all of this!”

“Oh, no! Did you think that I was a complete idiot?”

“If the prince said anything in response, you have to tell me exactly what he said. No addition or subtraction.”

“Where will I see you again?”

“What is the difficulty in seeing me? I will be at Kodikarai or in this Spirit Island or in between the two on the boat.”

“When I am returning home if I come this way shall I look for you in Spirit Island?”

“You should not enter the island for any reason; if you do there will be bad consequences. See if this boat is on the shore! If it is, give me some kind of signal! Yesterday I cooed like the koel, can you do the same?…”

“I cannot coo like the koel; but I can sound like the peacock. Listen!”

Vandhiyathevan covered his mouth and made a formidable sound to imitate the peacock.

Poongkuzhali laughed out loud upon hearing it.

The boat reached the shore of Nagatheevu. Both got down from the boat. Vandhiyathevan bid farewell. Poongkuzhali turned the boat. Vandhiyathevan looked back with vain hope. There was still remaining in his mind the desire that she would say ‘I will come with you’ and join him. But Poongkuzhali did not notice him. Her face showed that she had already left to inhabit the world of her dreams.

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From → Notes

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