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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (26 – 27)

May 24, 2015

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

26. BLOODTHIRSTY KNIFE

Vandhiyathevan’s mind was troubled about how and why that fanatic Vaishnavar had ended up there. Yet he did not show it.

“Talk about amusement? Just a while ago I thought about you. I look up and you are coming over the wall. They say ‘the god who is benevelont will tear down the roof with his gift’, that is true indeed!” he said.

“Appan! You thought about me just now? Why should you think of this hellish guy? There is benefit in thinking about Ramapiran himself…”

“We should award your mouth with some sweet. At first I did think about Ramapiran. When I was coming here across the sea the tower of Rameshvaram could be seen on the shore. I thought about how Ramar did a pooja there to Sivan and alleviated himself of the sin of killing Ravanan…”

“Stop, Brother! Stop!”

“Can’t stop, Swami! I cannot stop. I walked and walked, stopping and stopping, my legs are begging. You also kindly please sit down. So, I was thinking about Raman? Following that I was reminded of Rama devotee Hanumar. As soon as I thought of Hanumar I was reminded of you. To see, you, yourself have come. Did you only climb the wall, or like Hanumar did you also leap across the ocean?”

“Brother, where is the great and eminent disciple Hanumar? Where is the humble servant that is me? Hanumar came to Ilankai and destroyed Rakshashas like Akshaya Kumar. Pity me, I could not even take care of a cat. Look here! How a cat has scratched my legs and drawn blood!” Azhvarkadiyan showed the wounds on his legs.

“Adaada! Is this what happened? But why after all did you go for a fight with a cat…?”

“I did not go for a fight. It came to fight with me…”

“How is that, Swami?”

“I came in search of you. Fooling the guards at the front I climbed over the back wall and jumped down. Where I landed my feet that cat was on purpose sticking out its tail. My foot touched its tail ever so lightly. Yet that vicious cat started attacking me with its nails. Brother! Listen to what I have to say! One can fight with a tiger; one can fight with an elephant; but one should never fight with a cat!”

“Swami! Now I understand that mystery…”

“What mystery?”

“That cat came here into my room also. It patted my forehead with its tail. It cuddled against me and played with me. It did not claw me with its nails. It clawed you alone! What is the reason? It is a Saiva fanatic cat that cannot stand the sight of Vaishnavars!…”

“Oho! Is that so? This thought didn’t occur to me! If I knew it was a Saiva fanatic cat I would have pasted it four times with my stick!”

“It is good that you don’t have the stick in your hand. Since I came to this sacred place even in my body the fanatic Saiva blood has begun to boil. ‘I want fanatic Vaishnava blood,’ my sword inside its sheath cries. Thinking of the great help that you provided me, I am keeping it under control!”

“Appan! I didn’t give you any help!”

“Vaishnavar! Didn’t you tell me about your sister Pazhuvur Illaiyarani?”

“Yes; I did.”

“When Pazhuvur Illaiyarani was traveling in the covered palanquin near Kadampoor and the curtain moved, didn’t you point that Devi to me?”

“Yes, yes, so what?”

“I will tell you. I saw the same palanquin near Thanjai fortress. The men carrying the palanquin, on purpose crashed into my horse. To plead my case I moved the curtain and looked in…”

“Who was inside?”

“Pazhuvur Illaiyarani Nandhinidevi herself!”

“Oho! You are a lucky man. As much as I have tried I could not see Nandhini. You have accomplished it!”

“When good luck arrives, this is how, it happens spontaneously!”

“Then?”

“I told your name. I said that you have sent important news for her…”

“I have also been watching. I have not seen anyone who lies so blatantly as you in this world…”

“Vaishnavar! My ancestors were very fond of poets. They themselves have composed poems…”

“So what?”

“In my body also the blood of the poetic tradition flows. Because of that sometimes imagination runs wild. Ignorant people like you would call it lie…”

“Good; then what happened?”

“Amazed at my imaginary tale Nandhini Devi gave the ring with the Pazhuvur emblem. Shw asked me to come and see her in the palace.”

“Did you go and see?”

“Otherwise, would I wait without going? I went at once. After hearing my account of my brave and courageous acts, Nandhinidevi gave me an important job.”

“What job is that?”

“It seems that the jeweled crown and sapphire necklace of Madhurai Pandya tribe is in this Ilankai. The Ilankai royal family has it hidden in the mountains. ‘However, find those jewels and bring them,’ she said. I did not know that it would be such a difficult task…”

“They say that the jewels in the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s treasury will weigh a thousand donkey loads. All of that is not enough for the Illaiyarani! If you bring it back what did she say she will give you?”

“She said that she will snatch the job of safeguarding Thanjai fortress from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar and give it to me.”

“Brother! Brother! If Thanjai fortress security is given to you, I can come inside the fortress without any obstacles, can’t I?”

“Indeed! What is the chance of my getting the Thanjai fortress security? I have come to this place and got myself trapped in this manner!” Vandhiyathevan said in a very sad voice.

“How did you get caught? Why have they imprisoned you, do you know?” asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“I brought with me the ring with the emblem that Pazhuvur Rani gave me. I thought it will be useful here. It turned out to be a mistake!”

“That was a mistake, Brother, big mistake! Here, isn’t the elder Velahr of Kodumbalur the colonel? Don’t you know the big rivalry between the Pazhuvur and Kodumbalur tribes?”

“Without knowing that I have come and got caught. I don’t know what to do…”

“Brother! You don’t worry!”

“Without worrying…”

“I have come here to free you…”

“Oho!”

“I asked you for help once; you refused. Yet I have come to help you. Get up and come with me! We can escape from this prison this minute!”

“Vaishnavar! You should leave from here soon!”

“Why, Appan!”

“The knife in my possession has begun to wail in earnest. It is asking for the blood of a fanatic Vaishnava.”

“Let it ask! I have plenty of blood in my body. If your knife wants it, have a little. You get up and come with me!”

“No, I cannot come!”

“What is the reason?”

“I can hardly keep my eyes open. I have not slept in many days. I have decided to have a good sleep today. That is why I even picked up the cat and threw it out.”

“Brother! How can you talk in this manner? Is this how you are going to accomplish what you agreed to with the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi? Didn’t you agree that you will journey, whether day or night, and deliver this letter into the hands of ‘Ponniyin Selvan’!”… saying this Azhvarkadiyan took the letter from his waist and gave it to Vandhiyathevan.

Vandhiyathevan took it eagerly. Until then he had thought that it was Azhvarkadiyan who is picking his mouth in order to deceive him for his own gain. Now that perception changed.

“How did you get this letter?” he asked.

“Colonel Vikramakesari gave it. He also asked to return this Pazhuvur palmyrah seal. He said that whenever you wish you can start on your journey.”

“Vaishnava! My sincere thanks to you.”

“Save your gratitude. When the time arises you can pay back.”

“Sir! Do you know where the prince is at this time?”

“No one knows that. He had gone upcountry from Anuradapuram. We must find him. The colonel had ordered me to go with you as guide. If you wish I will go with you.”

Again Vandhiyathevan became suspicious.

“Swami! Can I see the colonel before leaving?” he asked.

“Certainly you can, we will leave only after seeing him. Can we leave without letting the colonel know about Vaanathi Devi!” said Azhvarkadiyan.

When he heard this, Vandhiyathevan wondered if this brave Vaishnavan had indeed mastered the art of magic.

27. FOREST TRACK

The elder Velahr of Kodumbalur, colonel Poothi Vikramakesari had gained experience through a ripened age; he had eaten the fruit and thrown away the seed at many battlefields. He had intimate family ties and friendship with the Chola tribe. His brother, the younger Kodumbalur Velahr had departed to the warriors’ heaven in the Ilankai battlefield a few years ago. The garrison that had accompanied him also had to return in defeat. He was furious about erasing that disgrace and re-establishing Kodumabalur’s heroic reputation. That is why even though he was a bit old in age he had come leading the Ilankai battalion.

Didn’t we learn before about the obstacles that Pazhuvertaraiyars had placed in the proper operation of the Ilankai war? The longtime enmity and competition between these two tributary chiefs have because of this become more intense. Therefore, the fate of Vandhiyathevan who got caught with the Pazhuvur emblem, would have been problematic in the hands of the elder Velahr colonel. Fortunately he had happened to mention this to Anirutha Brahmarayar. Aniruthar, having found out the truth about Vandhiyathevan from Azhvarkadiyan, had wanted him urgently to go in person and disclose the truth to colonel Poothi Vikramakesari himself.

After staring up and down the brave son of Vahnar tribe, colonel Poothi Vikramasekari must have formed a good opinion of him. In a loving voice, “Son! Did they take good care of you here? Did you have a proper place to stay, food and all of that?” he asked.

“Yes, Colonel! They looked after me well. There were five or six guards always waiting at the entrance to do my bid. There was ample space for lodging. For dinner they sent a cat. When I was ready to eat it this brave Vaishnavar came and spoilt it. That brave Saiva cat turned angry at the sight of this brave Vaishnavar. It ran away after scratching him with its nails!” he said.

“Oho! This boy is a very humorous fellow! Thirumalai! Is it true what he says?” the colonel asked.

“Colonel! It seems his ancestors are poets. Therefore he also has an excess of imagination. Otherwise what he says is true. Where I went to see him a cat had scratched my hands and legs!” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Colonel Poothi Vikaramakesari rolled with laughter upon seeing the bloody wounds on his body.

“A cat had put you through this agony! Good thing! You have this soldier as a guide for going into the forest…”

“Colonel! I don’t need a guide. The stick in my hand is enough. The mistake was not taking it along when I went to see him…”

“In that case you be the guide to him! Before leaving, give him plenty to eat and then start! Son! Now in Ilankai there is a shortage of food. Mahinithan’s troops have broken all the embankments surrounding the lakes and ponds. Therefore farming has been ruined. There are also not enough people to do the farming. Even this country’s people are starving. How will our soldiers get food? There is not enough rice being sent from our country also…”

“Colonel! I am aware of this matter. I was listening when the women complained to the junior stateswoman when she was traveling along the Pazhaiyarai soldiers’ residences. ‘It seems that in Ilankai our husbands and children are starving!’ they complained…”

“Oho! They knew about this there also, to complain? Good, good! What was the junior stateswoman’s response to that?”

“She comforted, ‘as long as the elder Velahr colonel is in Ilankai he will not let our soldiers starve from hunger; you should not worry’…”

“Aha! The junior stateswoman spoke like that? There are many famed young women born into many royal tribes in the world. But there is no one to compare to our junior stateswoman…”

“There is a princess who may deserve praise next to her, Colonel!”

“Who is that, Son?”

“It is indeed Kodumbalur princess Vaanathi Devi!”

“Aha! This boy is very mischievous. His power of imagination will even entice me. Son! Did you see the beacon of our tribe in Pazhaiyarai?”

“I saw, Sir! How can I miss seeing the one who is inseparable from the junior stateswoman? To send us off from the doctor’s house both of them came by elephant. Like light and flame, flower and fragrance, shadow and object, Vaanathi Devi and the junior stateswoman are never apart…”

“Adayday! This boy is very intelligent! Thirumalai! Take him to our treasury and provide him with the necessary clothing and adornments before the journey!”

“Sir! Let everything remain in the treasury for now, when I am returning I will accept them.”

“Son! Didn’t the junior stateswoman send any messages to me about our girl, Vaanathi?”

“Colonel! I don’t want to lie to you.”

“Don’t lie to anyone at anytime, Son!”

“You must provide an exemption in the case of this brave Vaishnavar. Colonel; if I speak the truth to him my head will explode…”

“No, no!… it looks as if the junior stateswoman did not send any messages to me!”

“No messages were sent to you. But…”

“But, what?”

“Where it should be sent, she has. She has ordered me to give some news directly to the prince about Vaanathi Devi…”

“I have never met an intelligent boy like you!” The colonel, the elder Velahr hugged Vandhiyathevan to his chest. Then, “Alright; don’t waste any time; leave!” he said.

“Sir! Is it necessary for this brave Vaishnavar to accompany me? Can’t I go alone without him?”

“What is your objection to his coming?”

“I have no objections. The knife secured to my waist is a truly Saiva knife. ‘I want the fanatic Vaishnava blood’ it has been asking for a long time. If it acts beyond my control I am thinking that he would be in danger.”

“In that case leave that knife here and take another one! If Thirumalai does not go with you you will not be able to find the prince. No one knows where he is. In addition he is bringing an important letter to give the prince. Therefore it is better for both of you to go together! Don’t get into a fight on the way and spoil matters!”

Again the elder Velahr beckoned Vandhiyathevan towards him and spoke secretly in his ears.

“Son! He will not cause any obstacles to your mission. In any case be vigilant! Find out what he is telling the prince and come back and tell me!”

At first Vandhiyathevan had thought that they were sending Azhvarkadiyan as his spy. Now it appeared that he was to spy over him. This circumstance was very likeable to Vandhiyathevan.

With the help of two soldiers, Vandhiyathevan and Azhvarkadiyan departed that night itself. For two days of the journey they traveled east. At first the surroundings were countryside. There were even people going about. Gradually the forest took over. At first it was filled with short trees. Then it turned into a thick wilderness of large trees towering toward the skies. In between lakes were seen. But their embankments were fallen in many places. The lakes were dry after water had run off in all directions. Fields lay bare without agriculture. At yet another location there was water stagnated over a wide expanse. Because the river Pahlavi’s shore was damaged water had left the river’s course and stagnated in this disorderly manner.

They went taking in all of this scenery. Azhvarkadiyan spoke to Vandhiyathevan about the destruction that had taken place in the region because of prolonged war. He often emphasized how cruel war was. There was strong argument between the two about it.

After two days the direction of the journey changed. After traveling east, now they turned south. As they progressed the forest land turned more and more dense. The flat terrain was turning rocky and they encountered small hills. At a distance was a mountain range with peaks that touched the sky. The forest was turning more and more frightful. Together with the birds’ innocent chirping rose other unknowable frightening sounds.

In these forest tracks the conversation turned to the dangers posed by wild animals. Azhvarkadiyan said that foxes, tigers, bears and elephants lived in these forests.

“If foxes came as a group isn’t it dangerous?” asked Vandhiyathevan. He remembered the frightening dream that he had had at Kadampoor palace.

“More than a group of foxes, a lone fox’s howl is more dangerous,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“How is that, Swami!”

“In these jungles tiger and fox will hunt together. The tiger will be hiding here and there. The fox will run around looking for prey. When it sees a man or deer it will howl in a lone voice. At once the tiger will leap out and kill. A fox that does spying for a tiger in this manner is called ‘ori’…”

While they were talking and proceeding in this manner there was a noise in the distance like the surging sea.

“We have come a long way from the sea? What is this sound?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“There must be a lake or a pond nearby. It looks as if a herd of elephants are approaching to drink water there!” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Aiyayo! What if we get trapped by the elephant herd…!”

“There is nothing to fear about it. Elephants in a herd will not do anything to us. If we give them way they will go on their way without even turning to glance at us!”

Meanwhile one of the soldiers accompanying them climbed on a tree and looked around.

“Sir! Sir! A lone elephant is on its way! Rutting elephant! It’s breaking trees and causing havoc!” he shouted.

“Aiyo! What a predicament! How to get away!” Azhvarkadiyan said fearfully while looking around.

“You said not to fear a herd of elephants. Why be afraid so much of a single elephant?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“Appan! An elephant in rut is equivalent to a thousand ordinary elephants. No one can stand against its ruthlessness…”

“There is a spear in the hands of three of us. You have a staff in your hand!”

“Even thousand spears cannot fight a rutting elephant. There is a very steep hill! If we climb that perhaps we can escape. Try and run!”

Saying this Azhvarkadiyan ran towards the hill. The others also followed. But after running a short distance they saw that there was a near perpendicular valley ahead of them. Between them and the hill was the valley. They stood at the edge of the valley. The elephant was approaching them at breakneck speed. The sight of humans must have increased its ferocity. Lifting its trunk when the rutting elephant let out a piercing cry it was a wonder that the universe did not explode in that noise. The four men who heard it covered their ears. They ran scattering in all directions.

The elephant came closer; it came closer and closer. It appeared as if it was targeting Azhvarkadiyan and approaching the spot where he stood. Two more steps would cause Azhvarkadiyan to catapult into the deep abyss. It was not possible to run sideways either. Shrubs and vines were grown thick; can one escape by running?

Vandhiyathevan took the spear in his hand. But it seemed to him that even Indran’s vajrayutham could not halt the speed of that mad elephant at that moment. The hand holding the spear grew weak and tired.

At that time Azhvarkadiyan’s action caused Vandhiyathevan to laugh on the other hand. Raising the stick in his hand, “Stop, stop! Stop there! If you proceed you are lost! I will kill you and bury you in the ground! Be careful!” Azhvarkadiyan roared at the rutting elephant!

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