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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (50)

September 20, 2015

From Part II of the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthy


One cannot express in words Parthipenthiran’s surprise upon seeing the prince in the boat. It was as if the deity didn’t just make an abrupt visit saving him the trouble of going to the temple but it also said to him, ‘Make your wish!’ In any case what is the reason behind his journey alone in this boat? What happened to the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ ship?… Is he coming on the assumption that this is indeed the ship that had come to take him as a prisoner, unaware that this is Parthipenthiran’s?

Soon it became clear that there was no such misunderstanding. Once the prince boarded the ship from the boat he gave a quick summary of what had happened until then precluding Parthipenthiran’s inquiries.

“Vandhiyathevan is in the ship that is in the hands of the Arabs. We must somehow rescue him,” he said.

The news made Parthipenthiran very happy. “It’s all for the best. If this reckless boy had not acted in haste it would have been even better. Yet we must not leave him in the hands of foreigners. That ship could not have gone far; we can go after them,” he said. He then called the ship’s commander and gave him the news.

“What’s there to worry? If the wind keeps blowing in this manner we can catch them by evening! Where will the ship go beyond our reach? It has to go to Kodikarai and then be around the coast there!” said the kalapathi.

But the god od the winds had other plans. Gradually the wind eased up. At noon it became completely still. The sea was calm with no waves. From a glowing ball of fire in the sky the sun-god unleashed heat that scorched the ocean! Of course for the touch the water would not have been hot. But for the eyes, the sea did not appear to hold water; it was more like a vat of fat fuming and smoking. In places where the sun’s rays directly hit the water and deflected, the sea looked like a molten liquid of fire.

The ship did not move; the sails were up on all the masts. What is the use? Just as the sound of the wind was missing, the ‘chada, chada’ noise of the sails flapping in the air had also ceased. The ‘kara mura’ sound of the masts and the crossbars grazing against each other also was gone. There was no sound of the ship tearing across the water. In truth the silence became an unbearable agony.

Adding to it, the prince’s concern about Vandhiyathevan’s fate also escalated.

“The wind and the ship have both come to a standstill! How long is it going to be this way! When will we have the wind blowing again? Won’t the other ship get away?” The prince asked with worry.

Parthipenthiran looked at the captain of the vessel.

kalapathi replied, “The wind cannot completely cease for long. There is a cyclone taking form somewhere. Very soon it may attack us; or it may bypass us and move away. Whether the cyclone strikes us or not, it is certain that the sea will become rough. See how calm it is now? Before the night is over we will see the waves rising, we will see them rise like mountains; and then falling deep down into the abyss!”

“Won’t it be dangerous if the ship is caught in the cyclone?”

“Not some trivial danger! Only God can save us!”

“So it is unlikely that we will catch that other ship.”

“Prince! The wind and sea don’t discriminate. Whatever we are facing the other ship will also face. Right now it is also standing still…”

“Perhaps it had reached the coast?” The prince asked.

“Near the coast, those on the ship can get down and escape! But that is the end of the ship!” Kalapathi replied.

“However big the danger is, if we have people close to us nearby then there is nothing to worry,” the prince said. The cheerful face of Vandhiyathevan and the confused face of Poongkuzhali appeared often in his mind’s eyes. Where are they now? What can they be doing? What can they be thinking?

Let’s go to Vandhiyathevan whom we left under truly dangerous circumstances. In the bottom most level of the large vessel that had come to take the prince back as a captive, in a room along with an assortment of unused furniture, wood piles, and bundled up gunny sacks, he was lying in the dark tied to a log. For a long he lay there as if in a trance. He was tormented by the realization that he had placed himself under this predicament through his reckless nature. However much he tried he could not figure out what or whose this ship was, how the rude Arabs came to be in the company of the magician Ravithasan, where the ship was going or what they would do to him. Perhaps all that he had dreamed about his future was to end up just that – a dream! In between he was also tempted to think that he would come out of this just as he had done from greater predicaments than this. Let’s see, as long as there is life in my body, as long as there is the power to reason and act intelligently, I need not lose hope entirely. With this thought he looked around. At first his eyes found it impossible to penetrate the darkness. Gradually objects took form. He saw several weapons piled very close to him. Even though his body was bound tightly his hands were not. He could wiggle his hands out to reach for one of the knives; he could cut the ropes around his legs and body. But what will he do after that? The door of this room is closed. How will he go outside? Even if he did can he fight with the Arabs, the magician and his friend? Even if he killed everyone what will he do afterwards? Can he sail the ship all alone? He knew nothing about ships!

Yes; he should not be in a hurry again; he must be patient. Just the fact that they didn’t kill him at once and had instead locked him up allows room for hope! Let’s see, what they will do!

But as time passed, Vandhiyathevan’s patience was again put to the test. The room was stuffy like being cooked over a stove. He was perspiring all over. He had never imagined that sea voyage could feel this uncomfortable. He thought about his boat ride with Poongkuzhali. How cool the breeze was then! It felt so pleasant. What a big difference between that journey and this? They talk about being placed in lime-kiln, isn’t it like that?

Suddenly he felt a difference. Yes, the ship was not rocking anymore. It was waiting in one place. The stuffiness increased. He was feeling thirsty; his throat and tongue were parched. Why? It is impossible to wait any longer. It is time to reach for the knife, undo the rope and leave. Won’t they have drinking water somewhere on the ship?

Vandhiyathevan looked around. In one corner lay some coconuts. Aha! When there is butter why wait for ghee? With the coconuts he could put an end to both hunger and thirst! Vandhiyathevan loosened the rope around his wrists. He even reached for the knife. He heard footsteps. He heard the door opening. He pulled his hand back.

Magician Ravithasan and his friend, who had been there earlier, walked in. Both stood next to Vandhiyathevan, one on each side.

“How is the journey, Appa? Is it comfortable?” Ravithasan asked.

Vandhiyathevan said with the greatest difficulty, “Thirst is killing me; some water!”

“Ah! We are also thirsty. These cutthroats didn’t leave water on the ship!” Ravithasan said.

Kali is more thirsty than anyone else. Blood thirsty!” said the other person.

Vandhiyathevan turned and stared at him. “Don’t you remember me, Brother! Have you forgotten? At Kadampoor palace, at the end of the folk dance performance, a Thevaralan danced frantically! ‘Mother Kali is asking for sacrifice; she is asking for royal blood with a thousand year history’ – he proclaimed during his psychic trance!…”

“Ah! I remember now! You are that courtesan!” Vandhiyathevan mumbled.

“Yes; it is I! We came to Ilankai believing we could offer Kali the prince of thousand year fame. It did not happen. We tried to send that brave Vaishnavan to Vishnu’s heaven. That also did not work. At least you came on your own! We are very happy. For now Kali will have to be satisfied with blood from the petty king kind!” said Thevaralan.

“Then why are you waiting?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“Can we sacrifice a brave young man like you just like that? We have to reach the shore and then invite all the priests and then sacrifice you with pomp and circumstance! Most importantly, the priestess must be there!”

“Who is the priestess?”

“You don’t know? Indeed it’s the Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani.”

Vandhiyathevan considered it for a moment. “If this is really your intention then please give me some water at once. Or else I will die here of thirst,” he said.

“There is no water, Brother!”

“Aren’t you a magician?”

“Good question! I have cast my magic! Don’t you feel the ship standing still? At night there is going to be a cyclone. With that will come rain!”

“What is the use of rain for me? You are up on the deck! I am here…”

“You too can come up. You can extend your tongue, drink water and alleviate your thirst. If you listen to us…”

“What are you saying?”

“We are saying that we must offer these Arabian devils to the ocean king.”


They are saying that they want to take this ship to Kalinga country. We said that we want to get down at either Kodiyakarai or Nagapattinam…”

“There are six of them, moreover they seem to be real imbeciles!”

“Three of them are sleeping; the other three are yawning with sleep. If the three of us get rid of the three who are asleep, then we can tackle the other three!” Vandhiyathevan remained non-committal.

“What do you say, Brother? If you agree to our idea we will untie the rope around you.”

The face of the prince appeared before Vandhiyathevan. Yes; he will not agree to this. He will never agree to killing someone who is asleep.

“I can’t; killing someone who is asleep is immoral!”

“Fool! These Arabs killed the Chola Nadu soldiers in their sleep.”

“If others do something vile, why should I also do the same?”

“Alright! As you please!” said Ravithasan.From the pile of armaments he picked up a sharp sword. Thevaralan chose a wooden rice-pounder fitted with an iron ferrule at one end.

Both left the room. But they did not secure the bolt from the outside. As soon as they left Vandhiyathevan reached out for a knife and set himself free with it. He jumped up and grabbed a coconut and broke it. He drank the coconut water. He covered the remaining coconuts with a sack. He then chose a good sword suitable for fighting. He stood in attendance waiting to leap out any moment. Shortly, there were two ‘thump, thump’ sounds. He knew that two bodies had been tossed into the sea. This was followed immediately by loud screaming on the deck along with sounds of fighting and swords clanging.

Vandhiyathevan ran with the sword in his hand. The four Arabs were attacking Ravithasan and Thevaralan who were both cornered into a precarious position. Vandhiyathevan ran shouting out loud. One of the Arabs turned and came to attack him. Vandhiyathevan’s sword struck the Arab man’s and made it fall into the sea; it also left a wound on the man’s face. With his face grotesquely disfigured by the gaping wound and the pouring blood he advanced with a clenched fist aimed at Vandhiyathevan’s chest. Vandhiyathevan moved ever so slightly. The Arab fell losing his balance. The impact of his fall displaced a crossbar on a mast which struck his head. Following a duel with another one of the Arabs, Vandhiyathevan managed to push him into the sea.

The magician Ravithasan and Thevaralan were not experienced in fighting. Therefore even dueling with the Arabs turned out to be difficult for them. With time they were becoming more and more tired. When the Arab men turned their heads at the sound of something hitting the water, Ravithasan and Thevaralan seized their chance to finish them off.

Once it was over the three winners sat down to rest. “Appan! You came at the right time! How did you come?” Ravithasan asked.

“It seemed as if you had performed some magic. The rope that held me bound came untied on its own. This sword also hopped into my hand!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“What happened to your thirst?”

“A coconut appeared over my head. It split itself and poured its water into my mouth!”

“Oho! You are a wicked fellow,” said Thevaralan. Both men rolled in laughter.

“Brother! We were testing you. We left you loosely bound on purpose. We left the weapons near you. We left the coconuts where you could see them,” said Ravithasan. Vandhiyathevan could not know if all of this was true or not. He remained silent.

“Appan! Think about it! Do you want to live? Do you want to reach the shore safely and see your family and friends? Do you want to acquire wealth, comfort, titles and status in your life? If you do, please speak; join us! You can have all these benefits!” Ravithasan said.

“Didn’t you kill those people who were sleeping?” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“We could only kill two. The third man woke up. If you had joined us before it would have been easier.”

“Killing a person in his sleep, where is it justified? How could you do it?”

“If you are intimidated by this small mustard, how will you swallow whole pumpkins? If you join us…”

“You keep saying, ‘us’ – who are you?”

Ravithasan looked at Thevaralan. “There is no need for secrecy any more. Either, he joins us. Or, he becomes an offering to the ocean. So we can tell him everything,” he said.

“Tell him everything!” Thevaralan said.

“Listen, Brother! We are King Veera Pandyan’s emergency squad. We have sworn under oath that we will protect him.”

“You could not do it! Athitha Karikalar won…”

“How did he win? He won because of a woman’s stupidity. She had too much confidence in the power of her salaciousness. She believed that she could make that Chola cobra unfold and dance. The snake indeed took form and danced. But along the way it showed the power of its poisonous bite. Our king’s head rolled in the dust. They took it up to Thanjavur. They paraded the head in a palankeen. Aha! Thanjavur! Thanjavur! Wait and see what’s coming to that city, Brother!”

When Ravithasan spoke his widened red eyes widened further spewing out fire. His body trembled. He grit his teeth audibly and ferociously. His appearance accordingly took an unsightly form.

“Let bygones be bygones. Whet can you going to do about it now? Can you resurrect the dead Veera Pandyan?”

“We cannot resurrect Veera Pandyar. Even my magic does not possess that kind of power. But we would seek revenge by destroying his killer and all those associated with him. We would destroy the serpentine Chola tribe together with their babies and infants Would you join us? Speak!”

“After destroying the Chola tribe? What will you do after that?”

“We will crown whoever our Maharani chooses…”

“Who is Maharani?”

“Don’t you know, Brother! The one who is pretending as Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani now!”

“In that case,… Mathuranthakathevar?”

“Isn’t he another little serpent?”


“Ah! You think we will make that old man our king? To use his wealth and influence…”

“Your Maharani resides in his house!”

“You figured it out! You are ingenious!”

“You said that a woman was responsible for the death of Veera Pandyan?”

“That is also Pazhuvur Rani! She promised to protect the war-wounded Veera Pandyan. She did not keep her promise. Thinking that she betrayed us we were going to burn her alive. Because she joined us in taking the oath of revenge we let her live. Until now she had kept her word. Oh! Without her help we could not have accomplished so much.”

“You haven’t accomplished anything!”

“Be patient, Appan! Just watch us,” said Ravithasan.

“He found out everything from us. He didn’t answer any of our questions!” Thevaralan said.

“Brother! What do you say? Will you join us? Who knows? You might even turn lucky. You might be the ascending South Tamil country’s mighty throne. What do you say?”

Awhile back Vandhiyathevan would have said, “Aha! I will join you!” But his association with the prince in the last three days had transformed his attitude. His penchant for double-talk and conspiracy had diminished. Therefore in order to change the subject he asked, “How did you capture this ship? How did you become friendly with the Arab countrymen you sent to yamanulakam just now?”

“All because of my magical power, Appan! It was from these people that we purchased the horses in Trincomalee. It was with those horses that we kept following you back and forth. We saw the prince disembarking in Elephant-Pass. We took a shortcut to arrive here before him. When we got here our old friends had captured this ship. Apparently their ship had crashed near Mullaitheevu and become buried in sand. Hiding here they were able to take possession of this ship. They asked us if we could serve as their guides along the caost. It was as if the fruit slipped and fell into the milk.”

“How is that?”

“We heard that young Chola serpent speaking to the Chola colonel. We knew that somehow he was going to end up in Chola Nadu. Not only that, Brother! There is a dumb female devil in Ilankai. This devil was double-crossing our magic through her counter-magic and forever rescuing Arulmozhivarman. But it will not come to Tamil Nadu…”

Vandhiyathevan thought about all that happened in Anuradhapura that night.

Ravithasan suddenly laughed.

“What is this laughter? At what?’ Vandhiyathevan asked.

“Nothing, Brother! I was thinking of these Arab people’s nature; I began to laugh. Aren’t they ruthless? Killing another man is like slicing a plantain for them. Yet they are enormously fond of horses. Apparently, in their country for riding they will fit their horses with an iron cap on their hooves. They say that we are riding the horses barefooted. Because of it according to them we become unkind, unsophisticated people worse than even animals! They say that it is a sin to sell us horses!… Do you know what happened this morning?…”

“Go on!”

“We all got on the ship. We put up the sails. The ship started. At that moment we heard the sound of hooves from the shore. That was it, they suspected that it could be one of the horses that had survived the Mullaitheevu wreck. One of them insisted that he wanted to go and check it out on the shore. They sent us also with him…”


“We didn’t catch the horse, Brother! We caught you! See, how good it turned out to be! How convenient it was to get rid of these horse lovers.”

“This is all very well; this boy has still not answered our question,” reminded Thevaralan.

“I will, Sir! I will! I am employed by the Chola tribe. I will never join you…”

“Are you in the Velakara army? Have you taken a vow?”

“Nothing like that.”

“Then what is the problem? You are a warrior. Whichever side is more advantageous, you ought to join that!”

Vandhiyathevan did not tell them that he had stronger reason to join the Chola tribe than all the vows in this world. Does he need more reason than the sideways glance of the junior stateswoman or her jasmine like smile, to place his life on the line for the sake of the Chola tribe? Then there is the prince and his friendship! Can anyone who became friends with him once ever change?

“Whatever the matter, I will never join your murderous group!”

“In that case, get ready to offer your life to the ocean king,” said Ravithasan.


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