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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (51 – 53)

October 11, 2015

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

51. CYCLONE

The wind did not stir; the sea did not rock; the ship also did not move. Vandhiyathevan remained silent for a while staring at the sea that spread  like a calm and placid lake. In his heart though waves the size of mountains rose and fell.

All of a sudden holding out his hands toward the sea he yelled, “Ohm Hhreem Hhram Vashat!” Next second he took the dagger in his hand. He rotated it twice in the pose of a shakram.

“Yes! Yes! The ocean king is demanding a sacrifice! A double feast, he is demanding. He is asking for the two tricksters who kill people in their sleep! He will let this ship pass only if a sacrifice is offered. Where! Come and hold out your heads here at once! Hurry! Hurry!” he shouted riotously.

Ravithasan stared at Vandhiyathevan in surprise. “Ha! Ha! Ha,” he laughed again like a demon.

“Little Brother! What is this prank?”

“Elder Brothers! This is not a prank; a while ago when I was lying down tied up in ropes I fell asleep. I had a dream then. As if the sea and earth had rolled into one, an enormous form stood before me. It said something, I didn’t understand it then; now I know! The ocean king is requesting the lives of two Kali devotees who are experts in magic. He is also saying that he cannot let this ship go unless the offering is made. The lives of six ruthless Arabs did not satisfy him. Come on! Quick!” Vandhiyathevan raised the sword in his hand.

Ravithasan and Thevaralan looked at each other.

“Brother! I have not come across anyone who can make up stories like you!” Ravithasan said.

“Oh! You have no faith in what I am saying? I am making up stories? Ocean King! Answer these fools yourself!” He yelled.

Perhaps the ocean king heard him. Perhaps the ocean king also wanted to answer!

A strange phenomenon took hold of the sea. It shook itself in all directions as far as eyes could see. Thousands and thousands of tiny, teeny-weeny waves rose and fell. This happened momentarily. The next second all the waves turned into bubbles of silvery froth. All over the sprawling sea these white bubbles bounced and tumbled. How would it be if millions and millions of tiny white thumbai flowers kept rolloing in the gentle breeze on an expanse of fresh green grass! The sight of the ocean was such!

Yes; the gentle breeze, – sweet and balmy – it moved embracing that vessel also for a second. The ship shook itself. Vandhiyathevan’s body that had been scorched by the heat also felt the caress of the wind.

Ravithasan and Thevaralan laughed, “Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“Brother! The ocean king himself responded to your question! We must prepare ourselves for the sacrifice!” Ravithasan said.

Vandhiyathevan’s heart shuddered. The prattling of the sea followed by the dramatic change had astounded him.

Aha! What is this? Where have the thousands of tiny waves and millions of frothy white drops gone? Mysteriously they have disappeared! Again the sea lies calmly like a green metal sheet! What I just saw, was it real? Or was it an illusion? Perhaps this is another magic trick of Ravitahsan!

“Did you see that? Brother! The sky agrees with the sea!” Ravithasan pointed toward the southwest.

There, at the far corner of where the green sea merged with the blue sky, – a fragment of a small dark cloud stood a foot tall. The top of that dark cloud bled into a reddish blood red shade. On ordinary days Vandhiyathevan would not have paid attention to this. Is there anything shocking about a cloud gathering at the point where the sea meets the sky! No! Yet even that small spectacle had shaken our hero’s mind.

Next second Vandhiyathevan managed to get a grip of himself. He resolved in his heart not to fall into the trappings of this magician. He looked into the eyes of Ravithasan and then Thevaralan. “In that case, why delay? Come on,” he said swinging his sword upwards.

“Appan! Before we are sacrificed we want to pray to our deity. Give us half a second!” Ravithasan said.

“Alright! Finish your prayer and come quickly. Don’t try your tricks and magic on me. It won’t work!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“We are coming. See, we will leave our weapons here!” Ravithasan said.

Accordingly they left their weapons and went to another side of the ship.

That half a second was necessary for Vandhiyathevan. The sudden changes in the sea and the sky had strangely disturbed his mind and weakened his body. He had resolved to finish the two savages in one sweep of his sword if the need arose. But at that moment doubt had crept in, whether he had the strength in his hands to carry it through. Therefore he needed a little time to steady his mind and bring power back to his hands.

By chance his attention turned again to the southwest corner. What was only a span of twelve fingers stretched  across a moment ago, these gathering clouds have now grown taller. The red color at the top had faded a little. The clouds seemed to be reaching higher.

The wind that had paused after the initial prattle now blew steadily. There was movement in the water also. Small waves began to dance. The clouds grew higher and higher in the sky. Wind also picked up speed steadily. The ship began to move slowly.

Between the wind’s chime and the waves’ splashing, what is that noise? It sounded as if something fell into the sea. Vandhiyathevan turned. Ravithasan and Thevaralan were not there. Nothing strange about that. They are on the other side of the ship. They are hidden by the masts and the stage in the center.

Ah! What is this? There’s the sound of oars plying the water!… Vandhiyathevan ran to the other end of the ship. He was truly astounded by the sight there. He didn’t expect it at all. He had thought that they went away to discuss together avenues of placating him. But they had let the boat that was tied to the ship on the opposite side down into the water and they were in the boat! They were rowing the boat.

Ravithasan laughed when he saw Vandhiyathevan. “We don’t want to be offered to the ocean king. Do you understand,” he said.

It didn’t take a second for Vandhiyathevan to realize his situation. They are leaving him all alone in this big ship. He knew nothing about sailing. He had no clue about where the ship was positioned in the ocean, or what direction to follow to get to any place. They are abandoning him and leaving.

“Cutthroats! Can’t you take me also?” He asked.

“Brother! Can we go without leaving even one offering for the ocean king?” Ravithasan asked. The boat kept moving away from the ship.

“Shall I jump into the water and try to catch the boat?” Vandhiyathevan considered it for a moment. Promptly he gave up the notion. He did not know to swim well. Even to jump from the ship, his mind refused. Even if did jump and somehow made it to the boat, one never knew what these savages would do! They have shared their secret with him! They also knew that he will never join them. When he tries to climb into the boat they might attack him with the oars and try to kill him. He cannot fight with them while struggling in the water!

“Let them go! Let them get lost! It is better to be alone in this big ship rather than to be on a boat with those treacherous murderers! With God’s mercy didn’t I outlive so many calamities before? God will show me a way out of this danger also! Let the traitors go…

But is it right to let them escape alive? Who knows where they will land? How many more schemes they will hatch and how many more atrocities they will commit? God is there, what can I do? It’s enough if I can somehow join the prince again! But he should not have abandoned me like this! He could have taken me also with Poongkuzhali on the elephant. If I meet him again, I must fight with him. ‘Is this the treatment of friendship in the ancient Chola tribe,’ I must ask. But will that opportunity even arise?… Am I going to see the prince again?… Why not? The colonel and Azhvarkadiyan are aware of my predicament. Won’t they do something? Won’t they inform the prince when they meet him?”

While Vandhiyathevan was thus immersed in thought, he noticed that the boat had gone a long way. How did this boat go so fast? Not only the boat; his ship was also moving. That is why a great distance had cropped up between the ship and the boat! Vandhiyathevan also saw that the waves in the sea were becoming bigger. Was that all? What is this? In broad day light one side is turning so dark!

Vandhiyathevan turned his glance toward the southwest. The foot long cloud had grown enormously covering most of the western sky. The clouds were still gathering rapidly in clusters and rolling upwards in the sky. Under his watch they proceeded to cover the sun that had descended half way down the western sky. The south and the west became increasingly dark. Reflecting the dark clouds from the sky, the sea also took on the color of black ink making it difficult for the eyes to see where the sea ended and where the sky began.

The flock of clouds kept rolling reaching the point above Vandhiyathevan’s head. Then they started descending to the east.

Vandhiyathevan looked in the direction of the boat. He could no longer see it. It had perhaps gone beyond the reach of his sight! ‘Ho!’ – the gentle chime of the wind had turned into a howl.

Combined with that was the roar of the waves which rose louder minute by minute. ‘Chada – pada’ – the open sails of the ship flapped loudly. Wooden slats and crossbars grazed against each other producing a sound as if a thousand revolving doors were opening and closing. Vandhiyathevan looked up at the masts. From their position he understood that the ship was not on a linear course but instead was revolving in circles.

They mentioned cyclone! Perhaps there is going to be a cyclone! Common sense informed Vandhiyathevan that the sails ought to be lowered from their masts and rolled up during a cyclone. But how is it possible for a lone man like him? Isn’t it something that ten people do together? If not ten, at least four people are needed. What can one person do all alone? God chooses the path. Best is to let the ship face its own fate and do nothing!

Very soon he knew where the ship’s fate lay. After rocking with the waves this way and that way it will simply drown in the sea! Whatever the ship’s fate was, he had no doubt about his!

Death in mid sea! That Kumbakona astrologer did not say a word about this. See! Astrologer indeed! If I see him again… madness! How would I see him again?

Suddenly a hefty object fell on Vandhiyathevan’s shoulder. ‘Chada – pada’ – all over the ship fell tiny little pebbles of stones. They fell abundantly into the sea also. The pebble stones shone as brightly as crystal! How are they falling from the sky?

Two or three more stones fell on his head, back and shoulders. At first they hurt; it was then followed by a cooling sensation. Looking at the stones that fell on the ship, Ah! They are melting? Yes, this is an ice rain; until then Vandhiyathevan had not seen a rain like that; had not experienced it. He felt a happiness in his heart that he was able to see this miracle before dying.

He sat on the deck of the ship, and enjoyed touching the hail stones. Ammah! How frigid! Doesn’t it feel like fire to the touch? But it didn’t burn the skin like fire. Soon the heat becomes cold. Just as it had arrived unexpectedly the hail shower stopped abruptly. The duration was not even five minutes.

It was followed by rain. Vandhiyathevan observed the rain falling on to the deck and then scattering into the sea. He admired the ingenuity of the Chola Nadu maritime engineers. However much it rained or the waves rose to flood the ship the ship’s design was such that the water always ran back into the sea. Unless the base of the ship cracked and let water in, the vessel could not drown!

When he saw this he felt bolder. Something came to his mind at once. If the door to the room where he was kept bound was open then the water can get in. He ran to check. Just as he had thought, the door was open and was banging back and forth in the wind. He closed the door firmly and bolted it.

If the wind and rain became unbearable on the deck he could even lock himself inside that room. Then he could be in peace leaving God to decide his fate. Vandhiyathevan felt sorry for the two fools who went off on a boat leaving such a secure ship. But that boat’s construction was also remarkable. Wind and rain, however strong cannot sink it. Even if it sank there was a wooden log tied to its side. Holding on to it those traitors will reach the shore. Most probably they will land near the Kodikarai shore.

From Kodikarai, Vandhiyathevan’s mind leapt to Pazhaiyarai. How will the emperor’s daughter find out about his fate? Who will tell her that he drowned in mid sea while carrying out the mission that she had entrusted to him. Will the sea tell her? Will the wind go and tell her?

God! Why didn’t I die before I met this queen? Why didn’t I die a soldier’s death in the battlefield? You gave me a glance at heaven and now you are pushing me into the abyss of hell!

The wind was becoming stronger. The sea was getting more and more boisterous. The masts on the ship roared and danced like demons and devils.

Darkness became more dark. How can there be a darkness that is darker than dark? It seems as if it is possible.

Suddenly lightening split the sky, leaping from one end to the other. The darkness that followed was darker than darkness, it seemed.

The lightening was followed by thunder; the ship shuddered; the sea shuddered; the horizons shuddered.

Another streak of lightening began at the base of the sky tearing the dark. It spread up and up, shooting branches and twigs, penciling several luminescent strokes all over the sky, illuminating both sky and the sea in the process, then disappearing the next second altogether. Thunder followed. Ammamah! There is no doubt that the regoliths were exploding. More lightening; thunder. No sooner than Vandhiyathevan thought, ‘The sky has not burst open even now; how strange!’ – the sky burst open. A torrential flood poured forth from that gulf.

Yes; there was no way it could be called rain. There was a turbulent sea in the sky. It came pouring down through the gulf that opened up suddenly.

The sea danced psychotically. In the light shed by the lightening the eyes caught sight of dancing peaks of mountains rising out of the water. The wind reached the climax of its riot. Vayubaghvan plucked out the dancing mountain peaks and flung them out into the open sky. Some of the mountains washed up on Vandhiyathevan’s ship also.

‘Thob – thob’ – the flood of rain poured from above; from the sides mountains of waves attacked. What the cyclone put the open sails through, cannot be described in words. Withstanding all of this, the ship that was built by the Chola Nadu carpenters kept revolving.

But how long can it revolve? How long can the ship put up with these demons? – No, this second or the next the ship has to drown. Vandhiyathevan also has to drown with it!

However, the thought was not ominous now. He considered such a death a wonder. Just like the waves that danced his heart also began to dance in joy.

Vandhiyathevan’s voice also joined the uproar of the wind, the sound of the waves and the deafening thunder. “Ha! Ha! Ha,” he laughed out loud. In order to see this sight he had taken the precautionary measure of tying himself to the base of the mast. When the ship spun the mast also spun; Vandhiyathevan also was spinning. How long this went on no one knows. It may be many eons or mere seconds. Vandhiyathevan had reached the divine state that was past the worldly sensibility of the present – space and time.

The wind appeared to be slowing down. The inundating rain had stopped. A few drops fell here and there. Lightening and thunder also seemed to have stopped. The sea was an abyss of darkness. Unable to face the dazzle of lightening Vandhiyathevan had been closing his eyes. Unable to bear the deafening noise of thunder he had placed his hands over his ears. Now he opened his eyes; he took his hands away from his ears. “Aha! Have I survived the dangers of this cyclone? Has God saved me? Am I going to see the Pazhaiyarai princess again in this birth? Am I going to meet the prince and talk to him?…”

“I should not be in a hurry. Who knows where this ship is now? How can I be certain that it will reach the shore safely? Even if the ship escapes harm, what is the guarantee that I will reach the shore alive?”

“Who knows how many more dangers are there…?”

As if in answer to his question the next second a ray of light drew a line across the sky. Its brightness brought a hundred suns to his eyes. It was possible to see something even in the dark; in this eerie brightness it was impossible to see anything. Vandhiyathevan fretted whether the lightening had taken his eyes away. He closed his burning eyes. At the same time his ears came under attack. Vandhiyathevan has heard thunder; even today he has heard many. But not like the present – Aha! Is it thunder? It was as if Indran’s vajrayutham entered through his ear and launched an attack from within his skull.

For a short time Vandhiyathevan was unable to open his eyes; ‘Ooy’ – the noise continued in his ears.

Inspite of his closed eyes he felt that there was a new brightness over his head. Amid the ‘ooy,’ his ears also heard a strange new sound. It was like the sound of firewood crackling when dry timber caught fire in a forest.

Vandhiyathevan opened his eyes. He saw that the ship’s mast had caught fire on top.

Aha! Now he knew! – why that lightening was so bright, why that thunder was so loud.

Thunder had struck either on that ship or somewhere very close! Because of that the mast had caught fire!

Two out of the five demigods had tried to destroy that Chola Nadu vessel. Water and wind lost. What they could not do, now the fire god had appeared to accomplish!

52. BOAT IN SMITHEREENS

When he saw that the mast had caught fire from thunder he realized that the ship was doomed. Therefore he too was doomed.

He did not feel afraid at all. Instead he felt jubilant. He laughed out loud. He untied the rope that secured him to the mast. There was no need to die in a fire in mid sea! Wasn’t it better instead to dive into the cool water and die peacefully at the bottom of the sea?

Vandhiyathevan did not want to waste the little time remaining in his life. He wanted to experience the beauty of the rough sea illuminated by the burning ship. Isn’t it better to take a good look at the place that was to become his grave? They say that those who face such sudden death are likely to haunt the place as ghosts? Would his ghost also hover over this sea? Will it float in the air? Will it stroll on the waves? When there is a cyclone will his ghost also revolve in circles?

“Aha! One day the princess may travel this route on a ship. The sailors will point out, ‘This is where Vandhiyathevan drowned with the ship!’ There will be tears brimming in her spear shaped eyes, they will roll down like pearls on her moon like face. If I happen to be near her as a ghost, will I be able to wipe those tears?…

The ship was atop a great wave. In the light of the torch lit on the mast the surrounding area was visible. In the sea water that glistened as black crystal, the area lit by the fire shone as a pool of gold. Before Vandhiyathevan had his eyes filled with the splendor of this spectacle something else grabbed his attention and eyes.

At a distance he saw a ship. On it he saw a tiger flag. “God! There is no end to your magic! – It must be Prince Arulmozhivarmar on that ship. He is coming in search of me,” – his instinct told him.

***

Parthipenthiran’s ship was caught in the same cyclone as Vandhiyathevan’s. But on this ship were expert sailors who were well informed of the cyclone’s nature. They took down the open sails and rolled them up. They steered the ship in a way that it never had to face the wind head on. One minute the ship would tilt to a point as if it was about to flip; next minute it would adjust itself and straighten up. However much the towering waves attacked the ship the planks and wood that were joined together would not crack open even a little! Not at all! The ocean king tossed that ship around as if playing ball. The cyclone turned it around like a spinning top. A flood poured out of the sky trying to drown and destroy that ship. Even if the sea, rain and wind attacked together these could not do any damage to the ship that was built by expert carpenters of Chola Nadu, that was being navigated by well known sailors from Tamil Nadu.

“I have seen fiercer cyclones and storms; I have tackled them. Therefore there is no need to worry,” said the kalapathi. But he expressed his fear about another danger to the prince and Parthipenthiran.

“Dark clouds have gathered from all sides and turned the sky completely dark. As if that was not enough it is raining incessantly. The waves in the sea are rising one behind the other as a range of mountains drawing a curtain blocking the ship’s view. Under these circumstances even if the ship that they had come in search of, happened to be nearby, they would not be able to see it. That ship also would be revolving and struggling in the same manner. If the two ships were to collide they will both break into pieces. The fate of those on the ships is doomed!”

“Therefore more than the danger the cyclone presented, the greater danger was the invisibility,” the captain of the ship said.

The prince was aware of this. Even in the midst of the wind and rain he stood at the edge of the ship and scrutinized the sea with his sharp eyes. Whenever there was lightening his eyes worked frantically to scan the surrounding area. The turmoil in his heart cannot be described. The messenger sent by his beloved sister is in the hands of ruthless Arabs and murderous magicians. To complicate matters further, this cyclone has arrived. Perhaps they will never be able to find that ship with that heroic young man! Even if they did are they going to see him alive? As kalapathi fears it would be a comedy of errors if his ship should crash into ours and both ships drowned in the sea! But who will give father the news? It is impossible to tell Parthipenthiran this family secret. If that Pallavan knew it would be cause for ridicule; he will not empathize with its significance. Until now the prince had not faced defeat in anything that he undertook. Perhaps this will be his defeat? – No, never. The ocean king will not idly watch while Ponniyin Selvan runs into danger and defeat!

The prince who was peering through the dark and rain also heard that thunder. To the accompanying lightening he too had to close his eyes momentarily. When he opened his eyes he saw another light that was not part of the lightening. At a distance a ship with open sails was dancing like a demon! Fire burned atop its mast! In the light of that fire the prince saw a man standing against the mast! God! Is this miracle possible? He is indeed that brave young man Vandhiyathevan! Why is he alone? What happened to the others? There was no time to think of all this now. The prince decided instantly what ought to be done.

Many others on the ship also saw the same scene. ‘There!’ – Their cry rose as one voice above the furor of the wind. The prince stood by the boat that was fastened to the ship and asked, “Who among you would come with me?” Having guessed his intention the sailors stood aghast. Yet many competed to come forward.

Parthipenthiran and kalapathi tried to put an end to it.

“Prince! What are you attempting? How can we take a boat in this rough sea? How can we save this guy on a burning ship? Yet, we can try. You should not go. There are so many of us who can go instead,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Careful! This time, I will not forgive those who are trying to stop me,” the prince stated in an authoritative manner. “Two among you should be sufficient; Come!” he said.

The boat was lowered into the sea. The prince and the two men of his choice jumped into it. Next second the boat began moving away from the ship. It danced psychotically over the waves. The prince and the two men rowed with all their strength. Gradually the boat neared the burning ship. By then the fire had traveled half way down the mast. But Vandhiyathevan was still standing there. In the light of the fire he looked at the ship; he saw the boat lowered from the ship. In his astonishment he forgot his surroundings. It did not occur to him that he should do something.

“Jump! Jump into the water!” The prince shouted. It did not fall in his ears. He stood like a motionless puppet. Alright; a few seconds of delay and the fire would reach the base of the ship; the vessel will sink. After that it will be impossible to save him.

Again the prince decided in a second what ought to be done next. He tied the free end of the long rope that was secured to that rescue boat for such emergency situations, around his waist tightly. After signaling to the two sailors he jumped into the sea. The waves that were playing with the boat until then, now played with the prince. One second he was raised to the sky; the next second he was down in the dungeon. Regardless, the prince kept frantically swimming toward the burning ship without losing his direction or target.

A big, really big wave arrived! If it had come down over the prince it may have pushed him down to the bottom of the sea! But it was a good wave; it came to do his bidding. It carried him over its head and flung him onto the deck of the burning ship.

When Vandhiyathevan, who was already untying himself saw the prince, he cried, ‘Ah,’ and leaped to catch him. The prince put his arm around his neck and held him tightly. He said in Vandhiyathevan’s ear, “Hold on to me! Do not let go!” Soon after, they were both once again in the sea being tossed around by the waves.

The sailors stopped rowing and started pulling the rope. The prince and Vandhiyathevan who held on to him like an iguana, were near the boat. It was no easy task to grab the boat and climb into it. Each minute that the prince spent attempting to climb into the boat while carrying Vandhiyathevan and fighting with the waves stretched as an eon.

One minute the boat was within their reach; the next minute, it had slipped farther away beyond reach. In the end, here too, it was a big wave that arrived to help. They rose with the wave that towered over the boat. With the help of the sailors they jumped into the boat.

“Row! Row fast,” the prince said.

Because, the burning ship was about to submerge into the sea. In the turmoil about to ensue at that time the boat also could capsize. Not only that; even though the fire would be put out by the drowning, it might become impossible to see the other ship.

Aha! The burning ship was starting to go under. What a terrifying beauty the ship was when it drowned with its blazing masts! They could not enjoy it for too long. As the prince expected the sea reacted. Waves rose to the skies.

The boat somehow circumvented the waves. But in the darkness that surrounded in the wake of the drowning the other ship could not be seen. They had no inkling of direction. They had no way of finding out if the boat and the ship were approaching each other or moving apart. Dangers awaited in both situations.

If they crashed into the boat in the dark the boat will break into pieces. If they move apart, need you ask? In the middle of the ocean surrounded by darkness what can that small boat do? Ocean King! You are the one who can save the beloved son of your lover Ponni!

The dealings of Vayubaghvan were very strange. Just as fast as the cyclone had arrived it departed at the same speed. It went wreaking havoc along its path as it traveled.

True, the cyclone had passed; but the chaos it caused in the water will not die down so easily. It will extend through the night and the following day. It will carry the sea a long way. The sea will cover the sandy plains of Kodikarai. Great waves will attack the walls of Nagapattinam. In addition, the chaos will spread from Kankesanthurai to Trincomalee. It will test Mathottam and Rameshvaram also.

Tossed around by waves the boat carrying the prince and others kept floating. After a while they gave up rowing. What was the use when they had no knowledge of direction, when they had no idea where the ship was? Wind had stopped; rain had stopped; thunder and lightening had stopped. But the unruliness of the waves had not gone down even a bit.

The boat kept struggling amid the waves. A completely unexpected danger was now approaching it. Here it is! Didn’t the burning ship drown! At that time a mast that had not burnt completely had broken away from the ship. It was floating in the water, moving towards the boat. Because of the darkness no one saw it until it was very close.

As soon as he saw it the prince shouted, “Row! Row!”

Before he could close his mouth the mast hit the base of the boat. ‘Padar’ – unable to withstand the force of the collision the boat split. First, it split into two. Then it broke and scattered into smaller and smaller pieces.

“Friend! Don’t be afraid! That mast is safer than this boat! Leap for it and grab it!” The prince said.

53. LIFESAVING SONG

Until Prince Arulmozhivarmar reached Parthipenthiran’s ship, those remaining at Thondaimanaru harbor stood there watching. Once the prince boarded the ship, the boat that took him returned. Colonel Poothi Vikrama Kesari’s face showed that he was happy.

“God is on our side; no doubt. Would the markings of shell and chakram borne by the prince on his body become worn out? Parthipenthiran would take the prince safely to Kanji. We too should leave for Thanjai with our troops!” Kodumbalur Velar said aloud as if speaking to himself.

Then he turned to Azhvarkadiyan who stood nearby. “Vaishnava! You are here? No harm done. What is there that the confidential agent of the chief minister does not know? Alright, what are you going to do? Do you want to go to Mathottam with me?” He asked.

“No, Sir! There is something that the chief minister had asked me to do…”

“What is that, Son?”

Azhvarkadiyan directed his glance toward where Oomai Rani and Poongkuzhali stood talking.

“Is it about these women?” The colonel asked.

“About one of them; if I ever came across such a mute woman in Ilankai, the chief minister had commanded me to somehow bring her to Thanjavur.”

“That is some job he has given you. He may as well have told you instead to catch one of those cyclones that frequent Ilanaki’s seas. Taking that dumb woman would be as easy as that. I don’t know who she is. She has great affection for our prince. Do you know anything about her?”

“I know that she is deaf from birth and that she cannot speak. I also know that it is easier to trap the storm inside a cage than to take her with me. Yet, as my master had asked me, I would try to do it.”

“It seems as if this boatwoman is friendly with her. See how they communicate through gestures! Call the girl here! I must give her a warning!…”

Azhvarkadiyan went to the women and told Poongkuzhali that the colonel wanted to see her.

Poongkuzhali left Oomai Rani and went to the colonel.

“Look here, Girl! You are very intelligent! You came at the right time with some important news. You did a great service to the Chola people. I will never forget this. At a suitable time I will reward you generously,” he said.

“Greetings, Sir! There is no need for rewards,” said Poongkuzhali, humbly.

“Who is going to give up just because you say that there is no need? Let all this upheaval come to an end… then I myself will choose a brave soldier from the Chola army to marry you. Your future husband cannot be some ordinary fellow. He must be Bheemasenan. Or else won’t you wrap him around your little finger and make him dance according to your tune?” The colonel smiled as he spoke.

Poongkuzhali stood looking at the ground. Anger rose in her heart. But she did not want to show it. What is the use of fighting with this cranky old man? She tried to control her anger.

“But keep one thing in mind! Just because you helped the prince, don’t think that you have some claim over him! Stop with just fishing in the sea! Don’t entertain the notion of drawing the prince into your net, Girl! Hereafter, going near him alone will get you in danger,” said the colonel. His voice was very harsh. Each word of his fell as molten lead into Poongkuzhali’s ears.

In response Poongkuzhali wanted to answer the old man using equally harsh words. But she could not speak. Something got caught in her throat. As if the molten lead that fell in her ears were draining out from her eyes, her eyes burned with hot tears.

Poongkuzhali turned back without looking up. She walked away from the seashore. The walk began slowly. Gradually it gathered speed. She glanced through the corner of her eye at Oomai Rani. She saw Azhvarkadiyan trying to tell the woman something. She felt that she should not be in a place with other human beings. She could not bear to hear their voice. Ah! What cruel beings humans are? Why do they use such hurtful language? How much better it would be if everyone was dumb?

After walking through the forest she reached the shore of Thondaiman river. Along the river she walked inland. She walked toward the spot where she had left her boat. Yes, soon she must reach that boat. She must get into that boat. She must go alone in the sea. She must reach the middle of the ocean where human voices will not fall in her ears. The oars must be put aside. The boat must float rocking in the waves. She must be in it. She must journey endlessly in the limitless ocean. Only then her battered soul will have peace. Only then the pain inflicted by the colonel’s words will end. Only then the anger will cool down and she will find comfort.

What did that wicked old man say? “Stop with fishing in the sea! Don’t caste a net for the prince!” He said.

Am I casting a net for the prince? Cheechee! See, where that old man’s mind had gone!… Yes; the fish in the sea are much better beings than the people on the ground. They don’t speak harshly. How happily they spend their time swimming and floating in the sea! Do they have worries? Do they have sorrows? Aha! Why wasn’t I born a fish in the sea? If I had been born a fish I could have forever traversed the deep ocean swimming, instead of getting caught in this world’s sorrows, its hatred, its allurements and rage. Then there will be no one trying to separate the prince and her, or deceive them or say anything malicious!… No, no! There is no guarantee there. These wicked people will come there also with their nets! Out of two fish they will try to take one away! Vile and wretched people!…

The anger in her heart gave strength to her legs. When the sun was in mid sky Poongkuzhali had reached the place where the boat was. Fortunately the boat was still there. Her best friend was that boat. Her sanctuary was that boat. In a world filled with sadness and enmity it was that boat, which was not wider than ten fingers stretched across, that gave her peace and happiness. It meant a lot that no one had run away with it.

“It does not matter what happens now? Let that old colonel protect the prince. Let him tie the Kodumbalur woman around his neck. What is it for me? I have my boat; I have the oars; I have strength in my arms; I have the open sea. Ocean King! You won’t let your daughter down even if everyone else did!

“Ocean Princess” – the words from the prince’s own mouth, you won’t make it untrue!”

Poongkuzhali climbed into the boat. She directed it towards the sea. Because she was rowing along with the river’s flow she soon reached the Thondaiman estuary. She navigated the boat into the sea. She knew that soon there was going to be a cyclone. She knew the signs very well. There was an ash color ring around the moon the previous night. It had been sultry all through the day. On the trees the leaves had not moved. Now in the southwest corner there were dark clouds gathering. Very soon there was going to be a cyclone. The sea’s reception of it would be a remarkable sight. But one ought not to be caught in the sea during a cyclone. It would be better to go to Poothatheevu and stay there. From there one can enjoy the havoc that the cyclone will create in the sea. After the wind is over, once the sea settles down a bit I can row the boat to Kodikarai. What is the hurry now? Most probably that ship would have reached Kodikarai by now. Fortunately it won’t get caught to the cyclone. By now the prince would have gone there safely. Or perhaps he may have gone to Mammalapuram. What is it to me, where he goes? He won’t be caught in the cyclone; let’s be satisfied with that.

Poongkuzhali did not know that the vessels could not sail even with all the sails open because the wind had completely stopped before the cyclone entered. Therefore she assumed that the ships had reached the other shore by then. The colonel’s words, ‘Don’t spread a net for the prince!’ – never disappearing from her mind, bothered her. Therefore she decided not to go to Kodikarai immediately. She decided to wait in Poothatheevu and leave leisurely after witnessing the cyclone’s merriment. Poothatheevu was not very far from Thondaiman river port. She was there within half an hour. Just as she arrived there the cyclone also started.

After dragging the boat on shore and tying it securely in an inverted position Poongkuzhali went to the small Buddhist stupa on that island. At first she watched from the cavernous room at its base sheltered from wind and rain. She could not do that for too long. She was eager to see the Vayubaghvan’s divine and noisy dallying. She came out of the cave and climbed the steps to reach the top of the stupa. The surroundings were in harmony with the state of her mind. The hundreds of coconut trees that grew towering in Poothatheevu were dancing like armies of goblins with their hair loose, around samharamoorthi at the end of the world. The waves of the sea rose at times to the height of those coconut trees providing a second-long spectacle resembling the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas and then the next second scattering into millions of frothy droplets. The noise of the wind that turned and turned in its course, the uproar of the waves, and the thunder heard in between – altogether announced that  all horizons were breaking and crumbling. The lightening that split the sky every now and then running threads of branches large and small in all directions illuminated the scene of the turbulent sea and the trees one second, only to surrender to pitch darkness the next second.

Poongkuzhali stood for a long time watching this calamity. Her body swayed like the trees in the wind! Her hair came loose and flew in the wind. Rain soaked her body. Thunder split her ears. Lightening blinded her eyes. She did not mind any of this. She stood in the rain and wind for a long time. Her heart raged in its confusion. She watched her surroundings with pride thinking that the display was meant for her enjoyment alone.

In between, thoughts of Prince Arulmozhivarmar crossed her mind. She felt that by then the prince would have reached a safe place in Kodikarai. He could even be staying at her parents’ house; or he may have gone to Nagapattinam and staying at the palace there. Could he be in the ship at sea? So what? What can any cyclone do to that great vessel? There would be so many people around him to take care of him. Would he think about her? Would he think, ‘Where is that foolish Poongkuzhali now?’ Not at all. He would think about Vandhiyathevan who was sent by his sister. He may even think about the Kodumbalur princess. Why would he think about this poor fisherwoman?

After enjoying the cyclone’s melodrama well into the night Poongkuzhali went to the cave at the base of the stupa and slept. She had no peace during her sleep. She had all sorts of dreams. She dreamed of being in the sea and catching the prince in the net that she spread. In another dream the prince and she were fish swimming alongside each other in the sea. During each dream she woke up, cleared her mind saying, ‘What madness,’ and then tried to go to sleep again.

When she woke up in the morning the cyclone’s dalliance had somewhat calmed down. There was no thunder; no lightening; rain also had stopped. She rose and went to the seashore. There were no big waves in the sea as on the previous night. Yet the sea was still rough. All around were signs of what the cyclone had put that island through during the night. There were trees uprooted with their roots lying on the ground, and tall trees that were now stunted with their crowns bent or blown away.

When Poongkuzhali was out taking this scene in she saw what appeared to be a raft floating in the water. After getting tossed  by the waves from side to side the raft finally came to rest against the shore. Only then Poongkuzhali noticed that there was someone on it. She ran to see. The man was tied to the raft and had little life left in him. She untied him and helped him breathe. He was a fisherman from Ilankai’s coastal villages. He said that he got caught in the cyclone while out fishing. He said that the sea had taken the life of his friend and that it was a miracle that he survived. He also said something else that was important.

“In the evening, it appeared that the fierce cyclone had stopped. It was dark all around us. Suddenly there was a loud thunder. With the lightening that came, we saw two vessels. One caught fire and started to burn. We watched that frightening spectacle for a while. We could also see people moving about. Then the burning ship sank into the water. The other ship disappeared in the dark,” the man related stammering and stuttering.

When Poongkuzhali heard this she began to wonder if one of the ships was the one that the prince boarded. She was certain that it could not be. There are many ships coming and going in the sea. Why should I worry? Yet some of the people in the ship that caught fire could have fallen into the sea. Like the fisherman on the raft they can be struggling holding on to something. Why shouldn’t I help them? Why shouldn’t I go in the boat and bring anyone struggling to the shore? If not, what is the purpose of this life?…

That was it; once this thought appeared Poongkuzhali untied the boat and pushed it into the water; she climbed in. Using all the strength in her steel like arms she rowed. It was hard work going past the waves that came and crashed on the shore. Once she crossed those waves it was not very difficult. As always her arms moved the oars nonchalantly. The boat moved slowly and leisurely.

Poongkuzhali’s heart overflowed with joy. The old song that she usually sang on the boat took a new form of its own. The song broadcast itself in her confident and sweet voice rising above the clamor of the waves:

“while the sea with its waves is turbulent

why is the inner sea so jubilant?

while the earth-girl is quivering

why is my soul leaping with joy?

while all sides explode

in the thunder of this moment

why am I acting

like a mighty dancer?”

Clutching the broken mast the prince and Vandhiyathevan remained floating while the sea bounced them around. They had been floating just that one night. To Vandhiyathevan it seemed like eons. Soon he became desolate, he gave up hope entirely that they will survive and reach the shore. Each time he was taken up by the wave and then plunged down, he decided, ‘Now, I am dead.’ Afterwards he marveled at still being alive.

To the prince, he wailed, “Because of my recklessness I have dragged you also into danger.”

The prince encouraged him with comforting words. “There are people who have survived after floating in the sea for three days, four days.”

“How many days is it since we fell into the sea?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“Not even a night,” the prince replied.

“Lies! Lies! It’s many days now!” Vandhiyathevan said.

After a while he had another problem. His throat was dry; he was thirsty. He was floating on water; but there was no water to satisfy his thirst. This was torturous. He told the prince.

“Be a little patient! Soon it will be morning. We will get to some shore,” said the prince.

He was patient for a while; he could not wait for too long. “Sir! I cannot bear this torture. Please untie me. I will drown and die,” he said.

The prince again tried to dissuade him. But it was of no use. Vandhiyathevan was in a frenzy. He tried to unfasten himself. The prince saw it. He moved closer to him and dealt two heavy blows to his head. Vandhiyathevan became unconscious!

When he regained consciousness he saw that it was morning and there was light. The clamor of the waves had also somewhat settled. The sun must have risen somewhere. But it was not possible to see where. The prince looked at him with affection and said, “Friend! There must be a shore nearby. I saw the top of a coconut tree just a while ago. Be a little patient!”

“Prince! Forget about me! Try to save your own life!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“No! Don’t be discouraged. I will not give up on you like that! Aha! What’s that! It sounds like someone singing,” the prince said. Yes; they were hearing Poongkuzhali’s song.

‘while the sea with its waves is turbulent

why is the inner sea so jubilant?’

The song sounded like a lifesaving song to their ears. Even to the physically and mentally exhausted and three fourth lifeless Vandhiyathevan,  the song gave new life and vigor.

“Prince! That is Poongkuzhali’s voice! She is coming in the boat! We are safe,” he said.

In a short time the boat was within their sight. It came closer and closer. “Is this really happening?” Poongkuzhali stood motionless with doubt. The prince untied Vandhiyathevan. First, he leapt into the boat. Then he pulled Vandhiyathevan also in. With oar in hand Poongkuzhali stood motionless like a statue.

(End of Part II)

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