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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (2)

October 25, 2015

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

2. The Trap of Desire

Men who marry young women in their old age forever inhabit an illusory world of suspicion and doubt. They have a natural distaste for strangers. Pazhuvertaraiyar had plenty of reason for such distaste. He did not at all like Nandhini talking while standing in front of him. At the same time he was also unable to rebuke her.

Therefore in response to Nandhini’s question he said, “Rani! There are many people in this world whom we don’t know. We cannot know everybody, can we? But there is also no loss for us in that!”

Upon hearing this Parthipenthiran responded, “Sir! There is no loss for the title queen of Chola Nadu treasurer if she does not know me; the loss will be entirely mine. Therefore I will introduce myself, Madam! They call me Parthipenthira Pallavan!”

“Oh! Is that so? I have heard your name!” said Nandhini.

“Parthipenthira! Why do you state only your name and none of the accolades? Since when are you so humble and modest? Nandhini! He is no ordinary Parthipenthiran. He is Parthipenthira Pallavan who conquered Vengi and Kallingam, who beheaded Veera Pandyan!” Pazhuvertaraiyar said in a voice full of sarcasm.

Nandhini’s face darkened like the sky battling a storm. Two momentary sparks of lightening shot out from her eyes. Next minute she laughed out loud.

“Sir! So many are claiming the honor of beheading Veera Pandyan! Is anyone keeping the tally on this?” She asked.

“Madam! It is the affection that the treasurer has for me that made him say that. In truth I do not have any claim over this feat. Athitha Karikalan alone has the honor of beheading Veera Pandyan!”

“Why is it, Son, why do you say that? Don’t you want any share in the glory of beating a dead snake!” Pazhuvertaraiyar smiled derisively.

“No, Sir! No! Athitha Karikalan did not kill a dead snake. When he raised his sword Veera Pandyan was a live snake. To save his life a woman as divine as a heavenly maiden stood in front of him and begged holding her two palms together in front of her. If it was me I would have thrown away the raised sword. Veera Pandyan would have survived!” Parhipenthiran answered Pazhuvertaraiyar. But his eyes were fixed on Nandhini.

Nandhini realized that the conversation was taking a dangerous turn. She turned to face Pazhuverataraiyar and said, “Lord! Why do we need this old tale now? We should inquire the reason for his visit!”

Pazhuvertaraiyar promptly asked, “Yes, Son! No need of old tales! Tell us your story! When did you start from Kanji? Where are you headed? What is your reason for stopping here?”

Parthipenthiran, whose intellect had suffered a setback at the sight of Nandhini, remembered the reason for his being there.

“Sir! Pardon me! I have been talking senselessly. I am here with very important news. News so shocking that it will sink the entire Chola Nadu into a sea of mourning. Prince Arulmozhivarmar who left with me on this ship from Eezham, jumped into the sea during the cyclone. We don’t know what happened to him. I came to see if by chance he had reached this shore!”

Before Parthipenthiran finished speaking, Pazhuvertaraiyar began to howl, “Aha! What did you say?” He then collapsed on to the floor like the tall tree that was uprooted by the cyclone.

Parthipenthiran leapt forward to pick him up. Nandhini intercepted, taking his extended hand and setting it aside. She sat beside Pazhuvertaraiyar and placed his head on her lap.

“Water! water!” She shouted.

From the tent the maid came with water. Some more soldiers, the lighthouse-keeper and his family came running. Nandhini majestically bid them to stay aside. “Lord! Lord!” She entreated in a loving voice. In a few minutes the old man’s eyes opened. Immediately he regained his senses. He sat up at once.

“Nandhini! What I heard just now, is it true? What did this Pallavan say? Did he say that the sea had taken Ponniyin Selvan? When that heroic young man was a baby I rejoiced carrying him on these shoulders. With these hands I stamped the order to imprison him. Aiyo! What will Chola Nadu think of me? What will Tamil Nadu think of me?” Pazhuvertaraiyar beat himself on his head. Nandhini had never seen this seasoned elderly warrior lose control and weep in this manner before; no one had seen it.

“Lord! Don’t be disturbed! He has not told the entire story! Isn’t it better to hear the entire story and then decide what to do next?” Nandhini said.

“Yes, you are right! Parthipenthira! Hurry up and tell! You said that Ponniyin Selvar drowned in the sea and died! Is it true? Or are you with some devious intention spinning some tale? Don’t play with a hungry tiger! Careful!” The old man roared with fire in his eyes.

“Sir! Forgive me! I didn’t say that the prince had died. I too cannot believe that Tamil Nadu had suffered such a frightening loss. I said that at the height of the cyclone he jumped into the sea from my ship. By God’s grace he may have survived. He may have come towards the shore. With that hope I came here to see …”

“He jumped into the sea during the cyclone? Why? Why did he jump? Why was he on your ship? When he jumped what were you doing?” Pazhuvur king questioned excitedly.

Nandhini interrupted saying, “Sir! Let him explain in detail why he went to Ilankai!”

“Yes! Tell us as it is! If you don’t tell the truth you cannot escape alive! I will …” Pazhuvertaraiyar gritted his teeth.

“King! I am not used to speaking anything other than the truth. Even if I thought of lying my tongue will not aid me. Listen! News reached Kanji that yourself, Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar and many others were scheming against the Chola tribe.”

“Lies! Lies! Complete lies!”

“Let it be all lies. That is my fervent hope. I repeated the news that had reached Kanji. Because of it Thirukovalur Malaiamman and Athitha Karikalar sent me to Eezham. They sent me to bring Arulmozhivarmar back …”

Thus Parthipenthiran described in detail to the best of his knowledge, everything that had happened since he reached Ilankai.

When he finished Pazhuvertaraiyar wailed, “God! A great curse has fallen on Chola Nadu! Because of this wretched man! I am the one who issued the order to imprison the prince! I am the one who sent the ships!”

“King! This is none of your doing; even if you had not issued the order, won’t the prince have been on this man’s ship going to Kanji? Don’t blame yourself without a reason. Beyond all our actions is something called fate. Moreover …” Nandhini lowered her voice at this point and said something in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s ear. His face brightened up a little.

“Yes – Yes! I had not thought about it!” He said.

He looked at Parthipenthiran. “Pallava! I am going to your ship to examine it. Until then you must stay here! Do not try to escape. If you try to run I am going to order my soldiers to throw the spear and kill you immediately. Careful! Don’t die wounded in the back! Your heritage is a heroic heritage!” He said.

“Thank you, Sir! I have no thoughts about escaping. If I had such thoughts none of your soldiers would be able to stop me. Neither do I have any intention of bearing wounds on my back,” said the Pallavan.

“King! Don’t worry about him. I will watch him. If he tries to get away, this knife here, it will pierce his chest! Please go and check the ship out confidently. Please ask the sailors as well if his story is indeed true.” While speaking Nandhini pulled out a small knife from her waist.

“Rani! Why do you need this responsibility? You wait in the tent. Or be at Thiyaga Vidankar’s house. Our soldiers will take care of him. Or I will take him with me to the ship …”

“I won’t come, Sir! If I did you will again be suspicious. You will think that the sailors are not speaking the truth because of my presence. I will not move from here. You can go without any worries!”

“Lord! I too will remain here until you return from the ship. I will watch you from here!” Nandhini said.

In Pazhuvertaraiyar’s ear she added, “Perhaps he is here as a spy, who knows? In addition no one should hear the news about the prince until you return.”

Pazhuvertaraiyar nodded his head and climbed into the boat. The boat went towards the ship.

For a while Nandhini remained looking at the boat. At the same time she felt Parthipenthiran gazing at her face without batting his eyelids. She turned toward him abruptly. She expected Parthipenthiran to look down in embarrassment. But can the bee that had spotted the flower bearing honey look away?

Nandhini displayed the small knife again saying, “Careful! Don’t try running away!”

“Devi! Why frighten me with a knife? Running away indeed! How can the fish that’s caught in the net run away? Caught in your net …”

“What are you saying, Sir? Are you calling me a fisherwoman? If this falls on Pazhuvur King’s ears …”

“I am not worried about that, Devi! But I also don’t mean the net that catches fish. I am speaking about the love net that your carp-like eyes cast …”

“CheeChee! How dare you? Never mind calling me a fisherwoman. Are you saying that I am a harlot who casts salacious nets at men?”

“Pardon me! I am not guilty of that either. Must you cast a net intentionally? Does the spider weave its web to catch flies? It weaves it to make it its home. The flies end up falling into the web of their own accord …”

“Are you calling me a spider? Do I look so grotesque?”

“My mistake! My mistake! I should have said light instead. The lamp burns not for the sake of the firefly. The lamp burns casting its light all around brightly! Foolish fireflies get attracted to it as if to a fruit and they end up dying.”

“The slightest wind can put out any flame. One can blow it out with one ‘ooph’ with one’s mouth. That is all, the power of the flame.”

“Flame will die; but who can put out the full moon? The moon does not rise for the sake of the ocean king. The moon rises following the rule of nature. It casts its cooling light so that the earth and sea can rejoice. But look at the foolish sea! Why should the sea heave so at the sight of the full moon? Why should it yawn for the fruit that is so out of its reach?”

“I have heard of the Pallava kings’ poetic inclinations and imaginative power. Only now I realize how true that is.”

“Until yesterday I have had no faith in what I have heard and learnt from ancient legends and epic poetry. Only today I am beginning to believe them.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have heard that some women have the power to bring the earth and sky to their feet. The asurar who churned the sea of milk got deceived by Mohini just when it was time to taste the divine drink. Sunthopasunthar beat themselves to death over a woman. Vishvamithrar’s meditation was ruined by Menakai. Kovalan fell into Mathavi’s love net. For Kaikeyi, Thasarathar sent Rama to the forest. Owing to the Egyptian queen, the mighty Roman empire began to fall apart …”

“Enough, Sir! Enough! Why do you now cite all these examples?”

“Don’t you understand, Devi! Do you really not understand to whom I am holding these as examples of?”

“If it is for me, then you are making a big mistake.”

“There is no mistake. Your power is no less than theirs.”

“You are contradicting yourself.”

“How is that, Devi?”

“I sent the Pazhuvur King to the ship on purpose, I wanted to ask you something.”

“I stayed back knowing that was your intention.”

“Didn’t you say that a woman tried to save Veera Pandyan and that Athitha Karikalan did not fall for that?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Do you know the foolish woman who tried?”

“Indeed it is Nandhini Devi who is now the Ilaiyarani of Pazhuvur Palace.”

“If I possessed the kind of power that you just described, then wouldn’t I have been able to save the life of a man that I wanted to save? Why was it out of reach for me?”

“Athitha Karikalan in his quest for blood at that time didn’t listen to you. But I know the kind of torment he has been experiencing during the three years that followed.”

“How do you know that, Sir? Did he talk to you about it?”

” For three years he suffered locking it up in his heart. All I knew was that there was something eating his heart. It was only ten days ago, the day before I left for Eezham – he opened his heart to me and talked about it. Since then …”

“Since then, what?”

“The desire that I must see Pazhuvur Illaiyarani entered my herat as well!”

“Do you remember saying that if you were in Athitha Karikalan’s position that you would have let Veera Pandyar live?”

“I remember it well.”

“Is it true?”

“It is, Devi! You can test me.”

“Sir! There is a suspicion in my mind. Shall I divulge it?”

“Whatever you say in your golden voice, my ears will be happy to hear; my heart will rejoice.”

“I am suspecting that you are speaking in this way to test me. By speaking of the lascivious net that I am casting, you are casting a net for me. You are trying to pry into my consciousness.”

Parthipenthiran was taken aback. It was with this intention he had begun the conversation. His mind soon forgot about it. What began as hypocrisy had in reality pushed him into the sea of lust. He was embarrassed of his initial motive. Without showing it on the outside he said, “Devi! Let thunder reign down on my head if I had tried to test you and infiltrate your mind!”

“Aiyo! Don’t say that!” Nandhini cried.

“Why, Devi! Why?”

“There was another person who was sent by your prince – what is his name? …”

“Is it Vandhiyathevan?”

“Yes, he is the one! He tried so brilliantly to extract information from me. From what you are saying it seems as if thunder did land on his head!”

“Unfortunately it wasn’t his head where thunder struck. It was his ship that was struck by thunder! So thereby the danger that visited him had engulfed our young prince also!”

“Sad! When I think of Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman I feel very sorry. The two people that she loved most in this world had died at the same time! What misfortune!”

“Devi! Who are the two?”

“The two people you were talking about! Doesn’t the junior stateswoman have a special affection for her younger rother?”

“That is something that the world is well aware of. Who is the other one who holds her affection …?”

“Why, it is the messenger that your prince sent.”

“You mean Vandhiyathevan?”

“Yes, him!”

“CheeChee! Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman who has the power to shake up the entire Chola empire is fond of that inconsequential, self-conceited loud-mouth …”

“Yes; she is in love with that young man. That is why to let him escape Pazhuvertaraiyar’s punishment she sent him away to Ilankai with a letter. Sad! This old man is blaming himself that he is the reason for the prince’s fate, in truth the junior stateswoman is the cause. If she didn’t send the letter through …”

“True! True! This misfortune will not have taken place.”

“When my husband returns from the ship you must explain the truth to him. If you did, you will become the recipient of my gratitude!”

“Madam, is this the only way that I can be derserving of your gratitude? Is there nothing else that I can do for you?”

“Sir! There are a hundred ways to make a foolish woman feel indebted.”

“Please tell me one or two of these other ways. Athitha Karikalan had such an opportunity. He let it slip from his hands. Now he is torturing himself day and night over it. I will never make such a mistake!”

“Is this a promise, Sir? Are you a man who will do anything to fulfill a woman’s wish?”

“It depends on who the woman is, Devi! Until yesterday I would not have done anything for the sake of any woman I knew! I would have laughed at the proposition. Not today! Please tell me. If I had hundred lives I will dedicate all of them to fulfilling your wish. If I had thousand empires I would give up all of them to fulfill your wish. I would be prepared even to forever give up earth and heaven. If I am told to forgive arch enemies I would forgive them. If I am asked to bring the heads of my dearest friends and lay them at your feet, I will do that before doing anything else …!”

When Parthipenthiran spoke in this intoxicated manner his body was trembling from head to toe. The words coming out of his mouth were slurred; lips quivered; teeth were grinding; hair stood on end; his breathing sounded like the blacksmith’s furnace.

The readers will be astonished by this change in Parthipenthiran. Why! If someone had told him the day before, ‘you will change in this manner’ – he would not have believed it. It is something that would surprise even him at a later date. But this is not a peculiarity of Parthipenthiran alone; this is a mystery of the human race.

Those who lay in sin all their lives suddenly one day turn into men of good disposition and conduct; they sing and dance, overcome by devotional zeal; they become entitled to god’s kindness; they may even perform incomparable service to the human race.

Contrarily, those who had lived a long time of pure and spotless life suddenly one day slip and fall! When they fall they fall into a limitless abyss.

Even after many scholars had researched from time immemorial we have been unable to understand the mystery of the human body’s makeup. How can we know the mystery behind the human heart’s predilections?

Nandhini who was listening to the emotional outpouring of Parthipenthiran said, “Enough, Sir! Enough! Please stop! I will never compel you to carry out any of these frightening acts. I am going to suggest something that will make both of us happy.”

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From → Notes

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