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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (43 -44)

August 16, 2015

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

43. “I AM GUILTY”

“Ocean Princess! Do you remember me…?”

Ponniyin Selva! What kind of a question is this? ‘Remember me?’ – whom are you addressing? After thousands and thousands of years of knowing each other, is it right to say, ‘Remember me?’ Or, can it be that you have forgotten? How many days, how many eons, have you traveled with me in my small boat?

“Have you forgotten the two of us in my small boat, traveling endlessly, joyously, in the immense sea amid its rolling waves? All of a sudden when darkness surrounded from all sides, have you forgotten how we stood for a long time, each one protecting the other, holding each other’s hand? When the frightening storm blew in, while the waves rose as mountains attacking the boat, one minute raising us to the heavens, and the next minute sinking us into hell, in those days of terror and uncertainty, have you forgotten how we stood beside each other and won against that demonic storm? Once, we were flying in the skies, have you forgotten that? You reached up and plucked the stars out of the sky and placed them as jewels on my head, have you forgotten that too? ‘Here, look at your golden face in this silver plate’ – you said holding the full moon next to my face, have you forgotten that too? On another occasion, you sank into the deep sea; I stood with my heart beating in fear; in a second you emerged with both hands full of pearls and corals, you strung them together and tied the necklace around my neck! Even if you forgot, can I forget it? King! At mid afternoons, beside blue lakes, where the branches bent heavy with blossoms forming a canopy, on mats of green grass we spent many, many days gazing at each other’s face, can we forget all of that? Can I ever forget the hundred pairs of koels that made music at that time from tree branches, the thousands and ten thousands of beetles that swirled in the background chirping, or the millions and millions of butterflies that danced happily beating their colorful wings? In however many births, will I be able to forget this? ‘Remember me’ – you said, how can you? I remember, Sir, I remember well!…”

The foolish woman’s heart urged her to speak.

Alas! Her coral lips muttered just two words, ‘I remember!’

“Aha! Samuthrakumari, you are opening your mouth and speaking! In this beautiful Ilankai island there are sculptures depicting beautiful heavenly maidens on the pillars of so many towers and piazzas! I thought perhaps you were one among them. Fortunately, your opened your mouth and spoke! Say a few more words. I am eager to hear your sweet voice. You have given our colonel some information. You have said that two big vessels carrying soldiers are parked hidden in the Thondaiman river estuary. It is true, isn’t it, Samuthrakumari? Did you see those ships with your own eyes?” The prince asked.

“Yes, Sir, I saw with my eyes!” said Poongkuzhali.

“Aha! I am now able to hear your voice better. This is pleasure to my ears. Good; when you saw the ships you went in the narrow estuary in your boat. You were sleeping under the thick cover of the forest waiting for the ships to leave. A few soldiers from the ship happened by. They were speaking near where you were lying down. You did not want to eavesdrop. Yet, their chatter fell in your ears. You happened to overhear. Did you tell all this to the colonel?”

“I told exactly what happened.”

“When you heard them, it occurred to you that you should tell the colonel about it. You left as soon as the soldiers walked away. You came hurrying in search of the colonel’s dwelling! How did you get here, Samuthrakumari?”

“I came by boat halfway; then I walked through the forest.”

“Which destination did you have in mind?”

“I thought that the colonel was in Mathottam. I was heading there. On the way I learnt that he was in Mahinthalai. By the time I saw the colonel and gave the news, I had had enough! How many people stood in the way!” She looked in the direction of the colonel. Her glance cut through like the lightening that strikes before summer’s thunder.

“Is seeing the colonel an easy affair? You will be surprised if you hear the trouble that my friend who stands here had, trying to see the colonel. It is good that you disregarded the obstacles and persisted in your efforts! Poongkuzhali, will you also repeat to me what you said to the colonel? What you overheard from behind the trees, what those soldiers spoke about?”

“King! The words would leave a bad taste in my mouth.”

“Please find it in your heart to be generous and for my sake repeat it once more!”

“They said that they have come to imprison you and take you.”

“Did they say on whose orders they were here?”

“I didn’t believe that, Sir! This is the work of the Pazhuvertaraiyars.”

“You can give your opinion later. Just say what they said, Samuthrakumari!

“They said it was the order of the emperor.”

“Very good; did they give any reason?”

“They did. That you have been plotting along with the Buddhist priests in this country to become the king of Ilankai. It made me so angry I wanted to kill those evil men then and there.”

“A fine deed you attempted! Don’t you know that you should not obstruct the emperor’s messengers in any way? Good; do you remember any other important matters that they discussed?”

“They said that the colonel should not know the reason for their presence, because if he did that he might try to help you escape. Therefore, they said that they had to find where you were and give you the orders in person and take you with them…”

“Therefore you set out to find the colonel. You did a big help to me, Ocean Princess! You may wait over there. I must discuss an important matter with them. But don’t run away too far. Don’t make me send Vandhiyathevar again in search of you!”

Samuthrakumari moved away and stood near a pillar. She stood where she could see the face of the prince.

Two bees that had fallen into a pot of honey were suffocating. They slowly managed to reach the rim and began tasting the honey from there. Poongkuzhali’s eyes were also in that same position now. They drank the honey that was the handsome face of the prince. Her heart was aching to leave the confines of her body. It ached to burst forth and fill the entire sky.

The prince addressed colonel Poothi Vikramakesari: “Sir! You are the head of a tribe that has been our family’s friend for over generations. You are my father’s dear friend. I respect you like my father. You also have indulged me like a son. Therefore you must at this time help me to do my duty. You must not stand in the way!”

Before the colonel could answer, he turned to Parthipenthiran and said, “Sir! I am asking you also. You are a close friend of my beloved brother. I celebrate my brother’s word as god’s word. Therefore I am obliged to respect and celebrate your word also. I am begging you. You should not object to my doing my duty!”

The colonel and Parthipenthiran looked at each other. In that glance they conveyed each other their fear.

The colonel said to the prince, “Prince! I don’t understand any of what you are saying. I am a man of the battlefield. I cannot comprehend that which is obscure. What do you mean, that you want to do your duty? What duty are you wanting to fulfill and in which way?”

“All this time, my duty has been just one. It is to obey my father’s order. My father has sent men with the order to bring me back imprisoned. Why should we let them wander around looking for me? I will go to them and hand myself over. That is the duty before me now…”

“Impossible. As long as there is life in my body I will not permit it. I will put a stop to it!” said Parthipenthiran.

The colonel looked at him and said, “Don’t get agitated; be patient!” To the prince, he said:

“Sir! You spoke about your duty. I am also bound by duty. You must kindly hear it. I am the only male alive today in the Kodumbalur Velar tribe. All the others died in the service of Chola kingdom. Mostly everyone died in the battlefield. I too will die one day in the same manner. Who can say? Therefore, you must listen to my words patiently. Last year, the emperor appointed you, – who were growing up in the luxury of the palace – as commander of the southern garrison. At that time he took me aside and said to me in private, ‘The prince’s departure feels as if my own life is leaving from my body. However, just for my indulgence, I cannot keep him inside the palace forever. He has to go outside; he has to earn the distinction that he is a hero like his brother. But if any danger befalls him, my life will also end. It is your responsibility to protect him from any kind of danger…’ The emperor commanded me so. Would the emperor who said this last year, now issue an order for your imprisonment? What have you done to deserve it? How erroneous is the statement that you were plotting to take over the Ilankai throne? Who would believe this slander?”

The prince, who was until then listening patiently to the Kodumbalur elder Velar, interrupted. He said, “Whether anyone else can believe it or not? I can believe it!”

“What are you saying prince!”

“I am saying that it is true that I tried to take over the Ilankai throne!”

Vandhiyathevan stepped forward. “What is this, Sir! Until recently you were speaking of truth and justice. Now you are telling this big lie!… Colonel! Please don’t believe his words. Yesterday night the academy of Buddhist monks offered him the Ilankai throne and crown. He refused it. Myself and the Vaishnavan who is there standing are the witnesses,” he said.

Smiling in response, Ponniyin Selvar said, “Vandhiyathevar! One question! Would traitors allow any witnesses? I could have refused the Ilankai throne and crown simply because of your presence?”

Vandhiyathevan was stunned. He had no answer.

The prince spoke further: “Varnar tribe warrior! If you have any doubts you may ask the Vaishnavar here. You can find out from him what chief minister Anirutha Brahmarayar’s message was. ‘The Buddhist priests will offer you the Ilanakai throne; reject it in the presence of witnesses.’ – Ask him if he didn’t send him with that message or not!”

Everyone was startled to hear this. The prince spoke to the colonel, “Sir! Listen! It is true that I greedily harbored the desire to seize and rule this Ilanakai. It was my sister who cultivated this desire in me. ‘Brother! You were born to rule. You have the mark of the chakram on your palm. There is no place for you here. Therefore, go to Ilanakai! Seize the throne of Ilankai!’ The junior stateswoman often spoke like this and encouraged me in my hope. Therefore, I am guilty, there is reason for the emperor’s order to arrest me and bring me back…”

“Bear with me, Prince! If you had such thoughts, it is a blessing for this Ilankai island. You are not responsible for this, or your sister. Emperor Sundara Cholar is the one responsible. He has told me many times; he has told me that he wants you on the Ilankai throne. It was the emperor who first spoke about it to Kundavai Devi. Your sister has merely conveyed to you what was in fact your father’s wish. Therefore, you are not guilty…”

“Colonel! In that case why should I hesitate to return to my father? I will tell him exactly what happened. Let these two men be my witnesses. After that it is my duty to obey any orders that the emperor may place on me…”

Parthipenthiran intervened in a voice that was spitting of fire: “Colonel! We are exchanging empty words. We can no longer dwell in ambiguity. We must tell the truth to the prince. Do you want to tell the truth or shall I?”

“I will; please be patient!” The colonel looked around him as he spoke. “Prince! In vain I had hoped not to corrupt your innocent consciousness. I am compelled to speak about matters of a lewd nature. You are aware of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s marriage in his old age to a woman called Nandhini. She is a witch. She is well versed in tricks and magic with dangerous consequences. Through the use of these she has the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar at her feet. What she points with her foot, he is ready to carry over his head and deliver. This unfortunate fate has befallen this elder of noble birth, who has himself performed many heroic deeds.”

“Colonel! This is not something that I have not heard! Isn’t this gossiped about all over Chola Nadu?” said the prince.

“Until now her powers were working on the Pazhuvertaraiyars alone. Prince! Pardon me! Now she has begun to use her magic on the emperor also. Hence, the order from the emperor – to arrest you!”

“Colonel! A warning! Please don’t say anything about the emperor. As long as there is life in my father’s body, whatever command he issues, under whatever circumstances, I will treat it as the almighty’s command…”

“We don’t dispute that, Prince! We are afraid not only of the emperor’s freedom but also of his life. Until yesterday I was not aware of the entire truth about Nandhini. It was only last night that I found out from Parthipenthiran. It is important that you also hear it.”

“Three years ago the final battle with Veera Pandyan took place near Madhurai. At that time your brother Karikalar, Parthipenthiran who is here now, and I consulted with each other at every step. Pandyan’s troops were destroyed completely. Veera Pandyan tried to escape in the same way as he ran and hid in the desert on a previous occasion. The three of us were determined not to allow room for that and to somehow capture him. We had vowed not to return to Thanjavur without Veera Pandyan’s head this time. Therefore, without entrusting it to anyone else, we followed him. Eventually we located him hiding in a hut next to a temple. Leaving us to guard on the outside, it was your brother Karikalar, who went inside the hut. He killed Veera Pandyan and brought his head. We returned happily thinking that our mission was accomplished. But we did not know that a small drama had taken place inside that hut. A woman who had provided shelter to Veera Pandyan begged for his life, blocking the way. Karikalar kicked her away before killing Veera Pandyan and bringing his head outside. Prince! It was Nandhini who tried to save Veera Pandyan, the arch enemy of the Chola tribe! She is the one who later married the seventy year old man and presides as Pazhuvur Illaiyarani in Thanjavur! Surely we can guess why, with what motives, she has come! She has come to seek revenge for Veera Pandyan. She has come to destroy the Chola tribe from its roots. It is difficult for anyone who goes near her to escape from her lascivious trappings. Vandhiyathevan who stands here will bear witness to that. The Vaishnava who stands here can tell about the group that has vowed to annihilate the Chola tribe completely. It is Nandhini who provides the needed cash to them. Prince! Unfortunately, it appears that our lord emperor has also fallen into her net. We hear that the emperor himself is thinking about placing Mathuranthaka Thevar on the throne. Therefore, this is not a good time for you to go to Thanjai, thinking that it is the emperor’s order…”

“Colonel! I am astonished by your news. However, this information can only strengthen my resolve. When my father is surrounded by such dangers my place is next to him. Why do I need the Ilankai kingdom anymore? In fact, why do I need to live anymore? There is no need for further thought. No one should try to stop me!” The prince spoke majestically. His eyes then fell upon Poongkuzhali, who was standing there, leaning on a pillar, watching him with wide open eyes.

Samuthrakumari! Come over here!” he said. Poongkuzhali went closer.

“Girl! You did a great service to me with the news that you brought. You must help me one more time. Will you?” he asked.

“Adada! What is this? Is he asking for help from this poor boat-woman? Here I am, dying for the privilege of serving him; he wants to beg me for help? I asked for God’s blessing; God is holding out his empty hands, asking me, Give me something.” With such thoughts on her mind, Poongkuzhali said, “Prince! I am awaiting your orders!”

“Ocean Princess! Didn’t you say that there are two vessels waiting near the Thondaiman river estuary? I must go there as quickly as I can. Will you show the way and take me there?”

“Girl! Tell him that you cannot!” A voice barked. Poongkuzhali realized that it was the colonel.

Only then, Poongkuzhali, who was until then in a fantasy land, realized the awkward situation that she was in. The prince was asking her to lead him to the mouth of the same danger, that she had come running to help him escape from!

“Girl! Tell that you can’t!” – she now understood the meaning of the colonel’s order. A thousand voices from all directions commanded her to say ‘No’. The trees spoke; the building’s pillars screamed; the birds on the branches screeched.

But in that foolish girl’s heart a faint voice spoke. ‘Poongkuzhali! Here is your luck! If you showed the way to the prince, you can spend two days with him. You can be near him. When he is not paying attention, you will be able to look at him. The same breeze that touches him will also touch you. His voice will be in your ears often. Hey, Girl! A fraction of that enormous unrealizable dream will come true. In its aftermath, will anything matter? Poongkuzhali! Say yes!’

Samuthrakumari! Why do you hesitate? Won’t you help me? Do I have to find my own way?” The question from the prince sealed her decision.

“Prince! I will show the way!” she said.

When Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari cleared his throat, it was the sound arising from the belly of the earth before an earthquake. He took a step forward and said:-

“Prince! I will not stand in the way of your wish. But please lend your ear to one request. It is my responsibility to protect you until you are handed over to those who have come to arrest you. Your friends told us about the attempts on your life last night. Those murderers are still at large. Their identity is still unknown. Pardon me for saying what is in my heart. I have some suspicions even about this woman. She can be an accomplice to those murderers! The entire story that there are people in ships ready to imprison you can be a figment of her imagination! Why not? Just now when your friend Vandhiyathevar grabbed her knife and threw it, a cry was heard because it hit someone. Who was that? Let her by all means lead the way. Let her sit on the elephant and lead. But I will accompany you until I see the ships in the Thondaiman river! It is my duty!”

The prince who had been listening to the colonel with a smile on his face said, “Alright! I will not stand in the way of your performing your duty!”

44. CONFUSED ELEPHANT

When a decision was thus reached, Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari took Parthipenthiran to a side and spoke to him privately. Then he issued separate orders to the soldiers accompanying him.

Parthipenthiran bid farewell to the prince. “Sir! I am returning with empty hands, without fulfilling the purpose of my journey. Karikalar will be very angry at me because of it. But, what to do? You are adamant; I am not the one to be blamed. Everyone here is a witness to that!” he said.

The prince asked, “Do you have to leave in such a hurry? Can’t you come up to Thondaimanaru with the colonel?”

“I will not be an accomplice to this perfidy. The ship I came in is at Trincomalee. I must board that ship and return to Kanji as quickly as possible. I have to inform Karikalar of what happened!” said Parthipenthiran.

Then he looked at Vandhiyathevan and asked, “Vallatharaiyar! Are you not going to Kanji with me?”

Vandhiyathevan was taken aback by the question. He answered, “No, I want to go with the prince.”

“Good; you will regret your decision afterward!” With that response, Parthipenthiran departed. Following the colonel’s orders, some of the soldiers also went with him.

“What did that Pallavan mean? Why did he say that I will be sorry for not going with him? Do you see anything in this?” Vandhiyathevan asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“The colonel and he are up to something! Soon we will find out. Actually the ultimate cause of this dilemma we are in now is the Kodumbalur old man!”

“How is that? What has the colonel done?”

“It’s all his work. You know that a young woman from his family is being raised at the Pazhaiyarai palace. Don’t you?”

“Of course, I do. Don’t you mean Vaanathi Devi?”

“Yes; the colonel wants to give her in marriage to the prince and crown him as Ilankai king as well. He is the man who urged the Buddhist priests to offer him the Ilanakai throne. Did he at least know to keep his plans a secret? He could not even do that. The news reached Thanjai. That is why chief minister Aniruthar came to Ilankai; that is why he sent me to meet the prince. Vandhiyatheva! Whatever may happen, we have to hold on to our lives, we may have to testify in Thanjai that the prince rejected the offer of the Ilankai throne!”

In the meantime, the colonel’s affairs were settled. Except for four, all of the soldiers had departed, proceeding in different directions.

Finally, the entourage of the prince also left. The prince, the colonel, Vandhiyathevan, Azhvarkadiyan and the four soldiers rode towards the north on horses that were the best of their kind. Following them Poongkuzhali’s elephant went ‘jam, jam‘, as only elephants do.

For a while they proceeded on the main royal thoroughfare. But progress on that road was slow, there were crowds everywhere. The people somehow knew that the prince was there. At that time there were mostly Tamils living in the north of Ilankai island. Here and there, people gathered in groups and shouted, ‘Long live prince Arulmozhivarmar!’, and ‘Long live Kodumbalur Velar!’ In some places the people surrounded the horses and began to follow them. Gradually the crowd got bigger and bigger. The horses were unable to go fast.

Following a discussion between the prince and the colonel, it was decided that it was best to leave the royal thoroughfare and follow the path across the forest. They slowly left the people behind and entered the forest. Because of nature’s own obstacles the ride was not as smooth as on the road. In a short time they were at a lotus pond. Across the pond on the other side they saw a crowd waiting. As soon as the crowd saw them, there emerged the welcoming sound of trumpets, cornets, tabor and kettle-drums.

“Wait a while! Let me see who they are!” The colonel tapped on his horse and went ahead. He came back and said, “The inhabitants of the surrounding villages have somehow found out that the prince was coming this way. They have come to pay their respects to the prince!”

The people came closer. They surrounded the prince with uncontrollable excitement. They shouted many well wishes and greetings. ‘Long live the Ilankai king Arulmozhivarmar’ was the most prominent.

A smile spread across the face of Arulmozhivarmar. He beckoned the leader of the group to come closer. He asked, “Why are they crowning me with the Ilankai throne?”

Humbly, the man replied,”King! For a long time this country has been suffering without a stable government. Our wish is to have Ponniyin Selvar as king. It is the wish of all the people in this country. Tamils, Sinhalese, Hindhus, Buddhists, laymen and ascetics.”

The people had prepared dinner for the prince and his men. It was not possible to leave without accepting their meal. A vast amount of time had elapsed by the time dinner was had and farewells were bid.

While the prince was being thus attended to, Vandhiyathevan and Azhvarkadiyan had an opportunity to speak in private.

“Brother! Did you see? Isn’t it obvious that this is the colonel’s work? He had sent word beforehand to arrange for this reception!” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“It does appear to be the colonel’s work. But it is not clear what the motive is? Is he thinking that the prince, upon hearing what the people of this island are saying, would ask for the throne that he turned down yesterday?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“That may be one reason. More important than that is to delay our journey!” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“What benefit is the colonel foreseeing in delaying our journey?”

“I also don’t know the answer; but we would find out soon enough! Look at the face of the prince! Can’t you see that he does not like any of this?”

Vandhiyathevan looked at the prince’s face. Mustard and gram were exploding on that face that had remained pleasant even while uttering angry words. Brows were creased. Eyes showed intense cogitation.

At the same time Poongkuzhali was seated alone on yet another side of the lotus pond immersed in thought. The journey did not excite her as she had expected. She had thought that the journey would provide her with an opportunity to be alone with the prince. She had thought that he would be free to talk to her. She wanted to show him at least a trace of the emotions rising in her heart. It seemed as if there would be no such opportunity. The prince was forever surrounded by crowds.

“There would only be the blame that I handed him over to the enemies. Why should I take this blame? Why don’t I run away from here with no one noticing? I can at least be free of the colonel’s anger!”

“Ah! What can the colonel’s anger do to me? What can anyone’s anger do to me? I am not afraid of any of that. But why should all of my dreams go into the ground? How long will this fire in my heart scorch me? Why is there life remaining in this body? Why doesn’t lightening and thunder strike me and kill me? I have desired this a thousand times; no use. This life will not go on its own. I will have to take action to be rid of it!…”

“Ah! What is this? Am I dreaming? No, not a dream! This knife that was taken from me by the prince’s friend near that old building now landed next to me! Who could have thrown this? Only his enemies could have! They probably threw it to kill me. How unfortunate? It missed me by a hair’s breadth! This is also good. I will keep this knife. After I fulfill my word to him, after handing him over to those traitors, I will kill myself with this knife right in front of him. Cheechee! Why should I hurt him so? After he leaves on the ship I will row the boat to the middle of the ocean and there I will stab myself. My precious knife, you have returned! My thanks to those who sent you back!”

“Perhaps it was intended for the prince? Yes; even the colonel said he might run into all sorts of dangers on the way?… Can’t any of this happen to me? Can’t the knife intended for him strike me? It would mean that I lost my life on his behalf! When that happens, when I am dying in a pool of blood…”

Poongkuzhali had a strange vision. The knife had struck her chest. Blood was pouring out. The prince came running. “Aiyo! Are you dying for my sake?” he asked. Poongkuzhali’s heart swelled with pride forcing out even more blood. The prince scooped her up and laid her on his lap. Her blood soaked his body and clothes. Poongkuzhali laughed out loud. ‘Prince! At least now, do you understand what is in my heart?’ she asked. ‘Foolish woman! I have known it. Is this why you are dying?’ the prince screamed. Poongkuzhali could not control her mirth. She laughed louder still! …

“Hey, Lunatic!” Poongkuzhali looked up hearing the voice. Vandhiyathevan stood in front of her.

“The prince is already angry; because the journey is being delayed. You don’t also have to cause delays. Get up and come quickly!” he said.

Laughing, Poongkuzhali ran and climbed on top of the elephant. She hugged the knife to her chest and kissed it.

After some distance on the forest path an unexpected incident happened. ‘Vrrrrm’ – from the dense forest on the right side of the travelers an arrow came swiftly. There was no doubt that it was aimed at the prince. But swifter than that arrow, the prince pulled the head-rope of the horse and turned it. Narrowly missing him, the arrow struck Azhvarkadiyan’s turban, smoothly plucking it away from his head.

Azhvarkadiyan felt his head and looked around in surprise.

Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari was startled. Everyone was in shock.

Poongkuzhali regretted that the arrow did not strike her and kill her.

When the initial shock was over the colonel said, “Prince! Did you see? What a catastrophe it would have been if we had sent you without any security?” He instructed the soldiers to search the forest. After combing through the surrounding area they returned to say that there was no one.

The colonel began to make preparations for the journey ahead. “We must put the prince at the center and surround him on all four sides,” he said and began to position the soldiers.

“Colonel! One request!” said the prince.

“What is this talk? Order me!” said the colonel.

“I want to go alive to Thanjavur with my life intact. I want to prove to my father that I am not guilty…”

“Your father will never have doubts about it, Prince!”

“Not only my father; I want to prove it to all the people. After I am done with that then I will not worry about my life at all. Before that I do not want to lose my life on the way.”

“Sir! If your life is in danger, that very minute I will drive this Kodumbalur sword into my chest.”

“There is no use in that. It will be a great loss for Chola Nadu.”

“What greater loss can there be to Chola Nadu than losing you? After being the cause of this danger to your life, can this poor Kodumbalur man hold on to his life even for a minute longer?”

“In that case saving my life becomes even more important.”

“There is nothing else that is more important in this world.”

“I have an idea.”

“Please tell me, Sir!”

“Like the arrow now, on horseback there will always be danger.”

“Are you saying that we should walk? Or …”

“I know the language of elephants very well. You know that elephants listen to me?”

“Yes, Sir! I also know that you have been traveling around a large part of this Ilankai island in the disguise of an elephant-keeper.”

“Therefore, what I am proposing is, for a short time I will again become the elephant-keeper. The fellow who is driving the elephant now, let him ride my horse.”

The colonel appeared somewhat disturbed by this. He eagerly looked around to see if any one else would object to the prince’s suggestion. Everyone kept quiet.

“Sir! I don’t know if the elephant-keeper knows how to ride a horse!”

“If he does not, then let him go back walking.”

“That girl is very shy! If she refuses to sit with you on the elephant…?”

“Let her jump down and walk.”

“Your wish, Prince!”

The prince at once jumped down from the horse. He went near the elephant. Poongkuzhali’s dark eyes widened in surprise. The prince helped the elephant-keeper to get down and then climbed on top of the elephant. The stalled journey resumed.

Poongkuzhali was ecstatic. From the back of the elephant she hopped on to the clouds. She strolled the skies. She had a view of the heavens and experienced the indescribable nature of that sweet harmony. “Aha! Is this the divine music? So delightful! No, no! Heaven’s music cannot be so sweet! It is the prince speaking!”

“Ocean Princess! Is it revolting being on this elephant with me?”

“My penance in seven previous births has bestowed this privilege upon me, Lord!”

“Will you be frightened if this elephant suddenly starts running like a mad animal?”

“When you are next to me, even if the sky falls down I will not be afraid, Sir!”

“Where did you leave your boat, Poongkuzhali?”

“Near Elephant-Pass, Sir!”

“On this side, or on the other side?”

“There was room only on the other side. I left the boat there.”

“How did you cross Elephant-Pass?”

“When I came the water was low. So I swam a little and walked most of the way.”

“If this elephant goes in the water now, will you be frightened?’

“Even if it pushes me into the ocean I will not care. After all, am I not the princess of the ocean? You are the one who named me!”

“When we reach the boat we will take it. You must row the boat. Can you row with two of us on it?”

“These hands have held an oar since the age of ten. Lord! These are unlike the hands of palace maidens, soft as petals. Didn’t your friend Vandhiyathevan say that I brought him here?’

“He did! But we must row faster than that today. We must reach the Thondaiman river estuary really fast.”

“Prince! Why I am being called upon to perform such a cruel task? I came running to save you from being imprisoned. You are telling me to hand you over to the very same people. What is your grievance against this poor woman?”

“Poongkuzhali! My father- the emperor – you know that he is ill?”

“Yes, Sir! I have heard about the star with the long tail that has been appearing in the sky.”

“My father’s life may end any day now?”

Poongkuzhali was silent.

“If in case, he leaves this world, is it alright for him to leave with the thought that I worked against him to take over the kingdom?”

“The emperor will never believe that. This is the treacherous work of the Pazhuvertaraiyars!”

“I want to prove even to those Pazhuvertaraiyars that I am innocent …”

“Why, Sir?”

“To tell the truth, I have no desire to preside over a kingdom, Poongkuzhali!”

“What is your desire?”

“I want to get on a boat and travel the seas forever! I have heard that across the ocean that there are many countries like this Eezha Nadu. I want to go to all these countries. My desire is to speak to the people of all these countries!”

“Wonder of wonders!”

“What is the wonder?”

“I am astonished that your desire is the same as mine. When you travel in this manner across the seas, would you take me along?”

“First, let me do my duty that is before me now. You will help me with that?”

“Your wish!”

“There are ropes hanging from both sides of your seat. Take those and fasten them around you tightly.”

“Why, Prince?’

“The elephant is going to run like crazy now. Careful, Poongkuzhali!”

The prince gently rubbed the forehead of the elephant and said something in its ear. The elephant suddenly started walking very fast. The prince bent and whispered some more in its ear. That was it. The walk turned into a run. Letting out a shrill cry, it raised its trunk and started to run. Trees became casualties as if caught in a tornado. ‘chada, chada’ – branches and trees fell down. The ground shook. All eight sides trembled. The birds on the trees flapped their wings noisily as they flew away crying urgently. The animals scurried out of their hidden dwellings in the forest scattering in all directions.

“Aiyaiyo! It looks as if the elephant is in rut! How incongruous!” Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari shouted.

However much the prince had talked about it, Poongkuzhlai was frightened. Her fear showed on her face.

She was trapped in a maelstrom in a gigantic ocean. The prince also went round and round in the same maelstrom. The elephant also revolved. Poongkuzhali closed her eyes tightly. Like the dark cloud that is chased by the cyclone the elephant also kept going. At last it was in the port of Elephant-pass.

The island’s north and south seas joined here. The narrow pass of this meeting is called Elephant-Pass. The elephant stepped into this pass that joined the mid section of the island to its northern most part. Like the mountain tossed up by Hanuman it fell into the sea.

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From → Notes

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