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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (3 – 6)

November 17, 2015

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

3. Screech of the Owl

Nandhini turned her gaze toward the sea. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s boat was nearing Parthipenthiran’s ship. She let out a sigh. It created a storm in Parthipenthiran’s heart.

“Devi! Tell me. Tell me what I should do. You don’t have to separate what’s good for you and what’s good for me. Whatever is in your interest is also in my interest!” said the Pallava hero.

Strange thoughts were coming to his mind. There was no doubt that this girl was suffering like a caged parrot with that crude old man. Why not free her from that feral cat? She only has to say it. I can arrange for that treacherous old man to be imprisoned in that ship and be thrown out in some faraway land! How did he dare to make her, someone young enough to be his daughter, or even granddaughter, his wife?

Nandhini was still looking at the boat and the ship. She saw Pazhuvertaraiyar climbing into the ship from the boat.

“Thank God! He had safely climbed into the ship. However strong and able, age has caught up with him! I was worried that he should not lose his step while climbing into the ship!” she said.

Pallavan was disappointed! “Why is she so caring about the old man? So what, if he falls into the sea? It would be good for the country; and freedom to her! Why is she so kind?”

“Only today I saw how affectionate the old man was of the Chola tribe. How tormented he was when he found out that the prince was in danger? – Sir! The prince may have survived, couldn’t he? It is not certain that he is dead, is it?” Nandhini asked.

“It is not certain; but it is highly unlikely that a person could have survived after jumping into the sea during this kind of cyclone!” answered Pallavan.

“This is not fate; this is that Pazhaiyarai raksashi’s greed – that is the cause. Do you know, Sir? Kundavai Devi has enormous faith in astrology and palmistry. From the lines on his palm and his horoscope she was hoping that he would become the emperor of all three worlds. Aiyo! Sad! How she would grieve when she finds out what has happened to her beloved brother! I think that I should be beside her at that time to comfort her!”

Contrary to her words Nandhini sounded happy. Pallavan was shocked. He decided that it was the fault of his ears.

“Rani! Why should you comfort her? Isn’t this the result of her greed? She must suffer the consequences …”

“How can that be, Sir? There are thousand and ten thousand people in Chola Nadu who would be upset to see a single drop of tear in her eyes. She is the emperor’s precious daughter. The unabashed beauty of all three worlds!”

“I too had believed that at one time! That is, before I saw you!”

“After you saw me, what is your thinking?”

“That Kundavai Devi’s beauty cannot come close even to the tiny toe of your feet.”

“Now you are saying that. Tomorrow when you see her you won’t even remember that I exist!”

“Not at all. Devi! Didn’t I ask you to put me to the test? Order me this very minute!”

“I don’t have the privilege to order. Sir! I am pleading. Some are condemning that my marriage to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar had caused division and unrest in Chola Nadu. I want to prove that it has no basis. I am seeking your help in that.”

Parthipenthiran was a little disappointed. He had hoped that Nandhini would seek his help over something that was troubling her personally. He was eager to undertake that task and make her happy. But she is talking about something political!

“Tell me, Rani! Whatever your wish, please tell me!” he said.

“Sir! It was the junior stateswoman who stood in the way of peace in Chola Nadu. Through her arrogance she made the petty kings and high ranking officials of Chola Nadu angry. Her wish is to somehow place her younger brother Arulmozhivarmar on the Chola Nadu throne. Because of that she was obstructing unity. Now that reason is no more. Now it is easy to unify and reconcile. Listen, Sir! You said it yourself! Ministers and other prominent officials want to crown Mathuranthakar after Sundara Cholar. The emperor has also agreed to it.”

“Is that right, Devi?”

“Yes, Sir! If not, would he have ordered to imprison the prince and bring him back? However, my opinion is that it is not right. There is room for compromise. Can’t the place be divided so that north of Vellaru is for Athitha Karikalar and south of it for Mathuranthakar? Your ancestors, the great Pallava emperors, were they not satisfied with ruling just Thondai Mandalam alone? Weren’t the ancestral Chola kings satisfied with just the country between the two Vellaru rivers?”

“Devi! Why are you telling me all of this? What do I care about which empire goes to which person? What is it for me as to who rules which kingdom? …”

“Sir! I thought that you were a true and faithful friend of Athitha Karikalar.”

“Until now I have spent my days being faithful to others, fighting for the glory of others, working for the good of others. From now on I want to live for myself. Rani! Please listen! Why was I born in this world. Why am I alive – I have pondered on many occasions. My ancestors, the Pallava emperors ruled over vast empires. They created dreamlands like Mamallapuram. I have wondered whether I was born to rekindle their fame and glory during my time. But my heart was not in it. It was not excited by creating kingdoms. I was satisfied working for the benefit of the Chola tribe. I was happy being Athitha Karikalar’s friend. I had indeed decided to spend my life in this way. Today my eyes were opened; only a while ago I understood the reason for my birth. Listen! ‘Yes, yes!’ – the sea waves are agreeing with my inner voice. The birds of the forest are singing, ‘right, right!’ Devi! Don’t speak to me about breaking up the Chola empire. Tell me something else. Tell me to cross the seas and fetch the priceless coral from the coral-island. Tell me to bring the pearls from the deep bottom of the ocean. Tell me to climb Mount Meru’s peak and bring the remedy of sanjeevi from there. Tell me to fly over the clouds, gather the stars, string them into a garland and place it around your neck. Tell me to bring the full moon down so it can serve as the mirror for your face!”

“Enough, Sir, enough! Already that Pazhaiyarai woman is calling me insane. Don’t make me really go mad,” said Nandhini.

Parthipenthiran felt embarrassed. “I am the one afflicted with madness; Forgive me, please. Tell me what you want,” he said.

“I want to erase the bad reputation I have all over Chola Nadu – all over Tamil Nadu. I am seeking your help in this. Apparently people are saying that my marriage to this old man had placed a curse over the Chola tribe. It seems that they are saying that I am the one who instilled the desire for power in Mathuranthaka Thevar. They are saying that I am the one who turned the petty kings of Chola Nadu to his side. I do not want to die with this bad name …!”

“Why do you speak of dying? To torture me?”

“Pallava Prince! Do you know palmistry? Do you have faith in palmistry?” Nandhini posed an unrelated question.

Without answering directly Parthipenthiran said, “Where? Show me your hand!”

Nandhini extended her right hand. After scrutinizing it for a while Parthipenthiran said, “Astonishing lines. Rarely one sees something like this. Show me the other hand also!”

Nandhini extended her other hand. After taking a look at that hand also Pallavan asked, “Devi! Before this has anyone commented on the extraordinary nature of these lines?”

“Yes! Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman once did after looking at my palm …”

“What did she say?”

“She said that I’ll die young.”

“It is true,” said Parthipenthiran.

“Aiyo! Are you also vouching for that?”

“But it only shows that she is not well versed in this science. It is true that one of the lines point to a life cut short; but another line tells that this hurdle will be crossed and there will be a second phase. During this new life there will be travel to faraway lands across the seas, it is a happy and long life attainable not even by kings. All of this is brought about by the true love of a young man met by chance on the beach. The lines tell clearly that he will give up his life to fulfill even the least important of your dreams …”

While speaking Parthipenthiran suddenly took both of Nandhini’s outstretched palms and pressed them to his eyes.

Wrenching her hands free Nandhini exclaimed, “Chee chee! What is this you are doing?”

“Forgive me! I forgot that these were your hands. I took them for two pink lotus blossoms,” he said.

“If Pazhuvertaraiyar had seen he would have hung you on the pike!”

“Devi! I am sorry that I have only one life that I can give up for your sake …”

“Why give up that one life in this manner? Save it to help this orphan woman!”

“Please tell me what I have to do!”

“Chola empire must be saved from tribal warfare. Your help is needed for that.”

“How?”

“Bring your friend Karikalar to Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s house. Sambuvaraiyar has a daughter. If I get her married to Athitha Karikalar my dream would have been achieved.”

“All of this was introduction to this most trifle job? I will certainly bring Athitha Karikalar to Kadampoor. Then?”

“Half the battle is over if Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter is given in marriage to Athitha Karikalar. Once the Chola empire is divided between Mathuranthaka Thevar having the south and Athitha Karikalar with the north, the entire battle is over.”

“Then? …”

“The ill reputation that I have will disappear. After that I will carry out my fate. I will jump into the middle of the ocean and give my life up …”

“I will follow you and save you. Our second lives will begin. We will cross the ocean and travel to faraway countries. I will found a great kingdom for you there.”

“Sir! Please don’t talk in this manner. I came in the tradition of the southern Tamil woman. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s lawful wife …”

“Devi! Please tell me the truth. Why did you marry this old man? Do you really love him? Or were you forced into it?”

Nandhini sighed. Her eyes rolled upwards. She seemed lost in some sad and distant recollection.

“Poor soul! Do not blame the old man. I married him willingly.”

“Why? What for? What did you see in him?”

“I did not see anything in him. I married him for the comfort and status of palace life.”

“I cannot believe it!”

“It is unbelievable, but it is the truth. From my small age I was mocked by a girl who called me a poor orphan. She said that I had no right to play with the royal children. Unable to take that insult I made this mistake.”

“Who is the female devil who insulted you like that?”

“Don’t you see, can’t you guess?”

“The junior stateswoman Kundavai?”

“Yes.”

“One day I will teach her a lesson.”

“God himself has punished her! In one stroke both the beloved brother and the adoring lover are gone. Now I feel sorry thinking about her situation.”

“This is not sufficient punishment for that arrogant woman.”

“If you just help me with the task I mentioned that would complete her punishment. Her desire to reign over the entire Chola empire as its sole beauty would bite the dust.”

“I will fulfill your wish. What award will you give me?”

“I will give whatever you want. I will give anything that does not go against the tradition of the Tamil woman …”

“Rani, in western countries there is a new tradition I hear. It has spread in countries like the Arab country, Baghdad country and Persia. According to that tradition married couples if they so desire can separate. There is even a ceremony for that. Even women can marry again.”

“Yes, I also have heard that.”

“We will go to those countries. We will embrace that tradition …”

“I too sometimes daydream like that. But is it something that can come true?”

“Devi! Why not? Certainly it can. If only, you would permit. I will go with you crossing the seas. I will disembark in faraway countries. With the strength of the sword held in this hand I will establish a big kingdom. I will seat you on a throne embellished with precious gems! I will crown your head with a diamond tiara that will dazzle the people’s eyes. This is why I was born; this is why I am still alive without losing my life in all those battles …”

“Sir! There, my husband is returning. The boat is getting close to the shore. Calm down, we will discuss the other matters later …”

“Later when, Devi?”

“Come with us to Thanjavur! If not as a guest, then come as a prisoner!”

“Your invitation alone is more than enough for me,” said Parthipenthiran.

The boat that was carrying Pazhuvertaraiyar reached the shore. The old man climbed out and began walking as if he was the embodiment of arrogance.

Nandhini and Parthipenthiran stood up. Fire spewed out of the glance that he directed at them. Sad! The old man was angry at the mere thought of them sitting there and talking all this while. He had no way of expressing it. Therefore the anger simply boiled over in his heart.

“Lord! Did you check the ship well? Did you question the sailors? Is it true what he said?” Nandhini asked in a voice of innocence and love.

That tone somewhat calmed the Pazhuvur king.

“Yes, Rani! We found out that what he said was true. The revered son of Chola Nadu, the beloved prince of the Chola tribe, – Tamil Nadu prince, the apple of its eye, – he is gone,” he said. Then, turning to look at Pallavan he roared, “The reason is this murderous traitor!”

“Sir! I am not the reason; don’t lay the blame on me! It is the lascivious devil that is rocking the entire Chola Nadu in its female incarnation that caused the sea to take the prince,” said Parthipenthiran.

The old man’s anger turned into the flood that broke the dam. He decided that Parthipenthiran was talking about Nandhini.

“You wretched fellow! What did you say?” He bent down to grab the spear that was lying on the floor. He raised it and aimed it at Parthipenthiran.

Nandhini grabbed his hand to stop him. “Lord! What is this? Your spear that had taken the lives of so many enemies, can it be tainted with the blood of this guest?” She asked.

“Rani! He is a guest? Didn’t you hear what he just said about you,” asked the old man. His words faltered and his voice cracked from anger.

“Did he speak about me? Please make sure about your facts. If that is the case I will seek revenge with my own knife. I will not burden you,” said Nandhini.

“Sir! Am I insane, to say that about the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani? I was speaking about the Pazhaiyarai devil. The junior stateswoman Kundavai sent a secret letter to the prince through the young man Vandhiyathevan. Not paying attention to my protests, the prince jumped into the stormy sea to save that reckless young man! Therefore I said that the reason why the prince died was Kundavai,” said Parthipenthiran.

Pazhuvertaraiyar felt embarrassed about jumping to conclusions. Without showing it on the outside he said, “Don’t try to cover up in vain! You are also responsible for the untimely death of the prince. How did you agree to his leaving the ship during that fierce cyclone? Get lost! Don’t stand in front of me!” He said.

Nandhini interfered. “Lord! Isn’t it better to take him also to Thanjavur? Isn’t it better if he tells the emperor exactly what happened? Otherwise, the people who are waiting to criticize us will add this also to their list! They will not hesitate to say that we are the ones who drowned the prince in the sea,” she said.

“Let them talk! I am not afraid of that. I will slash the tongue of the person who says that. But, in a way, it is better that he comes with us. Parthipenthira! What are you looking around for? You think you can escape?” He signaled to the soldiers who were standing at a distance. Four of them hurried forward.

“Tie him up!” He ordered.

The four soldiers approached Parthipenthiran. He waited until they were next to him. Then in a second he displayed his skills. The four of them fell in four different directions.

“Sir! If you want me tied up don’t send anyone else. I am willing to be tied up by the hands of the heroic warrior, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar who bears sixty four scars from fighting in thirty six battles. I will not let anyone else come even close to me!” He said.

Pazhuvertaraiyar’s face relaxed. “You are a soldier born in the heroic Pallava tribe, no doubt. If you would like to come with us to Thanjavur please tell me, there is no need to tie you up,” he said.

“That is my wish; I want to see the emperor in person and tell him exactly what happened. I too don’t want any unnecessary blame!” Parthipenthiran said.

At that time the sound of an owl hooting came from the nearby forest.

Nandhini looked in the direction of the sound. The other two did not notice the change that had come over her face.

“This Kodikarai jungle is strange. Owls are hooting in broad daylight,” said Parthipenthiran. The owl’s scream was heard twice more.

Nandhini turned and said, “Must we leave at once? Isn’t it better to search for one more day? The prince may get washed up clutching to some piece of timber!”

“Parthipenthira! Did you see how astute the Illaiyarani is? We didn’t think about it! Yes; we will have to wait here one more day. Not only wait, we must post men along the length of the shore; we must tell them also to look around!” Pazhuvertaraiyar said.

“I have no objections, Sir! But I have no hope that the prince will turn up. You will also be pessimistic like me if you had witnessed the turbulence in the sea during the cyclone,” said Parthipenthiran.

Still, the old man did not listen. Along the shore for ten miles he had his men spread out and stand in watch. He also restlessly roamed along the shore, looking.

4. Aloe Thicket

In mid sea, like a cradle rocking, the boat went leisurely. It was difficult to imagine that just two days ago these waves had risen to the height of the coconut trees. In the boat were Prince Ponniyin Selvar, Vandhiyathevan and Poongkuzhali. Poongkuzhali’s hands held the oars. But she wasn’t really rowing.

She was listening intently to the conversation taking place between Vandhiyathevan and the prince. They were also intent on their talk. They didn’t seem particularly interested in the boat moving any faster.

They were talking about what to do once the boat reached Kodikarai. Vandhiyathevan was arguing that the prince should not go to Thanjavur and he should come to Pazhaiyarai. He brought up several reasons.

“Your sister wants to see you about an urgent matter. I have promised to bring you with me. I must keep my word,” he pleaded.

“To keep your promise are you telling me to disobey my father’s orders?” The prince asked angrily.

“It is not your father’s orders; isn’t it Pazhuvertaraiyar’s order,” said Vandhiyathevan.

He also had another reason. “Even if you were to see the emperor, is it better to see him as a free man or as Pazhuvertaraiyar’s prisoner? Let me speak, please listen. Word has only to spread that Pazhuvertaraiyars have imprisoned you. All of Chola Nadu will rise. Your beloved motherland will become one frighteningly bloody battlefield. Please consider if that is of any use! Even God must have timed that cyclone so that such a curse would not  befall Chola Nadu. Do you want to create a turmoil in Chola Nadu against God’s wishes?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

Out of all his arguments, this one changed the prince’s mind somewhat. It is possible that there will be unrest in Chola Nadu if word got out that the Pazhuvertaraiyars have imprisoned him. He did know how much the people loved him. Therefore he fell to thinking.

After a while he asked, “Even if I decide to fulfill your wish, how is that possible? Won’t Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men be awaiting for me in Pazhaiyarai?”

“We have this girl in the boat to help us with that. However many people may wait for us on the shore, she will take us into the Kodikarai jungle keeping us out of their sight. Poongkuzhali! Did you hear what I said? Can you do it?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

Poongkuzhali was in seventh heaven. Her feat of rescuing the prince from the sea in her boat had given her reason for boundless joy. Every now and then though, she was dismayed by the thought that she will have to leave him at Kodikarai. What else could satisfy her other than one more reason to prolong her usefulness to him?

“If we push the boat a little west of Kodikarai, there is a canal surrounded by dense forest on both sides. We can row the boat and proceed further in the canal. It is marshland on both sides. No one can get there easily!” Poongkuzhali answered.

“You can leave us there and go to Kodikarai and find out the news?”

“I can. There is plenty of room to park the boat there where no one can see it.”

“Prince! Did you hear?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“I heard, Appan! You are telling me to enter my mother country like a thief. You are telling me to hide like a thief,” the prince answered.

For a while there was silence in the boat. Then the prince asked, “Ocean Princess! Why have you brought the boat to a stop?”

Poongkuzhali looked at Vandhiyathevan, and then began to row the boat.

“Poor girl! How long can she row all by herself? Let me do it. Give me, Ammah, the paddle,” said Vandhiyathevan.

Knowing his intention, the prince smiled.

“Friend! Your tricks are all in vain. I am not going to Pazhaiyarai. I am not going to see Thanjavur either. It looks as if God will instead take me to heaven,” he said.

Frightened, Vandhiyathevan and Poongkuzhali looked at the prince. They saw that his body had started to shake.

Vandhiyathevan went near him and asked, “Sir! What is this? Why is your body shaking?”

“This is ague, Appan! Don’t you remember me saying that this illness was on the rise in Ilankai? People who come down with this fever, rarely survive,” the prince said.

Vandhiyathevan did not feel as devastated even when the ship’s mast was struck by thunder and caught fire in the middle of the ocean. The prince’s words shook him to the core.

The oar slipped from Poongkuzhali’s hand without her knowledge. Her body lost its vitality. Only the eyes had life. She stared at the prince with those eyes.

As for the prince the severity of the tremors increased. Soon he was being lifted up and down bodily by the uncontrollable seizures.

“Sir! What shall I do? Please tell me! I cannot fathom! Where shall I take this boat? Poongkuzhali! There is a doctor in Kodikarai?” Vandhiyathevan was shaken.

Poongkuzhali had turned speechless. The prince suddenly jumped up. His body trembling, he was unsteady on his feet.

“Take me to my sister! Take me at once to the junior stateswoman!” The words came tumbling out of his mouth in a muddle.

Vandhiyathevan was happy to hear this. In that state of happiness he stood shocked and unable to think.

The prince who was shaking all over said,” Sister! I am coming! I am coming to see you now! Whoever may object, I will not listen.” He proceeded as if to jump from the boat into the sea.

Fortunately Vandhiyathevan came to his senses. He realized that the fever had turned the prince delirious. He caught him from jumping into the sea.

The prince who was strong had now ten times more strength owing to the fever. He tried to wrestle out of Vandhiyathevan’s hold. Realizing that he alone cannot stop the prince Vandhiyathevan cried, “Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali! Help me! Hurry!”

Poongkuzhali who was standing motionless regained her life. In one leap she was next to the prince pulling his hand to stop him from falling into the water. The fever had given him the strength of a rutting elephant, it now disappeared magically. He turned into a small child.

“Sister! I will lie down quietly as you say! Don’t be sad for me, Sister! If not for you what would become of me?” The prince sobbed.

Vandhiyathevan and Poongkuzhali slowly made the prince lie down in the boat. And he did indeed lie down. His eyes stared vacantly. Words stumbled out of his mouth. Some had meaning. Others made no sense at all.

Vandhiyathevan realized that there was no use asking the prince for advice. He also realized that the responsibility of saving the prince from this danger lay on his head. But this girl is intelligent. She is as committed to saving the prince as I am. In addition there is God’s kindness that has saved me from numerous dangers.

“Poongkuzhali! We have got to row the boat fast!” Vandhiyathevan said. Poongkuzhali’s arms regained their strength. The boat sped.

Vandhiyathevan did not leave the prince’s side. He was frightened by the likelihood of the fever getting worse and the prince attempting to jump into the sea all over again. He kept a careful watch. At the same time his mind was busy thinking about the next course of action.

“Girl! What do you think? Shall we try going to Kodikarai? Your family will help us to protect the prince, won’t they?” He asked.

“Sir! In these times how can anyone say whom to trust and whom not to? My brother’s wife is there. She is greedy. My father’s livelihood comes from the Pazhuvertaraiyars,” said Poongkuzhali.

“In addition, the Pazhuvur men who came to take you can be at Kodikarai. There may also be some more men waiting for the prince’s arrival,” she continued.

Vandhiyathevan was surprised by her forethought. He felt happy that he had her help during this challenging ordeal.

“In that case, do you also believe that it is dangerous to go directly to Kodikarai,” he asked.

“Look over there!” Poongkuzhali pointed.

Where she pointed, there was a ship. Beyond that was the light on the top of the Kodikarai lighthouse.

“Aha! A big ship! Who knows whose ship it is! Perhaps it is Parthipenthiran’s. If that is the case isn’t it better to take the prince to Kanji?”

“It can be Pazhuvertaraiyar’s ship. Sir! Can you see anything behind the ship?”

“The top of Kodikarai lighthouse!”

“Do you see anything going on there?”

“No.”

“I can; it looks as if there are people standing at the top and taking a look at the sea.”

“Can they see this boat from there?”

“They cannot. If we get a little closer to the shore they can.”

“So let’s be careful. You said before that there is a canal west of Kodikarai? Can we take the boat there?”

“We will have to. We can be there when it’s turning dark. Sir! You were hiding one day in an old building! The canal is near there. If you wait with the prince there, I will quickly go and find out what’s going on.”

“Does the canal end there, Poongkuzhali? Does it go further?”

“From Kodikarai the canal runs until Nagapattinam,” said Poongkuzhali.

Ponniyin Selvan, still under the influence of the fever, began speaking in a loud voice.

“Yes, Sister, yes! Didn’t you say that the Nagapattinam Buddhist monks told you? It happened just like that. At Anuradhapura the great academy of Buddhist monks wanted to offer me the throne and crown of Ilankai. I rejected it, Sister! I rejected it because I have no desire to rule. I will listen to whatever else you say. The trouble of ruling a kingdom, I do not want. Instead of it one can be happy sailing in the sea. Listen, Sister! At Kodikarai there is a girl with a boat …”

Poongkuzhali was ecstatic. Vandhiyathevan was furious. Both were dying to hear what more he was going to say. But all of a sudden the prince seemed to be coming around.

Looking all around him, “Is it not Kodikarai yet?” he asked in a faint voice.

“There, the shore can be seen!” Vandhiyathevan replied. Before he could decide whether to seek the advice of the prince, he had drifted back to the semiconscious state of the fever-world.

‘Boatwoman’ – the last words of the prince had unleashed a torrent of waves in Poongkuzhali’s mind. She was embarrassed to face Vandhiyathevan and the prince. So she kept rowing looking ahead. The boat which was until then heading toward the ship, now changed direction and took a southwesterly course.

When it was getting dark it entered the canal that burrowed its way from the sea into the landscape. As Poongkuzhali had said on both sides the terrain was elevated. On these elevated banks trees grew tall and dense.

Stopping the boat along the side, Poongkuzhali said in a soft voice, “Sir! Just keep an eye on the boat.” She climbed out of the boat. She climbed a tall tree and looked around. Then she hurried down. “Thank God, we came here! For about ten miles on the seashore there are men standing in guard. Near the lighthouse there is a crowd and lot of activity!”

“Can you see who they are?” Vandhiyathevan asked anxiously.

“I cannot see properly, but it must be the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ men. Who else can it be? In any case let’s go where I suggested. During the second quarter of the night I will go home and find out for sure,” she said.

“Girl! If anyone sees you, what do we do? If anything happens to you now, we are doomed!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“Sir! I have never cared about my life. But today is different. Until the prince is out of danger, my life will remain,” Poongkuzhali said.

The boat proceeded in the canal slowly. Poongkuzhali moved the oars softly so that no one will hear it. The canal was surrounded by darkness on both sides. The dark shadows of the tall trees fell on the water and made the dark water even more dark.

Stars looked down from the sky. Like Vandhiyathevan they also seemed laden with worry as they watched the progress of the boat. The reflection of the stars in the water flittered, as the branches of the trees moved in the wind and their shadows danced around in the water. They reflected accurately the agitation in Vandhiyathevan’s heart.

After half an hour that stretched as an eon Poongkuzhali brought the boat to a stop along one side of the canal. She climbed the embankment and walked through the forest. That is, her body moved; her life hovered over the boat in the canal. She walked very fast into the dusky night not minding the thorny scrub, the rise and fall of the uneven terrain or the wild critters of the jungle. In patches that were clear she ran. She walked straight with Kodikarai Kulakar temple as her destination. Just as she reached the temple entrance, the priest was about to lock up the sanctuary door.

She looked around and made sure that no one else was present. She went and stood in front of the priest as he turned after locking the door.

The priest was a little surprised to see her at that time. Even though he knew of her nature well he was a little taken aback.

“You, Poongkuzhali! I thought it was someone else. There is so much going on in Kodikarai, where have you been child, I haven’t seen you for some days? Even today I was thinking in the afternoon that there was no news of you even amidst all this hustle and bustle,” he said.

“I was away from here, Swami! I thought I could ask you about all the uproar here. Who are these men standing along the shore?” Poongkuzhali asked.

“You don’t know anything? You didn’t go home?”

“I went home. There seemed to be a crowd, so I turned back. You know how I dislike seeing new people! Who are these people?”

“The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar has come. His Illaiyarani has also come. Their retinue is here. Also Kanjipuram’s Parthipenthira Pallavan I hear! He also has come. Not without anything, he has come with some terrible news. You don’t even know that, Poongkuzhali?”

“What is the terrible news? I don’t know anything!”

“Apparently PonniyinSelvar was aboard on that poor fellow’s ship. Along the way they were met by the cyclone. To save someone apparently the prince jumped into the sea! He was not found after that! Pazuvertaraiyar’s men are roaming all over Kodikarai in the hope that he might get washed up here. Pazhuvertaraiyar is also pacing back and forth looking. Why, even his Illaiyarani is out looking. Just a short while ago that lady even came here. Poongkuzhali! People say a lot about the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani. It is all a big mistake! Do you know how tormented she is over what may have happened to our prince?”

“Is that right, Priest? I am happy to hear your opinion about the good nature of Pazhuvur Rani. But why did that Rani come here now?”

“She said that she came to pray to Kulakar that somehow the prince should be found alive. Can everyone be stone hearted like you? Even the frightening news about the prince could not shake you even a bit!”

“What is the use of us all getting agitated? You yourself has said many times that everything happens according to fate. Never mind that! I don’t want to go home when all these high level people are there. Please give me the devotional food that you have in your hand. I will eat here and stay at the temple.”

“You are a unique being, Poongkuzhali! When high level people come, everyone wants to see them and everyone wants to get to know them. You don’t like to meet strangers. And if it is someone higher in rank, you are afraid of them. Just because they are prominent, would they eat you and swallow you up? Why do you have to be alone in the jungle?”

“Priest! If you don’t want to give the devotional food, that is alright. Don’t scold me for nothing!”

“Siva-Sivah! Am I scolding you? I thought that this devotional food will not be enough for you. Have it be all means!” The priest handed her the devotional food that was bundled up in cloth.

Poongkuzhali opened the bundle and said, “This is indeed not enough for my hunger! You offer so little for such a big deity? Is this fair, Swami! Never mind, what is in that carafe? Drinking water?”

“No, it is milk that was offered to the Swami! I am taking it for the baby.”

“Today, I will be your baby. Please give that also. God will bless you.”

“Fine girl you are! Never mind, at least keep the carafe safe!”

The priest gave the brass urn also to Poongkuzhali.

An owl was heard screeching from afar.

A bit startled Poongkuzhali asked, “Sir! What is that noise?”

“Don’t you know, child? It’s a hooter screeching. There is no lack of hooters in this Kodikarai jungle!” said the priest. Again the sound was heard.

“Yes; it does sound like a hooter!” said Poongkuzhali.

“No hooter will do anything to you. Lock the temple door and sleep, child!” The priest started walking.

Once the priest was out of sight, Poongkuzhali also left. She tied the food bundle around her waist and took the carafe in her hand.

She walked in the direction of the hooter’s cry. After a short while a narrow drain appeared. On both sides of it aloe plants had grown abundantly into a thicket.

Balancing on the edge of the drain Poongkuzhali walked. Sometimes the thorns on the aloe pricked her. She did not mind it. The Aloe flowers cracked open and spread their fragrance. The smell would have intoxicated someone else. But Poongkuzhali did not even think about it.

She walked quietly along the side so that her footsteps won’t be heard. Her ears were listening intently. Won’t there be all sorts of noises in a forest at night? None of these attracted her attention.

Then, what was the sound that she was expecting? Here!…

Two people were heard speaking in faint voices. One was a man’s, the other a woman’s.

Poongkuzhali stood hiding herself. She listened carefully to what they were saying.

“Magician! Like you everyone believes that the prince had fallen into the sea and died. Pazhuvertaraiyar is also mourning in agony. But I don’t believe it!” The female voice said.

5. Rakamahl

Nandhini was alone after Pazhuvertaraiyar and Parthipenthiran went for a stroll along the shore. Looking at the sea waves she was immersed in thought.

Hearing a voice say “Rani Madam!” she turned.

Lighthouse keeper Thiyagavidankar’s daughter-in-law stood there.

“Who are you?” Nandhini asked.

“My name is Rakamahl!”

“Why are you here?”

Without answering Rakamahl stood peering at Nandhini’s face.

“What are you looking at? What is there in my face?”

Startled, “Pardon me, Madam! When I saw you I was reminded of someone else’s face. But it can never be,” she said.

“What are you blubbering? What can never be?”

“There can be no connection between that crazy mute and yourself.”

“Who is the mute?”

“There is a woman in Eezham. My father-in-law’s uncle’s daughter. Sometimes she even comes here.”

“What is between her and me?”

“That is what I said, that there can be no relationship.”

“Then why were you reminded of her when you saw me?”

“The trouble with my eyes. Your face …”

“… was like her face?”

“At first I thought so.”

“Rakammah! Is that mute now here?”

“No, Madam! She comes very rarely.”

“The next time she comes will you bring her to me?”

“Why, Rani Madam?”

“I want to see the woman whose face resembles mine.”

“I said that it was the fault of my eyes!”

“How can you be so certain?”

“Rani! You are from Pandya Nadu?”

“Yes; you?”

“I am also from Pandya Nadu. The dumb woman I talked about, she is from Chola Nadu. Therefore …”

“Never mind about that; like you a few others have told me about her. Can you bring her to me? If you did I will pay you adequately.”

“Rani! Bringing her is akin to escorting a cyclone. She will not wait in one place. She also won’t listen to anyone. Didn’t I call her crazy?”

“Alright! Why are you here now? At least tell that!”

“Rani! A few days ago two men came here. They mentioned your name.”

“Why did they mention my name?”

“They said that they had to go to Ilankai urgently regarding a matter on your behalf. I sent my husband to take them by boat.”

“Has he returned?”

“No. That is why I am worried, if maybe, something has happened to him …”

“Don’t worry, nothing will happen! If something happens, I will take care of you. Do you know anything about the men who went in the boat?”

“They have returned. There was an owl hooting just now! Didn’t you notice?”

“I did. What about it?”

“You didn’t recognize it as the magician’s voice?”

“How do you know about that, are you with the magician?”

“Yes, Rani!” Rakamahl signed with her hands.

Nandhini looked at her in surprise. She asked, “Do you know where they are now?”

“The magician is waiting to see you.”

“Why not come and see me? Why wait?”

“The magician didn’t want to meet the Pallavan, who is here now. He saw him in Eezham, he said. He does not want to see your husband also.”

“Did you see the magician?”

“Just a while ago I went after I heard the owl screech. He asked me to bring you. He said that he will be hiding along the canal near Kulakar temple. Will you come, Rani?”

“How can I go there?”

“You can say that you are going to Kulakar temple.”

“Good idea! Don’t I need someone to go with me?”

“No! If you need you can take Senthan Amuthan for company.”

“Who is he?”

“He is the son of the Thanjavur dumb woman!”

“Siva-Sivah! How many dumb folks?”

“This family has been cursed. Some are born mute. Some remain mute even if they can talk. My husband is like that. He rarely speaks. I am the one who decided that it is best.”

“Does the Ilankai mute woman have children? Do you know?”

“Apparently once she gave birth to twins. No one knows what became of the children. I have been trying for a long time to find out what really happened. Until now I have not been able to.”

“Why is the Thanjavur guy here?”

“He came looking for his uncle’s daughter Poongkuzhali. She is not here, so he’s waiting.”

“Where has she gone?”

“I was just about to say. The day after my husband left for Ilankai with the magician in his boat two more people showed up. To catch them Pazhuvur men also followed them here. Overnight my sister-in-law took one of them in her boat to Ilankai.”

“She can row?”

“That is her work. When she is not rowing she will be roaming the Kodikarai jungles. There is no nook or cranny that she is not aware of in this jungle.”

“If she hasn’t returned still, what do you surmise from that?”

“They are crying that someone is lost in the sea, I would say that it is not a certainty. Only after Poongkuzhali returns we can know for sure.”

“That girl could have drowned also?”

“She will not drown. The sea is like her cradle. In addition …”

“In addition, what?”

“A while ago I climbed to the top of the lighthouse and was watching from there. It appeared that there was a boat coming …”

“Then?”

“Then it never showed up on the shore.”

“What would have happened?”

“It may have seen the crowd on the beach and may have gone into the marsh.”

“Is that possible?”

“There is nothing that is not possible for Poongkuzhali. Thanjavur man was also watching with me from the top. He also saw what I did.”

“Alright; whatever; we will now go to Kulakar temple, come!”

“Shall I call Senthan Amuthan for escort?”

“No! Let him look for his uncle’s daughter. We won’t stand in the way.”

Both of them started toward Kulakar temple. Like Poongkuzhali, Rakamahl was also aware of Kodikarai’s quicksand pits. She guided Nandhini with extreme caution.

Both of them reached the Kodikarai temple. The temple Pattar was surprised to see them.

“Rani! What is this? You are here alone at this time? Without your retinue? Shouldn’t you have sent me word earlier? I would have been more prepared to welcome you!” The Pattar said.

“Is this any time for all of that? Pattar! Chola Nadu has been dealt a great tragedy! They say that the sea has taken the Chola people’s prince, the apple of their eye! I came to beg Kulakar to kindly spare the prince.” Nandhini said.

“Nothing like that will happen, Madam! You should not worry. Our Ponniyin Selvar will not be harmed by the Ocean King,” said the priest.

“How are you so certain, Pattar?”

“The star under which the prince was born and his horoscope are such, Madam! Would the sea take the one who was born to rule this world? Please don’t worry! Pray to Kulakar. He will certainly save the prince,” said the priest.

He then performed a service with the lighted lamps and gave her holy powder. “Madam! I am very happy that you are in this prominent position,” he said.

“Have you known me before, Pattar?”

“I have, Rani! I have seen you at Pazhaiyarai. I have also seen you at the Vaikai shore temple. Your elder brother, Thirumalai, what is he doing now?”

“He is going from place to place singing Azhvar’s hymns. It’s been a long time since I saw him last.”

“He also has a grievance over that. He was sorry that after you became Pazhuvur Rani you have not seen him.”

“What can I do, Sir! Where I married everyone is a devout Shiva. He is a Vaishnava fundamentalist. He calls himself Azhvarkadiyan, always clashing with Shaivars. How can I indulge him? Don’t I have to be careful not to hurt my in-laws?”

“True, Madam, true! Most important is to behave in a manner that does not offend your husband’s heart. Never mind about Azhvarkadiyan!”

Both took leave of Pattar and departed.

“You are going alone? If you wait a little I can go with you.”

“No, Sir! Don’t hasten for our sake. This girl knows this area well. And today Kodikarai is in an uproar. There is nothing to be afraid of. We will take our leave,” said Nandhini.

Both women came out of the temple. Once they were out of Pattar’s sight Rakamahl took Nandhini’s hand and led her behind the temple. In a short time they reached the ditch bordered by the thicket of aloe plants. In the light of the stars they walked along its edge.

6. Poongkuzhali’s Fear

Poongkuzhali held her breath as she stood behind the cover of the aloe bushes. Even though the magician and Nandhini spoke in low tones, she was able to hear most of what they said.

When Nandhini said that she did not believe that the sea had taken the prince the magician said, “Rani! You never believe what I say. Why are you being distrustful now?”

“Haven’t you heard of the prince’s exceptional horoscope. Just now even the Kulakar kovil Pattar mentioned it.”

“Madness! My magic is more potent than the power of stars and planets. Do you know that in the sea that lay calm and quiet I brought forth the cyclone through my magical incantations? The Kanji spy also didn’t believe it at first. Later when he drowned and died in the sea, he would certainly have believed it!”

“Did you see him drowning and dying in the sea?”

“So what if I did not see? I saw his ship catching fire and burning.”

“I hear that the prince jumped into the sea and went to save him from the burning ship!”

“Did he come back?”

“He didn’t return to Pallavan’s ship …”

“What more is needed? I left Vandhiyathevan behind so that both enemies could perish in one day.”

“Whatever you may say, I am not convinced. Something tells me that both are still alive. Do you know Poongkuzhali?”

“I know her very well. She was a problem to us in Ilankai. She also may have perished in the cyclone.”

“That is not the case. A short time ago a boat was en route. Rakamahl saw it from the lighthouse tower. It suddenly disappeared. She thinks that there were two or three people in the boat.”

“In that case you pack up and leave with the old man. I will wait here and see.”

“What if we remain here?”

“If the old man is here, he would give the prince his royal due and take him back ceremonially, it will ruin everything.”

“Magician! I too want to know, what is the necessity that they have to die? If everyone agrees to crown Mathuranthakan …”

“Madam! Do not unveil your female prowess. The Kanji spy knows all our secrets. He would have told the prince also. Please leave before sunrise. Rakamahl! If Poongkuzhali brings them where would she hide them in the jungle?”

“There is a hidden building. That is her private residence. She hid the Kanji spy there for one whole afternoon. I found that out later.”

“Good; I know where that hidden building is. I will go and wait there. Rani! How is the emperor? Is there any news?”

“Which emperor are you talking about?”

“This mouth will never call the ailing Sundara Cholar, ’emperor.’ I am asking about our emperor.”

“Ten days ago I received word that he is well. Aha! How long has it been …”

“Alright, alright! Hurry up and leave. What is that foolish Pallavan going to do?”

“We are taking him also to Thanjai.”

“Be careful about him.”

“There is nothing to worry about him. What I point with my foot, he is prepared to carry on his head!”

“Even so, it is better to be careful. Weren’t you a bit fooled by the Kanji spy?”

“That is true, that is why I want to see him alive the next time.”

“Let go of that wish, Rani!”

While talking they appeared to be moving away from that spot. Poongkuzhali further pressed herself against the bushes so that they will not see her. Fortunately, they did not walk in her direction. They went in the opposite direction.

What she overheard accidentally produced great anxiety in Poongkuzhali. Her legs and hands trembled when she thought of the many dangers surrounding Ponniyin Selvar; her eyes lost their light; her throat felt dry; her mind was in a turmoil. The thought that she should at once return to her boat alone, took precedence over all else; she hurried in the direction of the boat.

The prince was afflicted with a life threatening illness. Pazhuvertaraiyars were waiting to take him a prisoner. Murderers awaited to kill him. To aid them there is this lascivious devil in the form of a woman. Parthipenthiran also has fallen into her deceptive net. They even know about the hidden building where she had thought of taking the prince to keep him safe.

Poongkuzhali realized that the responsibility of protecting the prince from all these dangers was weighing on her head. Because of it, her brain became confused. She experienced something that she had never ever felt before in her life – that is, the fear that perhaps she had lost her way in the forest.

“Have I come around again to where I started” – she wondered. While she is thus going in circles, what if she runs into the prince’s enemies? How to allay their doubts? How to escape from them?

“No, no! I am on the right track. Here is the canal. There in that corner is where I left the boat,” – Poongkuzhali ran toward the place. Her heart stopped beating. Because, she did not see the boat where she had left it! “Aiyo! Where could the boat have gone?”

“Perhaps the Pazhuvertaraiyar’s men came here when I was gone? Could they have taken the prince and Vandhiyathevan as prisoners? Even that is not so damaging. Could something more dangerous have taken place? Did Vandhiyathevan carry the prince and go in search of the hidden building? If he did, then there would be those murderers waiting there. Adada! What a mistake I made! …”

A frantic compulsion that she should go and check the hidden building at once took hold of Poongkuzhali’s mind. She raced through the forest. Again that old doubt: have I lost my way – that doubt. Am I going in circles – that dizziness.

“What is that? Aiyo! What is that? Sounds like footsteps! It sounds as if someone is following me! Who can it be? Why? Perhaps it’s that vile magician? If that is the case, why should I be afraid? I simply have to pull my knife from the waist! Whoever it may be! Why should I run? …”

“No, no! I must run. This is not the time to fight with anyone. I have no strength in my hands; the knife will miss the mark. I must somehow save myself. If something happens to me now, what will be the fate of the prince? Vandhiyathevan has already warned me! I promised that I will return safely! I must keep my word!”

Poongkuzhali ran further and further into the thick jungle. But the man following her kept coming behind. The birds on the trees on Poongkuzhali’s path screeched and took flight beating their wings. Foxes sprang out of their holes and fled. Sleeping wild boars woke up and ran scrambling over on themselves. Leaping like an arrow a deer hit her stirring up the dust while it ran. Amidst all this uproar there was no sign that the man following her was letting up. The sound of the footsteps and the panting continued.

Poongkuzhali became fed up with all the running. Her frustration gave way to an enormous rage. Whoever it may be, whoever was following her, she decided to take a shot at him.

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From → Notes, Uncategorized

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