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Ponniyin Selvan Part III (30 – 34)

April 17, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

30. Two Prisons

Leaving Vahnathi the princess went straight to the prison. Leaving the guards outside she went inside alone to where Vandhiyathevan was locked up. He was locked up alone. He was staring at the roof and excitedly singing:

‘all the stars in the sky
upon seeing you doe
are riveted – there,
they stand mesmerized!

Only when Kundavai standing behind him cleared her throat he turned. Immediately he stood up and greeted her, “Come! Come! Princess! Please sit down!” “Where shall I sit?” The princess wanted to know.

“This is your palace. You rule here, your jurisdiction. You can sit on whichever throne of your choice,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“Sir! When your ancestors ruled the three worlds perhaps vallathu palace was like this! In our place they call this the jailhouse,” said the princess.

“Madam! There is neither palace nor prison existing in my place now. Kings from many countries have flattened both palace and prison a hundred years ago …”

“Why? Why? Why were they so angry at the vallathu palaces and prisons?”

“All because of a poet!”

“Ah! How’s that?”

“When my ancestors ruled as the great kings of the south country, from time to time officials will round up the petty kings who have not paid their tributes. On both sides of the palace grounds were jails where the kings were kept locked up. The petty kings would wait there for the prince to kindly send word for them, so they can ask for forgiveness and return to their territories. It was not easy for them to get a chance to see the great king. While they watched, bards and poets will visit the emperor’s reception hall. They will recite poems in the presence of the emperor, receive gifts and return. At that time the petty kings waiting in their jail cells would exclaim in astonishment, ‘Adada! Look at the good fortune of these poets! Look at the gifts they are taking!’ One petty king would say, ‘Oho! Isn’t the white awning this poet is holding, mine?’ Another would say, ‘Adaday! This bard is going in my palankeen!’ Yet another would exclaim, ‘Aiyo! He is taking my royal crown elephant!’ Gleefully a different petty king would say, ‘This is my horse! One day my horse is sure to push this bard down!’ Behind all of them came one last poet. He heard what the jailhouse petty kings were saying. He went on to recite this poem in front of the emperor:

my umbrella my carriage
my coat of armor my banner
my elephant my horse
exclaimed the petty kings
at the lords of the word
– their meritorious gifts
awarded by the great caring
king Varnan!’

The poet’s song was heard all over Tamil nadu. The people sang it often with merriment. Because of it our kingdom came under attack. All the kings together gathered their troops and attacked our place, palace, jail and destroyed our country …”

“Even though they destroyed everything they could not destroy the poet’s song! Your tribe is fortunate! Its fame will live forever!”

“To ruin the heroic history of the Varnar tribe I have arrived …”

“Aha! You are admitting that fact yourself?”

“How can I not? In servitude, serving a woman is the worst kind. Listening to a woman I have brought disrepute to my ancestors’ name. I had to run away and hide to save my life. I thought I could even the score by killing that doctor’s son. Even that was barred …”

“Sir! Why are you so angry at the doctor’s son Pinakapani?”

“There is good reason for my anger. You chose a fine fellow to send with me to Kodikarai! He almost wrecked my entire mission. If I came through that, then just a while ago on the streets of this city he tried to hand me over to the Pazhuvertaraiyars branding me a spy for the enemies. When I got away from there, he is here on the palace grounds in front of thousand and ten thousand people calling me ‘Pazhuvur Rani’s spy’ …”

“Prince of Vallam! Isn’t that the truth?”

“Isn’t what the truth?”

“I am asking about Pinakapani’s accusation that you are Pazhuvur Rani Nandhini Devi’s spy. Would you tell the truth?”

“I have promised not to tell the truth, Devi!”

“Aha! What kind of promise is that? Did you make such a promise since seeing the Pazhuvur Rani on the banks of the Harichandra river?”

“No, no! I have decided this even before. So long as I was not speaking the truth everyone believed me. At one place I let it slip from my mouth, ‘The prince is safe at Nagaipattinam!’ No one believed it. Everyone laughed …”

“What stupidity! It was good that no one believed you! If they had what a huge blunder it would have turned out to be!”

“From now on these mistakes will not happen …”

“Thank you for your promise!”

“What promise did I make?”

“That you will no longer make any mistakes and do as I tell you …”

“God! I did not make any such promise. Enough! Release me from this prison! I will go my way …”

“In that case there is no freedom for you! You must remain in this prison,” she said.

Vandhiyathevan laughed out loud.

“Why are you laughing? Do you find my words funny?”

“No, Devi! If you don’t let me out of this prison, can I not escape from here?”

With her bright eyes, the princess took a long look at Vandhiyathevan. “Sir! You are smart; especially, you are smart at getting out of prisons. This is no big hurdle for someone who got out of Pazhuvertaraiyar’s treasury cellar,” she said.

“In that case, please open the door and let me out.”

“I can open this door. Or you can escape. But you cannot escape from another prison …”

“You mean the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s dungeon?”

“No, that too is not a big deal for you. You will triumph even the tigers waiting at its entrance …”

“Then, which other prison do you mean?”

“I mean the prison that is my soul.”

“Devi! I am an orphan with no house or veranda. My ancestral glory is old story, poet’s fantasy. You are the beloved daughter of the emperor who rules the three worlds under one mantle …”

“Who knows? This Chola tribe’s glory also may one day become old story.”

“Even so, today, in Chola Nadu, you are powerful beyond comparison. The emperor, the Pazhuvertaraiyars, the chief minister – they will not dare to act against your will. …”

“If all of this is true, how can you alone go over my authority?”

“The king’s authority is a different matter. You mentioned the heart’s domination.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“The difference in our status is what is wrong …”

Does love hath a bolt – haven’t you heard of this old saying?”

“Won’t that proverb fit Ponniyin Selvar and boatwoman Poongkuzhali also?”

“Yes! It would! I thought that my brother was born to rule the world. So I wanted to draw the bolt shut on their hearts as well …”

“After hearing so much about the prince, I too arrived here eagerly. I wanted to set off in all eight directions, perform heroic deeds on battlefields, acquire fame and titles …”

“Now that ambition has disappeared?”

“Yes; Ponniyin Selvar likes a peaceful life more than his entitlement to rule. Instead of wielding the sword in the battlefield he wants more to be a stonecutter holding a chisel doing temple work …!”

“Meanwhile Mathuranthakan is very eager to govern. The lamb turns into a tiger; the tiger becomes a lamb. Sivapakthar biography says that alavai iraivan turned a fox into a horse and a horse into a fox. Like that …”

“Devi, with your kindness I too turned into a fox. Running and hiding, lying and cheating I had to stay out of the hands of the enemies. Princess! I cannot do this work anymore! Please bid me farewell …”

“Aiyo! Vahnathi whom I had believed to be my lifelong friend is trying to give up on me and leave. Now you are also giving up on me?”

“Devi! I do not know what is going on between the Kodumabalur princess and yourself. But how can I give up on you? Kings of kings are waiting to take your hand. I came as a paid worker …”

The junior stateswoman then extended her hand. Wondering if this was real or a dream Vandhiyathevan took her beautiful hand in both of his and raised it to his eyes. His body and soul were enraptured.

“Varnar tribe warrior! I came in the ancient Tamil tradition that cherishes virtue as a birthright. Some women of my tribe would accompany their husbands to the funeral pyre. They considered the flames that consumed their mate’s body the cooling rays of the moon and jumped into the fire!”

“I have heard, Devi!”

“This hand of mine that held yours will never take another man’s …”

Vallavaraiyan speechless, stood frozen looking at Kundavai’s eyes brimming with tears.

“Sir! Please consider what would happen to my life if anything happens to yours owing to your impulsive actions.”

“Devi! This most fortunate person who has gained a place in your heart, can he be a coward fearing for his life?”

“Cowardice is one thing, prudence is another, Sir! Even chief minister Aniruthar has no doubts about your courage.”

“Then what is he afraid of?”

“That you may be Pazhuvur Rani’s spy …”

“In that case I am prepared to give him the same answer I gave the doctor’s son Pinakapani. Please open the prison door! Tell me where the man is!”

“At least the doctor’s son has some familiarity with self defense. His only weapon is his sharp wit. He has never befriended the sword …”  

“In that case, let him test firsthand the sharpness of my sword!”

“Sir! In this country chief minister Aniruthar commands respect next to the emperor. Even the Pazhuvertaraiyars are reluctant to contradict him publicly …”

“Pazhuvertaraiyars’ conscience harbors guilt. They will be afraid; why should I be afraid?”

“He is my father’s friend from a young age. Disrespect towards the chief minister would mean disrespect toward the emperor and me.”

“In that case at least tell me how I can earn his trust.”

“The chief minister wants to send someone trustworthy to Kanji. I have said that he can send you, send you with confidence.”

“Devi! Don’t send me to Kanji! There is a voice in my heart that says ‘Do not go to Kanji!”

“Perhaps it is Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s voice?”

“Not at all! Against your word, would I listen to that poisonous cobra’s voice?’

“Sir! Don’t ever speak about Pazhuvur Illaiyarani in that manner again!”

“What is this? Why the sudden change?”

“Yes; about her, my mind has completely changed. After hearing the news you brought from Illankai.”

“In that case do I have to from now on treat Pazhuvur Illaiyarani also with respect?”

“Yes!”

“If she hands me the sword that she worships with utmost devotion and says ‘Bring me a certain person’s head!’ – I ought to comply?”

Kundavai Devi’s body trembled. When she answered her voice quivered.

“You must treat Pazhuvur Rani with respect. But there is no need to listen to her. Perhaps even she does not understand what kind of affair she is involved in?”

“That is what she also said. “Even I don’t know why I am worshiping this sword,’ she said.”

In a voice that was increasingly more shaky, the princess said, “God alone can save this ancient Cholar tribe!”

“May the God that comes to the rescue use this poor fellow as his instrument,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Sir! That is what I am also hoping. When you return from Kanji you must one more time go to Ilankai. You must bring that mute mother here …”

“Bringing her is akin to trapping the cyclone inside an urn. Someone said this once, yes. It was that brave Vaishnavan. He might indeed have brought her.”

“No; he could not accomplish it. You are the one who would do it.”

“In that case don’t send me to Kanji, Devi!”

“Why?”

“My prince is there. If he asks I must tell him everything. If he knows of the betrayal planned by the Pazhuvertaraiyars and other petty kings he would be furious. If he hears that they are keeping the emperor as if in a prison he would at once leave with his troops. If the news about Ponniyin Selvar has already reached him perhaps he has already left …”

“That is why I want to send you. We must prevent him from leaving Kanji somehow.”

“If he had left before I reach Kanji?”

“Wherever he may be on the way, go and join him. More than anything else, there is something that you must do …”

“Tell me!”

“I have news that the elder Pazhuvertaraiyahas left for Kadampoor palace with Illaiyarani …”

“Is it really Illaiyaran? Or in Illaiyarani’s palankeen …”

“No; it is Illaiyarani. You know that my uncle is still here!”

“Why are they going?”

“They have asked Athitha Karikalan also to come to Kadampoor palace. The cover is matrimonial talk. There is also talk of dividing the kingdom into two and making peace.”

“My prince will never agree to it.”

“I have no worries about it now.”

“Then what is your worry, Devi?”

“I have a foreboding whose roots I am unable to comprehend. ‘tik tik’ – my heart is beating. In my sleep, half awake I am surrounded by nameless horrors. In deep sleep I am woken by terrifying dreams. My body shakes long after.”

“Why do you ask me to go away at this time leaving you? Whatever danger befalls you I will give my life …”

“Sir! My fear is not about me. It is about my elder brother; about Pazhuvur rani. My heart shudders thinking of the outcome of their meeting. You must stop them from meeting alone …”

“Devi! If he is determined to do something who can prevent him?”

“Sir! You must be like an iron armor around my elder brother. If necessary you must tell him who Nandhini is …”

“He has to believe it?”

“It is your responsibility to make him believe it. I don’t know how you will accomplish it. it would be good if they were somehow prevented from meeting.”

“Devi! I will do what I can. Do not blame me if I fail,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Sir! Whether you fail or succeed you will not be released from the prison of my heart in this lifetime,” said the young princess.

31. Green Silken Garb

The following evening Vandhiyathevan with chief minister Aniruthar’s letter was traveling along arisilatankarai towards Kudanthai town. Without prodding the horse he went slowly taking in the pleasant scenery on both sides. In early October the fertile Chola country was resplendent. Draped in green the queen of nature displayed her youthful abundance. How many hues of green were present in that silken color! The paddy that was ready to spike was one shade; young crop that had been planted a short time ago was another shade; the fresh golden crop that has been newly planted was yet another shade! The leaves filling the fig tree were one shade of green; the locks of leaves hanging from the arasa tree were another shade; The lotus leaves that were luxuriously filling the pond were a smooth and velvety green; the sharp eye catching green of the banana leaves; the newly unfolding ivory green of young coconut leaves; the emerald green of the earth’s fresh grass; the green of the clear water in the canals; the green frogs hopping here and there in the water.

As if to show off the splendor of this green silken garb kuvalai, kumutham, red lotus flowers and chenkazhuneer flowers dazzled here and there like stars. Vandhiyathevan drank this beauty with his two eyes as he journeyed. He was able to see the difference between the scenery now and what he had seen in July. Then the river had run flooded with new rain frothing and overflowing. Now the velocity and fury of the flood had reduced, red color giving into crystal clear, the water taking its time coursing through leisurely. ‘Ho’ – the roar of the new flood, the noise from the branches assaulted by the western wind, the cheery chirping of a thousand species of birds then sounded like a festival. Today the murmur of the leaves grazing in the cold north-wind, the gurgling sound of water seeping through the sluices, the tuneless cries of frogs expecting rain, the monotonous repetition of various crickets together sounded like a sad chorus from mother nature.

There was an unknowable sadness in Vandhiyathevan’s heart also. He did not understand the reason for it however much he contemplated. In truth there were many reasons for him to feel exuberant. All that he dreamed of when he traveled on this path two months ago has come true. What he never even dreamt of also had taken place. He had met Sundara Chola emperor! He had seen great cities like Thanjavur, Pazhaiyarai, Mathottam and Anuradhapuram. He has the friendship of Ponniyin Selvar of Chola Nadu, the apple of its eye; he has had the honor of helping that heroic prince; to see the beautiful goddess of thamilagam, the Chola beacon Princess Kundavai even, just one time, he ought to have performed many a penance. But to have the love of her pristine heart, what an extraordinary blessing! When he thought of it his heart filled with pride. But with that pride came agony. Does he really deserve this extraordinary blessing? Is it going to last? Won’t there be many obstacles before what’s within hand’s reach becomes a reality?

“Aha! Is there a shortage for obstacles? The world is a vista of obstacles! Isn’t it filled with magicians like Ravithasan, tempting beauties like Nandhini, treacherous men like the Pazhuvertaraiyars, friend betrayers like Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran, mad women like Poongkuzhali and Vahnathi, brave Vaishnava spies, kalamugha saivars, fire-mouthed devils and quicksand pits of unknowable depth? God, I have managed to escape from each and every one of these dangers! Now chief minister Aniruthar has sent me on a task more dangerous than any before! On one side was the hot tempered Athitha Karikalan; on the other side is the mystical beauty who makes a puppet out of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar! I am expected to stand between the two of them and succeed! Is this possible? No one knows what that Brahmarayar has in mind! Could his intention be to simply separate me from the young princess? Both of them said that Azhvarkadiyan will be joining me on the road! Until now there is no sign of him! Whatever that brave Vaishnavan may be, until now he has not harmed me; in fact he has been helpful on many occasions. If he was present he would be chatting incessantly. There will be no boredom during the journey. Now where can he join me? How long can I hold this horse back making it trot idly? …”

“Aha! There is the grove of trees! Those roots in the river flood that resemble crocodiles! It was here that the drama of throwing the spear at the fake crocodile took place! It was in this place that Varini, Tharakai, Senthiru and Manthahini laughed out loud at my brave performance! It was here also that the young princess scolded them on my behalf! Let’s wait here for a while.”

Vandhiyathevan alighted from the horse and stood at the edge of the river. He watched the clear water as it ran circling around the roots of the tree … Aha! A face appears in the water! Whose face is it? Must he say it? It is the sweet golden face of Kundavai!

‘I saw I saw I saw
the sweetest sight I saw’

Startled by the song Vandhiyathevan looked up. Azhvarkadiyan was seated on one of the topmost branches of the tall tree.

“Oho! Brave Vaishnava! Do I appear sweet to your holy eyes! Let me take a good look at you. Kindly step down!” Vandhiyathevan said.

Coming down the tree the brave Vaishnavan said, “I did not mean you, Appan! With a sword at the waist and spear in hand, to my eyes you present a frightful appearance.”

“Then whom did you mean, Vaishnava?”

“When the supreme Thirumal came in the form of an elephant and raised his foot to measure the sky, he appeared to your Sivaperuman’s eyes …”

“Vaishnava! Stop! Stop ridiculing Sivan in this manner. Or else you are in for a lot of trouble!”

“What trouble, Appan! Who can harm me when there is the Peruman’s chakram that killed the crocodile and saved the elephant?”

“I have said my part. After that it is your lookout.”

“Tell me what trouble is coming my way, Brother!”

“Didn’t the people get all riled up and come to the palace grounds? At that time I heard some kalamughar men speaking.”

“What did they say?”

“They said that they ought to kill the increasing number of militant Vaishnava men in Chola Nadu, pile their skulls into a heap and stand on it and dance!”

Azhvarkadiyan touched his skull. “It is strong! It can withstand the kalamugha thandavam,” he said.

“Just as I heard there were kalamugha men bearing skulls and tridents roaming around on the road I took today. You should just say ‘Sivan’ and give up the practice of wearing your ponytail over your forehead …”

“I can’t, Appa! I can’t!”

“What do you mean you can’t?”

“I cannot say that name. Maybe I would say ‘Vishnu’ and change my attire … Look over there!”

On the river road there appeared a palankeen. A woman was inside. It was not clear who it was. It must be a woman from the royal family. Who can it be? Beside the palankeen carriers there was a maid next to the palankeen. Perhaps it is the young princess! It cannot be.

“Vaishnava! Do you know who is in that palankeen?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“Brother! Listen to me. Don’t put your head into matters that don’t concern you. Haven’t you had enough trouble already because of it? There will be many people on the road; what do you care about that? Get back on the horse; ride!”

“Oho! Is that so? The brave Vaishnava has become a zealot. Have you forgotten what happened in Veeranarayanapuram? Didn’t you tell me there to deliver a letter to the maiden in the palankeen?”

“That is old story. Why do you want to bring that up now?”

“Never mind. They said that you will be joining me on the way. For your sake I have been going slowly. At least now would you join me or not?”

“You are on the horse. I am on foot. How can we travel together? You wait at Kollidam shore, I will join you there.”

Vandhiyathevan realized that Azhvarkadiyan was on another secret mission and will not be joining him. “Alright, your wish!” He leapt atop his horse looking in the direction that he was to take. He saw dark clouds gathering in the northeast.

“Vaishnava! Would it rain today,” he asked.

“Appan! Do I know astrology? Isn’t October here? It may rain. In any case let the horse go fast. Look for an inn or choultry for the night,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Vandhiyathevan tapped the horse allowing to gain speed. He recalled Azhvarkadiyan saying, ‘Do I know astrology?’ This reminded him of Kudanthai astrologer. His house was on the way. Why not pay him a visit? Among those vying for the Chola throne, who is the lucky guy? Kudanthai astrologer called Ponniyin Selvar the North Star! He is refusing to be enamored by the glorious task of ruling! How effortlessly he rejected the Ilankai throne? To some extent the astrologer’s prediction that he will face many dangers has come true. In the same way would his prediction that he is destined for a future of fame and glory come true? How is that possible? To what extent would his dreams for the future come true? Would he recover the kingdom lost by his ancestors? How much success would he have on this current mission? Is anything attainable by taking a stand against Athitha Karikalan and Nandhini? Until now he has escaped two or three times after falling into the clutches of Nandhini! Can he do it again? When he thought of Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani, Vandhiyathevan experienced a certain fear. It is true that she spoke to him with respect and affection! But he could not read her mind. She seemed to leave him out for some important reason. That is why she is very patient with Vandhiyathevan. What can that be?

On the road Vandhiyathevan’s horse passed the palankeen. This time he did not want to have a collision. The palankeen also did not want to collide with him. But when the horse passed the palankeen the curtain moved a little. He saw that it was Kodumbalur princess Vahnathi who was inside. He wondered if he should stop the horse. But he changed his mind and kept going. He recalled what the junior stateswoman had said about Vahnathi. In these times surrounded by danger from all sides where has the Kodumabalur princess set off all alone? She did not even have adequate security! He also saw something else that was peculiar. From a distance two frightening looking kalamugha saivars were staring at Vahnathi’s palankeen. Why are they staring like that? Who are these two? Aren’t they the men whose conversation he overheard at Harichandra riverbank?

It is true that Vandhiyathevan did not have much sympathy for Vahnathi. He believed that Vahnathi was stealing the place in Ponniyin Selvar’s heart that Poongkuzhali ought to have. He felt angry at her over it. Yet he could not forget that the junior stateswoman was extremely fond of her. If something happened to Vahnathi the junior stateswoman would be very unhappy. But what can happen? ‘Don’t put your head into matters that don’t concern you; mind your own business!’ – Azhvarkadiyan’s advice made sense. But the sight of the two kalamugar men surreptitiously watching Vahnathi’s palankeen kept returning to his mind.

Kudanthai astrologer’s house is here. He can be consulted about everything … Adaday! All this time the brain did not figure this out! Vahnathi Devi also is perhaps headed to the astrologer’s house. The fruit slipped and fell into the milk. Before Vahnathi arrives he can take care of his work. With this thought Vandhiyathevan stopped his horse in front of Kudanthai astrologer’s house and entered the small house.

32. Brahma’s Head

When Vandhiyathevan entered Kudanthai astrologer’s house for the second time he felt a strange exhilaration in his heart. It was in this small house that he first saw the junior stateswoman Kundavai. It was here that he stood mesmerized at the sight of her red lotus like face and the dark big eyes that opened wide in astonishment.

It was here also that he heard her sweet voice. All these thoughts like waves flooded his mind. He felt the sweetness in his ears; in his mind; his body was riveted.

The astrologer was preparing for the evening pooja. He said, “Come, Appan! Come! Isn’t it Varnar tribe Vallavaraiyan?”

“Yes, Astrologer! Even though your astrology is backwards and forwards your memory is excellent!”

“Son! To study the science of astrology memory is very important. Planets, stars, time, place, their interaction presents hundred thousand different combinations. Keeping all of that in mind we must calculate yearly, monthly, daily, outcomes even by the minute and then a hundredth of a minute. Never mind; you were saying that my astrology was backwards and forwards. What do you mean? Nothing came of what I told you?”

“Can’t you find that out by your astrology?”

“I can, I can! I can find out through astrology; I can also guess. What I told you did come true. Otherwise why would you step into this hut again?”

“Yes, yes. Your predictions did come true.”

“Then say so! What came true, Appan?”

“What you told me happened exactly as you predicted. ‘The mission you have undertaken may come to pass; or it may not come to pass,’ you said. It came to pass exactly like that. It’s a mistake to say ‘came to pass.’ In fact it ran and disappeared around the corner when it saw me!”

“Son! You are a humorous fellow!”

“That is true, I do have a sense of humor. In addition to that I am also somewhat short tempered!”

“When you come inside this hut you should bundle away your short temper and leave it outside.”

“That’s what I wanted to do. But I didn’t see your disciple on the veranda. Thinking that someone might steal my bundle of short temper if I left it there I brought it inside. Where is your disciple, Astrologer? The way he tried to stop me at the entrance, it is still in my memory!”

“Isn’t today the end of the tithi preceding the October new moon? He would have gone to Kollidam shore for the occasion.”

“What is the relationship between Kollidam shore and the moon?”

“Today at Kollidam shore is the big gathering of the kalamughar men. My disciple belongs to the kalamughar sect.”

“Astrologer! I am thinking of giving up the Saiva religion.”

“Give up and …”

“Your friend Azhvarkadiyar Nambi …”

“You mean Thirumalai!”

“Yes; I want to be ordained by him, and become a veera vaishnavan bearing the namam all over my body.”

“Why?”

“I saw a few kalamugha saivars. Even on the way h I ran into them. After seeing them and the skulls they carry I felt like leaving the Saiva faith.”

“Son! You have seen so many battlefields, why are you afraid of skulls?”

“Not afraid, disgust. What is the connection between killing enemies in the battlefield and wearing a garland of skulls?”

“Your prince, Athitha Karikalar, didn’t he parade the head of Veera Pandyan after beheading him?”

“He did it because he had taken some vow. He regretted it very much afterwards. Even he did not wear it around his neck; he did not carry it around in his hand! Why are the kalamughars doing it?”

“They are doing it to demonstrate that life is not forever. You and I are wearing holy powder. What is that for? This human body is not immortal. We smear holy powder so that we won’t forget that we will one day be burnt!”

“It is true that the human body is mortal; it will burn and become ash; or it will become part of the earth. Sivaperuman’s sacred body is not like that! Why does Paramasivan have a skull in his hand?”

“Son! The skull in Sivaperuman’s hand indicates arrogance. It is to show that if we overcome arrogance we will achieve happiness. Isn’t Sivaperuman dancing happily holding the skull in his hand?”

“How does the skull indicate arrogance? I don’t understand!”

“There is still a lot that you don’t know. Sir! For now just learn how a skull became a sign of arrogance. Once Brahmathevan and Thirumal became conceited. ‘I am great; No, I am greater,’ they fought. Sivan came to mediate. ‘One person will look for my foot, the other my head; whoever returns first will be the greater of the two,’ he said. Mahavishnu in the form of a swine dug through the earth to find the feet of Sivan. Brahma flew in the sky in the form of a swan. Perumal came back and truthfully admitted that he could not find Sivan’s sole. Brahma came back and lied that he had seen the crown of Sivan. He punished Brahma by pinching off one of his five heads. Because it was vanity that made Brahma argue and lie, his head became the symbol of arrogance …”

Vandhiyathevan, as if he was reminded of something laughed out loud.

“What are you laughing at, Son?”

“I am not laughing at anything here. I was reminded of something. That is why I laughed.”

“What is it? Not a secret?”

“A secret? No. If I were to be punished like Brahma I would need at least ten thousand heads! I laughed thinking of it.”

“You have said that many lies!”

“Yes, Astrologer! It is the specialty of my horoscope. After meeting Paonniyin Selvar I decided to speak only the truth. Once I even revealed an important truth. Those who heard it laughed, no one believed me!”

“Yes, Son! Times are so rotten. these days people don’t believe even lies, how would they believe the truth?”

“It looks like the fate of your craft is also such, Astrologer! Do you remember what you said about Prince Arulmozhivarmar? Didn’t you proclaim that Ponniyin Selvar was akin to the North Star that shines at the base of the northern sky?”

“I did; what about it?”

“Haven’t you heard the news about him?”

“How can I not? Isn’t that the talk all over the country?”

“Have you heard of the North Star drowning in the sea?”

“The North Star will not drown in the sea. But the clouds can cover even that eternal shining star! Even today there are clouds turbulently rising in the north, tonight however much you try you won’t be able to see the North Star. Does that mean that is the end of the North Star?”

“Is that right? Do you know anything more about Ponniyin Selvar?”

“How would I know? The talk is that you are the last person who jumped with him into the sea. If anyone knows it would be you. I was going to ask you …”

To change the subject Vandhiyathevan asked, “Astrologer! How is the star with the tail?”

“Late at night it appears rather long. The length ought to decrease from now on. If there is going to be a tragedy because of thoomakethu it ought to happen now. God! Who knows in what manner which person in the royal family is going to be hurt?”

Vandhiyathevan’s mind was flooded with thoughts leaping from one to another in rapid succession. Sundara Cholar who was laid in bed with paralysis in Thanjai, Ponniyin Selvar laid down with chills and fever at Nagaipattinam, Athitha Karikalan going to meet Nandhini at Kadampoor palace, Mathuranthakar who had become the object of people’s anger owing to his greed for the throne, Nandhini planting a kiss on the murderous sword – all of this paraded one behind the other in his mind.

“Never mind about that, Astrologer! Why should we care about the royal family? How would the mission that I am on now end? Please tell me”

“I have to tell you again what I have stated before. Appan! You will face many dangers; you will also have much unexpected help to overcome these dangers,” said the astrologer.

Vandhiyathevan wondered whether it was help or hindrance that was knocking on the door now. Because from the entrance was heard not only men’s voices but women’s voices also. Both men turned their gaze toward the entrance.

Next minute Vahnathi Devi and her friend walked in.

Vandhiyathevan rose and greeted her with respect. “Devi! Pardon me! If I had known that you were going to be here I won’t have come,” he said.

33. Vahnathi’s Appeal for Help

“Sir! Why so much anger towards me? What harm did I do to you?” Kodumabalur princess’s soft voice melted Vandhiyathevan’s heart. He asked himself why he should be angry at this girl. For a second Poongkuzhali appeared in his mind’s eye and disappeared. What justification was there to be angry at this girl for her sake?

“Madam! You must forgive me. I did not mean anything like that. I meant that I would have waited outside until your visit with the astrologer was over. I am not in any hurry. Even now …”

“There is no need for you to leave. I am happy to hear that you are not in a hurry. Actually I did not come here to see the astrologer. I have lost faith in his astrology. …”

“Devi! Your satisfaction is my only hope! You will at some point realize that my predictions have not been incorrect. Then you will praise this poor man,” said the astrologer.

“We will see about it!” With this response Vahnathi turned to Vandhiyathevan. “Sir! I came here to see you. I saw you passing on horseback. I thought that you would stop and inquire. You went ignoring me! I am not surprised at that. Why should you care about this orphan,” she said.

Tears were about to fall from Vahnathi’s eyes.

“Devi, what manner of talk is this? The beloved daughter of Kodumbalur Paranthaka petty Velar, the adopted daughter of southern commander Poothi Vikrama Kesari, Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman’s confidential friend – who would call you an orphan? I thought that it would seem disrespectful to talk on the road. That was all, if there is something that I can do …”

“Yes, Sir! There is certainly something that you can do. I came to this house to ask you for an important help ..”

“Tell me; if it is something that I can do …”

“Is there anything that you cannot do? I have also heard to some extent what happened to you during your Ilankai trip. Can you first promise me that you will grant me the help that I am requesting?”

Hesitantly Vandhiyathevan answered,” Devi! It is better if you say what kind of help!”

“Yes; I should not deceive you and make you promise. Therefore I will tell what it’s about. The astrologer also can listen; no harm there. I have decided to follow Buddhism and become a priestess …”

“What? What?”

“What manner of talk is this?”

“Never!”

“The world will not tolerate!”

“Impossible!”

After listening to the alternating remarks of the astrologer and Vandhiyathevan Vahnathi said, “Yes; I have decided to become a Buddhist priestess. Why do you object? What’s wrong with that? Didn’t so many women become priestesses in the old Tamil country? Didn’t Mathavi’s daughter Manimekalai attain sainthood after becoming a priestess? Don’t we praise her as ‘Manimekalaitheivam’? I don’t have that big an ambition. I tried to end this useless existence. I failed in that. God perhaps wants me to be alive for some more time. I want to join a Buddhist monastery and spend that time in benevolent service. You won’t hesitate to help me in this?”

A small doubt crept into Vandhiyathevan’s mind. He was startled by it.

“Devi! Your decision is not wise. But I do not have the right to point that out. The elders in your family ought to advice you about it. Your great uncle Poothi Vikrama Kesari will be returning soon …”

“Sir! I am not going to wait for anyone; nor am I going to listen to anyone’s advice. I have made a decision. I am asking for your help …”

“How can I help in this matter, Devi?”

“Let me explain. I am going to Nagapattinam Soodamani Viharam. I thought of going there to ask the Buddhist monks about initiation. You must chaperone me until Nagapattinam. This is my request!”

Vandhiyathevan was astounded. Kodumbalur princess was not a fool. She must have heard bits and pieces of the conversation between him and the junior stateswoman. She is trying to find out the details from him. She has started for Nagapattinam Soodamani Viharam, with the intention of meeting the prince there! He can never be an accomplice to that.

“Madam! You must please forgive me. Your request is beyond my power.”

“This is strange! To the person who performed so many miracles in Eezhanadu, would it be impossible to accompany this orphan girl up to Nagapattinam?”

“Devi! There is nothing that is impossible. But at this time I cannot undertake this. The chief minister and the junior stateswoman have ordered me to go to Kanji urgently. I am taking their letter. I am going on a very important matter for the kingdom. That is why I said, ‘No.’ If the circumstances were different …”

“Yes, yes! When you don’t want to, you will give me many reasons. That is alright. I started with the idea of traveling alone. On the way when I saw some kalamugha crowds I felt a bit afraid. There is God who is obliged to take care of all living beings. Leaving him the responsibility I will go on my way. Who will do anything to a foolish woman who has decided to give up the material world and become a priestess? Goodbye, Astrologer!” Vanathi departed with these words.

The astrologer followed her saying,” Devi! Devi! It is getting dark! The night before the new moon. In addition there are clouds gathering in the north. Can’t you wait in this poor man’s hut for the night and leave in the morning?”

“No, Astrologer! Forgive me. I am thinking of going up to Thiruvarur and staying the night there. This man has refused to accompany us. At least in Thiruvarur there will be someone willing! I am not really worried about my life. Is it of any use to anyone?”

These were the last words heard by the astrologer and Vandhiyathevan. Vahnathi stepped into the palankeen waiting at the entrance. The palankeen set off on its journey.

Vandhiyathevan and the astrologer stood watching the palankeen until it disappeared from sight.

“Kodumabalur princess had been until now very timid. Because of it all the other friends of the junior stateswoman made fun of her. They floated a fake crocodile in the river and tried to scare her; even I got fooled there. Now how did this girl become so assertive? How strange it is that she should embark on a journey all by herself? How did the junior stateswoman agree to this?” Vandhiyathevan said.

“I too am surprised by it. Last time when this girl came to this hut she suddenly fainted; she spoke in a weak voice, stuttering and stumbling. It makes me wonder if it is the same Kodumbalur princess. Today how fluent and boldly she spoke!”

“What do you think is the reason for this sudden change?”

“Her mind had experienced a sudden shock over something very important.”

“What can it be?”

“Why? Isn’t the news that the sea had taken away Ponniyin Selvar sufficient? Wasn’t there talk of possible matrimony between this girl and the prince?”

When the astrologer said this Vandhiyathevan wondered which of his statements – ‘the sea had taken away Ponniyin Selvar’ or ‘he is safe at Nagapattinam,’ – or if it was what he said about Poongkuzhali that had brought about this change.

“Yes; Astrologer! Kodumabalur tribesmen have been brave Saivars generation after generation! Why should this girl suddenly develop an interest in Buddhism,” he asked.

“Something from another previous birth, perhaps,” said the astrologer.

“Why go to Nagapattinam Soodamani Viharam?”

“That’s what surprises me also!”

“Can’t you look something up by means of your astrological science?”

“Son! How can I find this in astrology? This belongs in the realm of espionage.”

“There is such a study as espionage?”

“Why not? Haven’t you heard of poiyamozhi poet’s Thirukural?”

“I remember hearing about such a book.”

“In that book there is a chapter called ottradal. It contains ten verses.”

“Is that right? Recite me a couple of good verses from there!”

“All are good verses. Listen to this:

‘His officers, his friends, his enemies,
All these who watch are trusty spies.’*

Thiruvalluvar says that the king ought to have spies, studying everyone – those who serve under him, his relatives and his enemies. Listen to some more:

‘As monk or devotee, through every hindrance making way,
A spy, whate’er men do, must watchful mind display.’*

Valluvar says a spy is someone who takes on any disguise, a monk, ascetic, or even pretend to be dead, works tirelessly without divulging any secrets, whatever torture he may be subjected to. He has also said that kings should check on one spy’s work using another spy:

‘Spying by spies, the things they tell
To test by other spies is well.’*

You are telling me that you have not heard these verses?”

Vandhiyathevan was aghast. He decided when he finds free time again that he would first study Thirukural before doing anything else. A person who wrote like this about politics a hundred years ago – how erudite must he be?

(* Rev. G.U. Pope’s translation of Thirukkural)

After chatting for a little while longer Vandhiyathevan took his leave. When the astrologer said, ‘You can sleep here tonight and start in the morning’ – he did not listen.

“I will come again; I will be your guest then,” he answered.

“When you come here again, you would have seen that my predictions had been right,” said the astrologer.

“Sir, Astrologer! You didn’t make any predictions. They can be right only if you make them!” Laughing, Vandhiythevan climbed on his horse and left.

For a short distance there was only one path leading from the astrologer’s home. He had to be on the same path as the palankeen. Then there came a fork. One headed north toward Kollidam shore. The other turned southeast toward Thiruvarur. Vandhiyathevan saw the palankeen at a distance on the Thiruvarur road. For a moment his heart was torn by indecision.

He has had to turn down the request by Kodumabalur princess! If she really needed help … if there was any danger on the way … when he hears the news later would he be able to forgive himself? Won’t he be tormented forever for refusing to chaperone her? Yet, what can he do? The order from the chief minister and the junior stateswoman is urgent. He cannot get caught in other matters at this time. Enough with the trouble he had had in the past meddling in affairs that did not concern him. Azhvarkadiyan too has warned. In any case taking Vahnathi Devi to Nagapattinam Soodamani Viharam was out of the question.

Having thus decided Vandhiyathevan directed the horse onto the Kollidam route. At the same time, he thought that he heard a faint cry, ‘weel’ – a woman’s voice seeking help. Startled, he turned and looked. The palankeen was not to be seen. It may have turned the corner taking the other road. In a second Vandhiyathevan decided to go there and see. This will not cause any great delay. The horse sped. Soon it was near the corner where the road made a turn. The sight that awaited there was enough to stop Vandhiyathevan’s heart. A woman was tied to the tree there. There was cloth stuffed in her mouth. In the dusky hour it was not clear at first who it was. He went closer. It was the maid who had been walking alongside Vahnathi’s palankeen. Whimpering she was trying to untie herself. Vandhiyathevan leaped from the horse to first remove the cloth from her mouth and then to untie her. He noticed that the ties were not very strong.

“Woman, what happened? Tell quickly! Where is the palankeen? Where is your mistress?” He asked in desperation.

The maid answered stuttering and stammering. When the palankeen turned the corner on that road seven or eight men came from behind the surrounding trees. Skulls and tridents were seen in some of the men’s hands. Two of them hit the maid on her head and knocked her down. They stuffed her mouth with cloth. Then they dragged her and tied her to the tree. Meanwhile when the others told the palankeen carriers something in a terrifying voice they left the road and ran on a shortcut carrying the palankeen. The others also followed. It was the maid who shrieked,’weel.’ Not a sound was heard from Vahnathi Devi. In addition to relating these events the maid also pointed to the shortcut path that the palankeen had taken.

“Woman! Go there to the Kudanthai astrologer’s house and wait there! I will try and find your mistress.” Vandhiyatehvan leapt onto his horse. The horse turned away from the royal thoroughfare and took the crossroad. Not minding the hillocks and potholes, the jungle and thorny scrub, it sped.

34. Torch Went Out

It being the night before the new moon darkness descended early. The dark clouds that hovered in the north had now spread across the entire sky covering it. There was not a single star twinkling from above. The fireflies flickering about on the trees and in between the shrubs provided a little light. With their help Vandhiyathevan rode the horse.

It was not clear where he was going or why he was going or if anything good would come out of it. Madam Kundavai’s beloved friend was in danger. It was his duty to save her. Beyond that, there was God!

Even after half an hour the palankeen was not to be found. Vandhiyathevan wondered if he had embarked on a futile mission. He stopped the horse. At that time he heard something in the distance. He listened! It sounded like a horse! He could not tell if it was one horse or many. Perhaps these were the soldiers guarding the palankeen. He must be careful. He should not get caught to a crowd unexpectedly. There was no benefit to Vahnathi Devi in that, his mission also would be ruined …

He rode the horse slowly stopping intermittently. He decided that it was a lone horse ahead of him. It appeared that the horse was climbing onto a hilly terrain. So that he may not be caught following, he decided to hide somewhere and watch. He looked around. An old building with fallen walls was seen nearby. After stopping the horse in the cover of a half-wall he followed the horse ahead through the dark until his eyes hurt.

“Who’s there?” Vandhiyathevan was startled by the question.

The voice seemed familiar.

“Maharajah! Your servant, it is I!” A response was heard.

A light appeared shortly. A man came holding a torch in his hand from the cover of a tree. In that light the horse could be seen. There was someone seated atop the horse. It was Mathuranthakar.

When the man on the ground raised the torch the horse carrying the prince was startled. Raising its front legs it swiveled once. Then, ‘thadal’ – it dropped its legs abruptly, and started leaping and running.

The horse had been standing on the embankment of a wide irrigation drain. From that elevated bank the horse suddenly jumped into the drain. The man holding the torch cried, ‘Maharajah! Maharajah,’ and jumped after the horse into the drain. In the process he tripped and lost his balance. The torch fell into the water.

Next moment, the place was engulfed by darkness that was ten times more dark than before. At the same time it began to drizzle lightly. Amidst the noise of the trees swaying in the wind, the sound of the rain, the dry monotone of the night’s critters, rose the disturbing sounds of men crying for help and horses fleeing. Vandhiyathevan knew that Prince Mathuranthaka Thevar was not known for his valor.

His heart despaired over the fate of Mathuranthakar who was seated on the horse. It may be running wildly still with him on top. Or it may have dumped him into the drain water. Or it may have carried him for a while and dumped him somewhere else.

Can the man with the torch follow him and save him? But he has tripped and fallen into the drain water! What is his responsibility now? Does he go in search of Vahnathi? Does he go to help Mathuranthakar? His mind battled with these questions for a minute.

He had no idea where Vahnathi Devi was. But Mathuranthakar’s plight took place right in front of his eyes. It was easy to help him; once he finds him and makes sure that he is not in danger, he can go to look for Vahnathi! God! He had been determined not to be sidetracked into matters that did not concern his mission! Now, what’s this?

Vandhiyathevan brought his horse out from hiding behind the wall of the old building. In the dark and rain he followed his instinct to locate the place where the prince’s horse had jumped into the drain. He also stepped into the drain. He looked around. Nothing was visible. From a distance came a cacophony of indecipherable sounds: ‘Ah ah ah! Oh oh oh! Eeh eeh eeh! Da da pa da! Da da pa da! Koda koda, koda kodah!

He climbed out of the drain on the other side. He surveyed what was beyond the elevated bank. There lay a swath of paddy fields. It would be impossible to walk the horse through the mud and the green seedlings in the fields. He can only search by walking along the embankment of the irrigation channel.

The embankment was covered with vines and thorny bushes. He led the horse on the narrow foot path that ran amidst the bushes. From above came rain; below was a slippery slope; on one side was the irrigation channel; on the other side lay the paddy fields; all around were thorny bushes. The horse went slowly. Time on the other hand, sped – a minute equivalent to an eon! The drizzle was turning into a downpour! Darkness intensified! Vandhiyathevan’s mind sank into thought.

Why was Mathuranthaka Thevar alone here on a horse? Where was he headed? The man who came to meet him here, who is he? Is there a connection between this and Vahnathi being taken away by some people? What has become of Vahnathi now? Why is he in this predicament here? Can’t he just mind his own business? He can find the royal thoroughfare and head towards Kanji! How would it be possible in this darkness of the rainy season? How can he be sure that these events have nothing to do with him?

How propitious it turned out that he became involved in matters seemingly irrelevant to him at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace? Yet there was no use continuing in the dark tonight along the embankment of this drain. Becoming thoroughly soaked in rain would be the only outcome! If the horse trips somewhere and breaks a leg, the entire journey will come to a halt.

He must go back to that old building. He should leave only after the rain ceases. There was a sudden flash of lightening, in that second-long illumination, on the far side of the fields on the elevated ground it appeared as if a horse was standing. He had come all this way; why not go a little bit more, and check that out! If he gives a hand to Prince Mathuranthakar when he is in distress, it may pay off later on handsomely.

He made the horse step down from the embankment onto the ridge between the paddy fields. He rode towards the far edge where he thought he saw a horse. When he went closer it appeared like a big dark monster. During another flash of lightening the horse reappeared for a second. Vandhiyathevan noticed that there was no one on the horse. Thunder sounded! Perhaps frightened by the thunder and lightening the horse again began to run wildly. There was no use following it.

Mathuranthaka Thevar who fell off the horse may be somewhere nearby. Therefore, Vandhiyathevan called out several times. Over the ‘jym jym,’ ‘rim, rim,’ roar of the rain, his voice thundered, ‘Who’s there? Who’s there?’ From all sides arose, only the echo, “Who’s there? Who’s there?’

The rain was becoming heavier. ‘Vir’ – the north-wind thrashed. Shifted by the force of the wind the rain now attacked him at an angle. The horse shook itself. Severely hit by the rain Vandhiyathevan’s body also began to shiver in the cold.

There was no use in waiting there any longer. Vandhiyathevan turned the horse around to go back. He regretted his foolishness. At least from now on he should not allow himself to wander into these futile ventures. He ought to simply mind his own business …

The horse let out a neighing sound once it found the way and reached the old building through its own instinct. Only then Vandhiyathevan returned to this world from his thoughts. He climbed down from the horse. His clothes were wet. He must let them dry. He looked around to see if any part of the dilapidated building was intact where he and the horse can spend the night.

How would it feel if out in the open in the pouring rain one were to step on fire? Vandhiyathevan jumped as if this was the case. The reason was nothing else; there wasn’t a devil; or demon; it was the voice of a small child!

“Mother! Mother!”

How can one say that it wasn’t a devil or a demon? How can it be a child’s voice, in that building, at that time?

How can one be sure that it wasn’t the devil’s voice? Cheechee! There are no devils or demons! Devils and demons are the imagination of cowardly maidens!

“Mother! Mother! Oohm! Oohm!” It was a human child’s voice. It was the frightened voice of a baby separated from its mother.

It was coming from the lightless, dark part of the old building. Is it only the child? Is there no one else?

“Mother! Mother! Oohm! Oohm!”

Vandhiyathevan moved closer to the voice and said, “Who’s there?”

“Who’s there?” The child’s voice echoed.

“It is I! Who are you? What are you doing in the dark? Come outside!”

“It is raining outside!”

“Rain has stopped; come!”

“Where is my mother?”

“Mother has gone to get milk for you.”

“No; you are lying!”

“Are you coming outside; shall I come inside?”

“If you come inside I have knife in my hand! I will stab you!”

“Aday, Appa! You sound like a big hero! Why don’t you come outside and stab?”

“Who are you? Not tiger?”

“I am not tiger; I am horse,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You are lying; can a horse talk?”

“Does a tiger talk?”

“Outside there is a tiger. My mother said that it can jump on me.”

” I am not tiger; and I will not jump on you; come outside without any fear!”

“Fear? I have no fear!” A small child emerged from inside the dark building.

In the meantime the rain had stopped. The clouds had separated and a few stars were visible. In the light of the stars Vandhiyathevan looked at the child. He was about four years old. Even in that faint light he knew that he was a beautiful child. Waist was clad in a silk cloth. Around the neck was a diamond necklace.

An upper class child. Who is the mother who has left him here alone? Why did she come here? Why has she gone leaving the child here?

The child also took a good look at Vandhiyathevan. He said, “You are not a horse, you look like a man.”

“There, there is a horse, look,” said Vandhiyathevan.

The child looked at the horse.

“Oho! You have brought it for me? They said a palankeen will be here?”

Several conflicting thoughts arose in Vandhiyathevan’s mind hearing the child’s response. Who is this child? Why is he here alone? Such a small child, so devoid of fear, isn’t that astonishing? Who was going to send a palankeen for him? Why isn’t it here? Where is his mother who left him here? Where has she gone?

“Child! Why has your mother left you and gone,” he asked.

“Mother did not leave me and go; it is I who left her and came,” said the child.

“Why did you leave her and come?”

“A horse came galloping. I said that we can catch it and ride on it. My mother said no. Without her knowledge I came running to catch it. Is this that horse?”

“No; this is a different horse. Then, how did you get here?”

“I could not catch the horse. I could not see mother also. Rain was becoming heavier. I came into this building for shelter.”

“Are you not afraid to be alone in the dark?”

“What is there to be afraid of? I spend everyday like this!”

“You are not afraid of the tiger even?”

“My mother is the one who is afraid, I am not. I am fish, I can swallow the tiger!”

“Aday! Fish can swallow the tiger?”

“I am not an ordinary small fish. I am a mighty fish; whale! I can swallow the tiger, lion, elephant …”

Many thoughts came to Vandhiyathevan’s mind. Isn’t a fish that swallows a tiger an extraordinary fish? Who could have taught this to the child?

“There, what is that noise,” asked the little boy.

Vandhiyathevan looked, there was a crowd coming at a distance. Some in the crowd carried flame torches. Amidst them a palankeen was also seen. Everyone was excitedly running. There also appeared to be a woman among them. “There!” “Here!” “This way!” “That way!” Excited voices rang out.

One man pointed toward the dilapidated building. That was it! Everyone came racing toward the building.

“There they come! Palankeen is also here. I don’t want to get in the palankeen. Will you take me on your horse,” the little boy asked.

The child’s face, appearance and speech stole Vandhiyathevan’s heart. He wanted to give him a hug and pick him up in his arms. But there was also reluctance in his heart.

“I have other urgent work …,” Vandhiyathevan said.

“Where are you going?”

“To Kanji!”

“To Kanji? That is where my main enemy is!”

Vandhiyathevan was astounded. He felt that it was a mistake even to stand next to this child. But there was also no time to hop on the horse and leave. The crowd was very close. If he runs it would be cause for suspicion. In addition Vandhiyathevan was also seized by curiosity as to what was going to happen there. So he moved aside and stood in the dark beside the broken wall.

“Here I am,” the child went and stood in front. Among those at the forefront was a woman. After running she was heavily panting. Not caring about it she leaped forward and picked up the child saying, “Pandya! How could you do this?”

After her came Ravithasan. He stood beside the child and exclaimed, “Emperor! You have frightened us so!”

The boy laughed. “I will frighten you. I asked for a horse. You have brought a palankeen,” he said.

Soman Sambavan, Idumbankari, Thevaralan and others whom we have met before came and surrounded the child. “Emperor! Not one horse! We would bring a thousand or a ten thousand horses. Today please get in the palankeen,” said Soman Sambavan.

“No; I will come only on that horse,” the child pointed to the horse standing behind the wall.

Only then they noticed the horse and Vandhiyathevan who stood beside it.

Ravithasan’s face was marked with surprise, fear and loathing. He took two steps forward and asked, “You cutthroat! How did you get here?”

“You ghostly being! How did you get here from Kodikarai?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

Ravithasan laughed, ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ “Did you actually think that I was a ghost?” He asked.

“Some turn into a ghost after death. You are a living demon!” Vandhiyathevan said.

Meanwhile the child said, “Don’t fight with him! I like him a lot. He kept me company in the dark. If the tiger came he said that he would kill it. Let him also come with us.”

Ravithasan went near the boy and said, “Emperor! We will certainly take him with us. Just today, please get in the palankeen!”

Accordingly the child also walked toward the palankeen.

Ravithasan went back to Vandhiyathevan aasked, “Now what are you going to do?”

“Isn’t it you who has to answer that question?”

“Come with us! Already you know too many of our secrets. Now you know some more. We cannot leave you here. Come!”

“If I refuse to go with you? …”

“Out of the question. I know you are a big Sooran. Yet we are twenty of us. You cannot escape from us.”

“You mean I cannot escape alive?”

“You are a young man. You have not experienced any of life’s pleasures. Why do you want to lose your life in vain?”

“Who will give up their in vain? You want me to go with you, where are you calling me? Where are you going?”

“Good question, let me tell you. Indeed it is to Pazhuvur Illaiyarani!”

“Oho! That is what I thought. Where is Illaiyarani today?”

“Illaiyarani ought to be now in Thirupurampayam. Will you come, or not?”

“I too am going that way. I was thinking that there was no one to show me the way. Fortunately, you are here. Let’s go, come!”

The boy was already in the palankeen, it started to move. Surrounding it, carrying flame torches, shouting variously, Ravithasan and his team went. Vandhiyathevan followed them. Like wave following wave, tumultuous thoughts rocked his heart.

What became of Vahnathi? He could not tell. What happened to Mathuranthakar? He did not know. What is going to happen to him today? He did not know that either.

There was no doubt that he was going to find out firsthand about a treacherous plan ten times more terrifying than the one he witnessed at Kadampoor palace. From that perspective, this is useful. But what will happen afterward? Would they allow him to escape alive? They will force him to join them. If he refuses they will try to sacrifice him! Perhaps one more time by the grace of Nandhini …

Vandhiyathevan thought about his submission as soon as Ravithasan mentioned the Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s name. It shocked even him. Perhaps this is what the elders mean by vanity and lust. He knew the kind of atrocious foul play she was involved in. Yet, if there was an opportunity to meet her, there was a desire in his heart urging him to make use of it. Beyond volition, it rose. Before he could think, his mouth answered ‘yes.’ But what other option was there? As Ravithasan said it was not possible to fight against so many people. With a little time he may be able to think of a way to escape. In addition he can also find out more about this underhand group and its intentions.

‘You are going to Kanji? That is where my main enemy is!’ Vandhiyathevan repeatedly recalled what that small child had said in his baby tongue. Who is that boy? Why are they calling him ’emperor’? Whom did that boy mean by ‘main enemy’? Answers also appeared in his heart to these questions. The more he thought the more terrifying it felt. God! When will there be an end to all of this? A voice inside him said, ‘very soon.’

The strange procession continued. It continued across fields, irrigation channels, ridges, mounds and potholes without pausing for a second. Finally crossing over the manni river that ran flooded, it reached the outskirts of Thirupurampayam. It entered the jungle that had surrounded the pallipadai.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From → Notes, Uncategorized

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