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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (24 – 25)

May 16, 2015

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

24. LIKE WAX OVER FIRE

Both the parrot’s screech and the maid’s cry of alarm, startled Nandhini and Kanthamaran. When Kanthamaran turned and saw Pazhuvertaraiyar coming he was terrified. The thought dawned in his head whether he might have heard him saying just a while ago, ‘I too dislike Pazhuvertaraiyar.’ A more terrifying thought, the thought that he might misconstrue him and Nandhini together, frightened him. Isn’t the manner of those who marry in their old age somewhat peculiar? That is why he is coming so fast? It is not clear what he is coming for. Be prepared for anything.

All of this washed over in Kanthamaran’s mind as a wave of thoughts within one second. But he had the opportunity that day to witness a great wonder. Against all his expectations this wonder took place. When Pazhuvertaraiyar approached, Nandhini happily looked at him with her dark eyes and said, “Lord! I was thinking that it may be many days before you returned. Fortunately you are back!”

When he saw her face and heard that voice, Pazhuvertaraiyar’s anger and frenzy fled. He melted like wax over fire. With a silly laugh he said, “Yes; the matter was taken care of; so I returned.”

After looking at Kanthamaran and asking, “What is this boy doing here? Did he compose a love poem and present you with it?” he laughed at his own joke.

Kanthamaran’s face turned red. But Nandhini, laughing louder than Pazhuvertaraiyar said, “He knows neither love nor poem; all he knows is to get into a fight and get hurt. Fortunately the wound is healed. He was saying that he wants to go back to his place!”

“What is to be said of the valor of the children these days? I was wounded sixty four times in twenty four battlefields. But not even once I lay on a bed. It had taken over half a month for his wound to heal. But my wounds are on my chest, shoulder, head and face. This boy was wounded on his back, wasn’t he? So it has taken so many days. It makes sense!” He laughed sarcastically.

Kanthamaran rose furiously and said, “Sir! You are in my father’s position. That is why I am tolerating your joke!”

“If not, what would you have done, fellow?” Pazhuvertaraiyar asked placing his hand on the dagger that lay in its case.

Nandhini interrupted. “Lord! Not only is he wounded on his back. You know that his heart has also been wounded! The thought that someone he considered to be his friend had stabbed him in this manner on his back had left a big sore in his heart. Even the wound on his back has healed; the heart’s sore hasn’t. We should not talk as if prodding that sore with a stick. That night, that night he was wounded, you know what happened, don’t you?” Nandhini’s glance at Pazhuvertaraiyar must have had a hidden meaning. At once the expression on Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face changed.

“Yes; What you say is correct! A pity, he is an innocent boy. His father is a friend as dear as life. I should not of course mind what he said in ignorance. Let it be. Nandhini! I came to give an important news. He should also hear it. Someone suspected of spying had been caught in Ilankai Mathottam. He has in his possession a letter to Arulmozhivarman. From the description, I am thinking that it may be our Kanthamaran’s beautiful friend. He must be quite strong. See how he evaded our men and escaped to Ilankai!” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

Both of the others didn’t notice the momentary change that took place in Nandhini’s facial expression.

“Aday! Did he escape? He had gone to Ilankai?” Kanthamaran said with disappointment.

“Lord! It does not seem to me a miracle that he escaped. I have said many times that your brother is not qualified to manage the safety of this frotress. The men he sent would also be of the same caliber!” said Nandhini.

“It didn’t seem to me right when you have pointed it out before. Now I am of the same mind. Listen to another revelation! The spy who was caught in Mathottam had our Pazhuvur seal in his possession. He didn’t tell how he got it!…”

Nandhini sighed gently and said, “What is this joke? How did he get the palmyrah seal? What does your brother say about it?”

“Him? You will laugh if you hear what he says! Kalanthakan says that the palmyrah seal must have gone from you to him!” Pazhuvertaraiyar laughed out loud like thunder. It seemed as if the entire gazebo shook in response to that laughter. The trees in the palace garden shuddered.

Nandhini, laughing along with him said, “My brother-in-law, there is no one in these two times seven fourteen worlds whose intellect can compare to his sharp wit!”

“Do you know what else your brother-in-law is saying? Good joke! Whenever I think of it I want to laugh! It seems that Indrajith had met and spoken to you at the Thanjai fortress entrance when you were coming in your palanquin. Then this magician had also come inside the palace. Therefore you must have given the Pazhuvur seal to him! Or else, there is a magician who frequently visits you, it must have gone through him! To hide his stupidity he is making it all up senselessly!” Pazhuvertaraiyar again laughed, ‘HaHaHa,’ exposing all of his long teeth.

“It was a gross mistake of mine to have doubts about my brother-in-law’s sharp intellect. His intellect is the tender shoot on the pestle! No doubt! But what surprises me is your passive response to all of this!” said Nandhini. The expression on her face has again changed. Now there were mustard and gram exploding from it. Sparks of fire flew out of her eyes.

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, the most brave among the brave who had withstood many a spear in the battlefield, faltered, unable to withstand even Nandhini’s slightest anger. Suddenly there was a weakness in his appearance and speech.

“Devi! Do you think that I remained passive hearing it? I made him cry pointing out his inability. If you had seen you would have taken pity on him!” he said.

Listening to all of this Kanthamaran was caught in a dilemma. He felt a little fearful of Nandhini, pity and disrespectful toward Pazhuvertaraiyar. He wanted to leave without getting caught in this couple’s domestic dispute. Clearing his throat he said, ‘Sir!’

Nandhini interrupted and asked, “We have forgotten about him while discussing my brother-in-law’s skills. He says that he wants to go back to his place, he can go, can he?”

“He can go by all means. His father must be worried about him having waited here for so long!”

“I want to send a letter through him, can I?”

“A letter? To whom?”

“To the prince in Kanji!”

Pazhuvertaraiyar looked at Nandhini and Kanthamaran with suspicion in his eyes and asked, “A letter to the prince? You are writing? What for?”

“The junior stateswoman had written a letter to her younger brother and sent it through his friend. Why should not the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani write to the elder brother?” said Nandhini.

“The letter that his friend took was written by the junior stateswoman Kundavai? How did you find this out?” asked Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“Why else is the magician visiting me frequently? It was discovered through his magic. Now we do know the capability of my brother-in-law’s men! They found out that he had the palmyrah seal with him, but didn’t say that the letter was sent by Kundavai, See!”

“Our men didn’t tell about the seal; Anbil Brahmarayar has gone to Rameshvaram and returned. He brought the news…”

“Did that Brahmin at least tell you of the letter from Kundavai Devi?”

“No.”

“Lord! Remember my warning to you. Didn’t I say that everyone in this empire is trying to avenge you? Do you at lease now see that this is true? I didn’t rely on just the magician’s word. I had the doctor’s son who was arrested in Kodikarai also to be brought here and made inquiries. He also confirmed it. He said that the junior stateswoman had sent a letter to her younger brother!” said Nandhini.

Pazhuvertaraiyar felt as if he had been let loose in the forest with his eyes bound by a cloth. He looked at Kanthamaran with disgust. He didn’t like speaking about all of this in the presence of that little boy.

Nandhini realizing this by instinct said, “Let our tale be. Why should his journey be delayed?” To Kanthamaran, she said, “Sir! You must hand this letter in person to the prince in Kanji. After giving, if he gives a letter in response, you must send it over with the utmost vigilance. Don’t forget to invite the prince to your Kadampoor palace!”

“What should I say to my father? I can say that this is the Pazhuvur king’s wish?” Kanthamaran asked hesitantly.

“Of course, you can. My wish is also the Pazhuvur king’s wish. Lord! Aren’t I right?” said Nandhini.

“Yes; yes!” Pazhuvertaraiyar nodded his head. He didn’t understand anything. His head was spinning. He could not also speak against Nandhini.

After Kanthamaran left, Nandhini devoted her attractive eyes to Pazhuvertaraiyar, and in the voice of a pet parrot said, ‘Lord; it appears that your trust in me has been diminished! It appears that my brother-in-law’s evil counsel has won!”

“Never, Nandhini! Even if I lose confidence in the spear in my hand and the sword on my waist I would never lose confidence in you. Even if I lose faith in the martyrs’ heaven, I will not lose faith in you!” he said.

“If this is true, then why did you ask all those questions in front of that little boy, why? It was embarrassing for me!” When Nandhini spoke tears began to well in her eyes.

Pazhuvertaraiyar was mortified. “Don’t, my Darling! In this way! Don’t punish me!” He said wiping Nandhini’s tears and pacifying her.

“Nevertheless, I don’t understand some of your actions. Don’t I have the right to ask what, where from and what for?” he said.

“You have the right to ask. I also have the right to tell. Who says no? I said not to ask in front of strangers. Whatever you need, ask me now!” she said.

“Why are you sending a letter to Athitha Karikalan? Why are you telling to invite him to Kadampoor palace? Isn’t he the prime enemy against our plan’s victory?” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“No, no! Athitha Karikalar is not our prime enemy. Our prime enemy is that Pazhaiyarai female serpent. Why did I ask her over to our palace? For the same reason I am asking to invite Athitha Karikalan to Kadampoor. Lord! Please remind yourself now of what I have said often. Haven’t I said that the junior stateswoman Kundavai harbors a secret idea in her mind? I have found out what that is. She has decided to exclude everyone else and seat her younger brother Arulmozhivarman on the Thanjavur throne. She had sent the messenger to Ilankai for that reason. She has come to Thanjai now for that reason. We must have a counter-plot to her plot and make sure that her plan does not succeed. Now you understand why I sent a letter to Kanji, don’t you?” Nandhini’s glance following her question pierced his heart and unsettled his mind.

Even if he didn’t see anything, the brave old man babbled, “Yes, I see!”

“Lord! This Chola empire today has spread forth in this manner because of the many brave deeds of your ancestors and yourself. This poor soul’s eyes will not know a night or day’s sleep until it sees you even for a day on the golden throne of this Thanjaipuri! In the meantime, if any suspicions should arise implicating me, then please kill me with one stroke of the sword that you carry on your body!” said Nandhini.

“My darling! Don’t torture me with such kind and cruel words!” said the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar.

25. THE GREAT CITY OF MATHOTTAM

It has been a long time since we departed from Vandhiyathevan. Even though it is only a few days it appears like a long time.

Within these few days Vandhiyathevan had walked along the shore of Eelam and reached the great city of Mathottam on the Palavi riverbank.

Across the sea from Rameshvaram situated on the shore of Eezhanadu, this great city even now was a pleasant sight for the eyes with its thick groves resplendent with green trees just as it was in the times of Thirugnana Sambanathar and Sundaramoorthi. Mango, jack fruit, coconut, aricanut, banana and sugarcane had grown luxuriously around the shore. Monkeys swung from these trees. Beetles made music; Green parrots spoke in a baby toungue.

The sound of the waves crashing on the city’s walls was interminable. In Mathottam’s harbor large vessels as well as smaller boats stood close to each other. The goods that had been unloaded from them lay in heaps on the shore. Even though these were similar to waht was seen in Sambanthar and Sundarar’s times there were some changes. On the streets of Mathottam city the crowds of devotees flocking to Ketheesvara temple were not that prevalent. In the places where devotees had ecstatically sung about god were now seen soldiers. Dagger and shield, sword and spear in hand, soldiers roamed about here and there.

For more than hundred years the city had been a sacred place of war. Most of the troops coming from Tamilnadu for the war in Ilankai disembarked here. The troops that went back re-embarked here also. The city has changed hands many times. It was with the Ilankai kings sometimes and at other times with the Pandya kings. From the time of emperor Paranthakar it has been under the rule of the Cholars.

Vandhiyathevan stood one day at the fortress entrance of such a war pilgrmage city. He said that he wanted to go into the city. He said that he wanted to see the Chola commander. The guards refused to let him in. Because of it, he employed the same tactic that he had used before in Kadampoor. He attempted to enter by pushing away the guards forcibly. The guards arrested him and took him to the leader of the fortress. Vandhiyathevan told the fortress leader that he had brought an important letter for Arulmozhivarmar, and that he can disclose its details only to the Vhola commander. They tested him. They saw that he had a letter for ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ and the Pazhuvur palmyrah emblem.

At that time Kodumbalur’s great velar Poothi Vickramakesari was the commander of the Ilankai battalion. They went and told him. Poothi Vickramakesari was at that time speaking to Anirutha Brahmarayar. He was about to go up to Rameshvaram with him. Therefore he instructed that he would talk to him on his return and until then to keep him under custody.

They then took Vandhiyathevan and locked him up in a room in a dilapidated palace. They also guarded the entrance. Vandhiyathevan was tired after a long journey. Therefore, he was happy about his imprisonment. One could get some rest for a couple of days without any hassle!

He had such relaxation on the first day. But on the second day there was a problem.

From the room next to his strange sounds started to be heard. Some fellow was issuing threats to another one. His threat vocabulary was inadvertent. ‘Here!’, ‘Chee Chee!’, ‘Go! Go!’, ‘Don’t come near me!’, ‘If you come closer I will kill you!’, ‘I will beat you into a pulp!’, ‘Be careful!’, ‘Your life isn’t yours!’, ‘I will send you to Yamalokam!’, ‘with one kick your life would be gone!’ – a man was shoting from the next room. It wasn’t clear with whom he was having this tantrum. Only one voice was heard, there was no reciprocation. He had the suspicion perhaps it was a soldier from the war afflicted with madness. If it was, then he is going to make him lose sleep all night? If one seized the opportunity to sleep a little, there has come an obstacle for that too…!

“If I tell you, won’t you listen? You won’t just go, alright, alright! See what I will do with you!” Following these words something fell ‘plop’ into his room. Vandhiyathevan who was lying down bolted up. He stared at what had fallen. Immediately laughter took hold of him involuntarily. He laughed out loud. Because, what had come with such force from the next room was a cat!

“Oho! You know how to laugh also? Laugh! Laugh! Just don’t come here again!” the same voice said.

There was no doubt that it was some madman. Otherwise would he argue with a cat like this? Or would he think that the cat can laugh like human beings? But the astonishing fact was that he started to suspect that he knew the voice. He had heard it somewhere, at some time. But, whose voice? Where did he hear it? – He could not remember at all!

Vandhiyathevan lied down with the thought, ‘whatever, whoever.’ He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. But he could not sleep. After a short time there was something soft knocking on his feet. He opened his eyes and saw that the cat was sleeping there. Oh, God! How to fall asleep with this near my feet? He kicked it. The cat moved away. He closed his eyes; again there was something like velvet near his hand. He opened his eyes and saw that the cat was sleeping next to him, cuddling against him!

Again he pushed it with his hand. The cat went away. Again he closed his eyes. The cat came and lied down next to his head and began to caress his forehead with its tail.

The soldier who could fearlessly shoulder the sword and the spear could not stand the experinec of the cat patting him with its tail. He got up, and grabbed the cat by its neck. On the wall between his room and the next, near the top there was a crack and a small opening. He threw the cat through that.

In the next room there was a riot for a short time. With the cries of the human voice joined the clawing and gnawing of the cat. After a while was heard the dismissal, ‘Go! Get lost!’ The cat’s ‘meow meow’ sound traveled a short distance and then was lost. Silence prevailed after.

Vandhiyathevan closed his eyes. In a state of semi-sleep he had a dream. A very pleasant dream. The junior stateswoman Kundavai came and sat next tohim and caressed his forehead. Aha! What a difference between the cat’s tail and the princess’s fingers!

Suddenly he was awake. He was sorry that the dream was disturbed.

From the next room someone was tapping on the wall. It must be that lunatic.

“Who is there? Who is it that threw the cat?”

Vandhiyathevan didn’t reply. He was silent. Ah! What’s this, again it sounds like the cat clawing? No, no! Someone is trying to climb the wall on the other side!

Vandhiyathevan didn’t get up. He was listening carefully with his ears. But as a precaution his hand was on the knife’s handle.

From the top of the wall there appeared first a pair of hands in the opening. Then a turban was seen. From underneath the turban a face appeared and peered down.

Ah! Isn’t he Azhvarkadiyan? Because of the turban he looks different in appearance! But there is no doubt that it is Azhvarkadiyan. Why and how has he come here? He must have come knowing that I am here! Has he come to help? Or has he come to hinder? Vandhiyathevan sat up and said, “Oh, brave Vaishnava! Welcome! Welcome! Welcome to Thiruketheesvaram, the sacred place of Saiva devotion! Welcome!”

“Brother! Is it you? I thought as much! Who else can sit here silently without a sound like the sly Pillaiyar?” said Azhvarkadiyan jumping into the room.

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