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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (47)

September 6, 2015

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

47. DEMONIC LAUGHTER

We are obliged to tell our friends about what happened to those who were left behind after the prince and Poongkuzhali sped away on the elephant.

“The elephant is in rut!” Others who heard the colonel’s cry were in agreement with him. They tried to follow behind on horses. But it was impossible. Once they reached Elephant-pass they came to a standstill. As usual Vandhiyathevan’s horse was ahead of everybody else. It jumped into the water and ended up trapped in the mud. With the greatest difficulty they pulled the horse out. But it was no longer useful for the journey ahead.

Colonel Poothi Vikrama Kesari helplessly beat on his head. “I have never committed a blunder like this in my life. All of you are just standing! What should we do? How can we save the prince? If anyone has any idea please speak!” He said.

Azhvarkadiyan stepped forward. “Colonel! I have an idea. May I speak?”

“What, are you waiting for an auspicious moment? Hurry up and tell!” said the colonel.

“Actually, the elephant was not in rut…”

“What are you blabbering? Who is in rut then? You?”

“No one. The prince had the suspicion that you were delaying the journey on purpose. Therefore to break away he manipulated the elephant to run like that. We are all aware how knowledgeable the prince is in the secrets of the art of training an elephant!”

The colonel also felt that this was true. He calmed down.

“Alright; so be it. But we also must go to Thondaiman estuary! Shouldn’t we at least find out what is going on there?”

“Indeed we must get there. We should go along the coast and if we can find a boat, then go across by boat. Or, we can wait until Parthipenthira Pallavar’s ship arrives.”

“Vaishnava! You are a wicked man. It looks as if you said something like this to the prince.”

“Colonel! Since we started on this journey I have not spoken to the prince.”

After this exchange all of them proceeded along the coastline toward the east.

From the picture painted in the last chapter readers would have an idea about Ilankai island’s north. In those days Ilankai’s north was known as Nagatheepam. The sea delved in from both sides and cleaved this part from the other larger portion of the island. The narrow pass that connected the two parts by land is known as Elephant-pass. Sometimes the water was low. Then it was easy to cross the lagoon on foot. At other times it was not easy. One can only cross on a boat. (Because it was common for herds of elephants to cross at this point the place came to be known as Elephant-pass. It is also said that in ancient times the place served as a port from where elephants were shipped to other countries.)

Most of the boats at that time had left for Mathottam and Trincomalee. However the colonel and others kept their eyes open hoping to find one or two that may have stayed behind. Finally they found a small boat that belonged to a fisherman. The boatman initially balked at the proposition. Once he heard that the customer was the colonel of Chola Nadu, he relented.

They crossed the lagoon in the boat. But how do they then reach the Thondaiman port? It was not easy to walk across the jungle terrain. It would also take longer; therefore they decided to keep going in the boat along the eastern coast until they came to the Thondaiman river confluence.

Till midnight the boatman ferried the boat along the shore. He was then tired. He declined any help from the others. “Now we have to change direction often. Bends and protruding rocky edges are plenty. If the boat crashes into a rock, it will break into smithereens. We should only continue when the sun is up,” he said. The colonel and others were also tired. They slept in a grove nearby.

Vandhiyathevan did not like any of this. He fought with Azhvarkadiyan.

“All because of you!” he said.

“What do you mean because of me?” asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“You never speak clearly. I have been watching from Kadampoor. You speak as if you are withholding something; you tell only half the news, you keep the rest a secret; you knew the intention of the prince when he got on the elephant! If you had told me about it I too would have got on that elephant! After all the trouble we went through to find the prince, we have now let him slip from our hands! What do I tell the junior stateswoman in Pazhaiyarai?” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Once you handed her letter, your work was over. Now what?” replied Azhvarkadiyan.

“No, my work is over only when I take the prince to the junior stateswoman. It looks as if even you will stand in my way!”

“No, Son, no! I am not standing in the way. Tomorrow I will bid farewell to the colonel and be on my way.”

“Your mission is over. You are slipping away because you had handed over the prince. I was always a bit suspicious of you. Now it is confirmed.”

After fighting in this manner for a while they fell asleep. Because they were very tired they slept like logs.

At the crack of dawn it was Azhvarkadiyan who woke up to the sound of oars plying the water. He was alarmed by what he saw in front of him. At a short distance from the shore there was a vessel with an open sail. It was clear that it was ready to leave. A boat was traveling towards it from the shore. Beside the boatman there were three others in it. It didn’t take too long for Azhvarkadiyan to know that it was the same boat that had brought them here the previous evening.

Soon he also guessed as to how that ship had turned up there as if out of the blue. Near where they were the sea had turned inward forming a small bay. The place was covered by trees. After waiting there the ship had come out at sunrise.

Whose ship was it? Where did it come from? Where is it going? Why is the boat going toward the ship? Who is in it? All these questions flashed as quickly as lightening across Azhvarkadiyan’s mind.

“Colonel! Colonel! Wake up!” He shouted.

The colonel, Vandhiyathevan and the other two soldiers woke up, startled.

They saw the ship with the sail. The colonel said, “Oh! It is the Chola Nadu ship. It must be the one that Pazhuvertaraiyars had sent. The prince is perhaps on it. Aiyo! We have been sleeping! How stupid!” he said.

Spotting the boat he shouted, “Adayday! Isn’t that the boat we came on? Who are these people on it? Aday, Boat-fellow! Stop, stop!” he yelled.

It was not clear if the boatman heard it. He did not stop the boat. He kept on rowing.

Vandhiyathevan was listening while taking in the sight. The colonel’s utterance, ‘The prince is on that ship,’ traveled through his ears and reached his mind. After that his mind had no other thought. Was there any question about what he should do? Did his legs need to be told? Not at all. The next minute he had jumped into the sea. He hurried on pushing the waves. Fortunately there was not a lot of water. Therefore Vandhiyathevan rapidly covered a vast distance. He got closer to the boat. All of a sudden he found himself in deep water. He began to struggle. “Aiyo! I am going to drown! Help!” he shouted. There was the sound of people laughing from the boat. Then they started talking. The boat paused; the boatman bent down and gave him a hand. Vandhiyathevan climbed in. The boat went on.

Vandhiyathevan scrutinized those on the boat. One of them was clearly not from Tamil Nadu. He looked like he was from the Arab country. He looked at the other two, surprised at how this man came to be on that boat. Their faces were half covered by their head-wrap. Yet he could see that they were from Tamil Nadu. Not only that. Their faces were familiar. Where, where did we see them? – Ah! I remember! Aren’t they the men who accompanied Parthipenthira Pallavan from Dambulla? Azhvarkadiyan had said that they had come to kill the prince! Oho! I have seen one of them somewhere else! Isn’t he the magician Ravithasan? Didn’t he hoot like an owl when he came to see the Pazhuvur Rani? Alright, alright. They are going to the ship knowing that the prince is on it. Aha! This is a danger along the way for the prince! How fortunate it is that I hurried and got on this boat?…

The boat kept moving; it was nearing the ship. The men on it remained silent. Vandhiyathevan could not bear it any longer. He wanted to have them talk.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Can’t you see? We are headed to that ship over there!” said the magician. With his mouth half covered his voice sounded demonic.

“Where is the ship going?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“We will know only when we get on it,” said Ravithasan.

Again, silence took over. ‘Om’ – they were surrounded by the sea’s endless incantation.

The magician Ravithasan broke the silence. “Where are you going, Son?” he asked.

“I am also going to the ship,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“From the ship where are you going?”

“I will know only when I get on it!” Vandhiyathevan repeated the man’s words promptly.

The boat had reached the ship. A ladder was lowered for them. One by one they climbed up. Vandhiyathevan latched on to the ladder before it was pulled up. On the deck there was talking. It was a language that he did not comprehend. Vandhiyathevan hurried on with even more haste and jumped on to the deck. Immediately he yelled, “Where is the prince?” and looked around. Even his iron heart was shaken by his surroundings. Around him stood scowling Arab country men. Each one appeared like a Rakshasha. They all stared at him. No one answered his question.

“I have made a huge mistake” – the thought arose in Vandhiyathevan’s mind. This is not a Chola Nadu ship; it cannot be. These are not sailors from Chola Nadu. These are Arab country men who had come to sell bigger and bigger horses.

The prince cannot be here. I had come in a hurry. How do I escape? He looked over the edge of the ship. The boat was leaving. “Boatman, stop!” – he yelled as he tried to jump down. His throat was seized from behind by a diamond like grip. One pull; one shove. Tossed up in the air by one of the men, Vandhiyathevan landed at the center of the deck. He was furious. He jumped up and dealt a blow to the man’s chin. The six footed Arab fell down taking down along with him the man who was behind.

Hearing a loud grunt from behind, he turned just in time. Or else the knife would have gone through his back. Turning, he knocked the knife down. ‘Danar’ – the knife hit the floor and from there it catapulted into the sea and disappeared.

Next second, several men rushed from all sides and grabbed him. They spoke an incomprehensible tongue. Their leader barked an order. Vandhiyathevan’s hands and feet were tied. They bound his hands to his body. He was then carried to the lower level by four men. Vandhiyathevan tried to kick them and free himself to no avail. On the lowest level of the ship they dropped him on a stack of wooden logs. They left after tying him to one of the logs.

The ship rocked this way and that way. Vandhiyathevan knew that the ship was on its way. When the ship swayed, the logs rolled and fell on him. His hands were tied preventing him from moving the logs.

“If I escape today I will never do anything in a hurry again. Like Azhvarkadiyan I must act only after thinking carefully,” Vandhiyathevan thought to himself.

At that time a demonic laugh was heard nearby. With the greatest difficulty Vandhiyathevan turned his head to look. He saw the magician Ravithasan standing there. The cloth covering half his face has been removed.

“Son! I came in search of that Chola tribe tiger; he did not get caught. But the Varnar tribe fox did! So far, I am a lucky man!” he said.

In the above recounting, those on the shore knew only up to the point when Vandhiyathevan left on that boat. Even the boatman returned to the shore unaware of what took place on the ship.

The colonel and others got on the boat. They decided that it was impossible to follow the ship and make contact with it. Instead they decided to go to the Thondaiman river confluence. Another ship may be waiting there. The prince may be on it. At least they will get some news!

They questioned the boatman. Nothing was forthcoming from him. “I was asleep on the boat. Very early in the morning someone woke me. They offered a lot of money for a ride to the ship. I went thinking that I could be back before you woke up; I don’t know anything else,” he said.

Azhvarkadiyan related to the prince what he knew of this story.

He added, “Prince! When Vandhiyathevan jumped into the sea, initially I too thought of following him. But I have always been a bit hesitant about the sea; I don’t know to swim well. In addition, I also had doubts about the ship. It seemed impossible that you would be on that ship. I also doubted if it was indeed a Chola Nadu ship. I told the colonel about this. We decided to come and check this place before reaching a conclusion. Only after seeing you we have peace of mind!”

After diligently listening to Azhvarkadiyan the prince replied, “But there is no peace in my mind, Thirumalai! Vandhiyathevan is going on that ship. The Pazhuvertaraiyars will lock him up in the dungeon!”

“Prince! Why must we put up with the demands of those ruthless men? Please grant me permission. Before the next full moon I will bring an end to the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ authority and lock them up in the dungeon,” the colonel said.

“Sir! Please don’t expect even in your dreams that I will go against my father’s wishes even minutely!” The prince said.

Everyone turned at the sound of a fast approaching horse. The horse stopped at a distance. All were surprised to see that the rider who had ridden the horse without a bridle or saddle, was a woman.

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