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Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (10 – 14)

September 8, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

10. Manhunt

Vandhiyathevan debated furiously whether to climb back on the wall or to try and jump down without getting caught in the dog’s mouth. At the same time his eyes carefully scrutinized the area for anyone who may be hiding behind the trees. Something white fluttered behind the trees. He remembered hearing a man’s laughter along with the dog’s bark. If anyone is really hiding? Is it one person? Or several?

Not knowing the answer it will be a big mistake to jump down. Even if he avoids the dog’s mouth he may get caught to people. From the palace rooftop he thought he had seen Azhvarkadiyan’s face over the wall. Tired of waiting for him at the Aiyanar temple, is the Vaishnavan here, having fun setting the dog after him? The only way to find out is to call him. “Vaishnar! Vaishnavar! What is this prank?” He called. Again there was the sound of laughter; it was not Azhvarkadiyan’s voice. So it is best to climb up and get down back into the palace. While the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s welcoming ceremony lasted he will be able to find a way to escape. Or else there is always the underground passage. He just has to beg and indulge Manimekalai. Or else he may have to earn Pazhuvur Rani’s sympathy. She has not turned him in so far, now why would she do it? …

Vandhiyathevan began to climb back up. The dog barked leaping higher than before. Again there was the sound of laughter. With spear in hand a figure emerged from behind the trees. Vandhiyathevan knew that he was Thevaralan. He approached Vandhiyathevan dangling from the wall.

Appan! Your life is very sound!” He said.

“So, you know that. Why do you keep following me?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“But this time you cannot escape!” Thevaralan took aim at Vandhiyathevan with his spear.

Vandhiyathevan realized his precarious situation. How can a guy dangling from the wall fight with one armed with a spear? To escape by jumping down and running … there is a hunting dog waiting to pounce on him.

“Thevarala! Remember your mistress Pazhuvur Rani’s order! Didn’t Rani say not to harm me in any way?”

Laughing like a demon Thevaralan said, “Pazhuvur Rani is not my mistress! Nor is any other Rani my mistress! Only Bathrakali Durga Parameshwari is my mistress!”

Durga Parameshwari is the goddess of my people also. By her grace I survived from the burning ship in the sea. If you touch me Durga will destroy you!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“If you really are a Durga devotee you must now do me a favor. Only then I will let you go,” said Thevaralan.

“What should I do? First of all, tell your dog to pipe down!”

“A veera Vaishnavan was here. If you help me find him I will let go.”

“Why do you have to find him?”

“I have promised Durgadevi an offering of a veera Vaishnavan. That is why!” Thevaralan said.

At this time the handful of greenery on the wall that Vandhiyathevan was holding onto began to come loose. While thinking how to jump on Thevaralan’s neck and yet avoid the spear he said, “That veera Vaishnavan is my dear friend. I will never betray him. Instead of him take me as offering!”

“In that case be consumed by this spear right now!” Thevaralan raised the spear and aimed at Vandhiyathevan.

Letting go of the shrub on the wall Vandhiyathevan leaped down firmly grabbing the spear at its base. The force of his jump made him tumble backwards on the ground. Overcoming his momentary defeat Thevaralan raised his spear. At that time a figure came running from behind and wielded its club on Thevaralan’s head. Thevaralan fell over Vandhiyathevan.

The dog jumped on the man who had attacked his master. Azhvarkadiyan was prepared for that also. He spread his shawl over the dog’s head. For a few seconds the dog was blinded. The Vaishnavan ensnared the dog in the noose he had already made out of forest vines. He tied the dog to a tree. In the meantime Vandhiyathevan pushed away Thevaralan and got up. Thevaralan lay unconscious after the blow from the Vaishanavan. Both men tore up some more of the forest’s vines and bound his legs and arms. Both of them then left, Vandhiyathevan with spear in hand and Azhvarkadiyan, the club.

Except for the entrance Sambuvaraiyar’s palace was surrounded by densely grown forest for long distances on the other three sides. When one enters it coming out will be very difficult. Therefore Vandhiyathevan and  Azhvarkadiyan stayed close to the wall and hurried alongside it.

As they walked Azhvarkadiyan said, “I thought that you were intelligent. Only now I realize that I may have been wrong.”

“Do you mean my entering the underground passage impulsively? Do you know how many incredulous secrets I have unearthed because of it,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Never mind about that. Thevaralan asked you, ‘Will you help me to find the Vaishnavan?’ Why couldn’t you just say, ‘Alright!’ Why should you put yourself in danger unnecessarily,” said the Vaishnavan.

“I can only blame it on the company I keep,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Whose company? I don’t remember ever telling you to commit such blunder!”

“Not you, Sir! I mean Ponniyin Selvar. After getting to know him I have a difficult time telling lies …”

“Even to save your life? You have become such a Sathya Santhan?”

“Not only that, I knew that you were hiding somewhere nearby. Supposing you heard me telling Thevaralan that I would turn you in and you happened to believe it? Would you have emerged at this precarious time to help me?”

“Appan! Your sharp wit is boundless. No doubt. Actually I was very eager to hear your answer to Thevaralan’s question!”

“You see! My hypothesis that you were a suspicious animal has been proven right. Moreover, whatever benefit was waiting, it is not my habit – even to save the day – to say anything against my friends. But how is it that you are here after telling me, ‘I will wait at Aiyanar temple!’ If I had returned using the underground passage then I would have been in a dilemma unable to find you.”

“If you had returned by the underground  passage it is doubtful that you would be alive. A short time after you, the saboteurs also entered the underground passage. Because you were smart I figured that you will certainly follow a different route; probably you may climb over the wall here.”

“You came here thinking that?”

“Not only that. The saboteurs when they entered the underground passage they left Thevaralan on the outside to guard. Perhaps, when they returned they wanted someone to be at Aiyanar temple! Perhaps this was communicated through wordless gestures! But I was not aware of that; I thought that everyone had gone through the underground passage. In addition I was worried that you were trapped inside. I wanted to dicover the mechanism by which to open the passage from the outside. Therefore I went to the sacrificial altar and I was trying to turn it. Hearing footsteps I turned around in shock. Thevaralan was coming with spear in hand. The saboteurs have decided several days ago to kill me on the spot; I knew that. I had no weapons in my hand, therefore there was no other recourse but to run. Thevaralan also followed me running. Because of the dense jungle he could not catch me. He could not take aim with his spear. After a while it seemed that he was no longer behind me.”

“Thinking that he had given up on his prey I considered getting to the royal thoroughfare. A short distance away there was a hut. A light was flickering inside. I went there thinking that I will ask for directions to the royal thoroughfare. I checked the place out from afar, which was fortunate. At the entrance to the hut Thevaralan was standing. A woman and a dog stood next to him. After saying something to the woman Thevaralan departed with the dog. Looking in my direction the dog started to bark. Therefore my situation became worse. Abandoning the idea of reaching the royal thoroughfare I ran through the forest. Because the dog kept barking as it came I could guess where they were. As I ran my brain also worked. It would be impossible to spend the whole night running in the jungle. Somehow they were bound to catch me. It won’t be possible to fight Thevaralan with a spear in his hand and the hound with a mouthful of teeth. At that time I saw the wall of this big palace. I figured that if I climbed over the wall and jumped inside somehow I will be better off. So I climbed. Then I saw you on the palace balcony. Knowing that you were going to climb up the wall and jump outside, I jumped down again. I felt confident that both of us together can take down Thevaralan and his dog. In the meantime I heard the dog barking. So I climbed on the tree. In fact Thevaralan and the dog were approaching the tree, when Thevaralan caught sight of you on the wall. He took the dog and went after you. Then, you know what happened …”

“Vaishnavar! What is your opinion about the hand of fate,” asked Vandhiyathevan.

“What is this question? All of a sudden you are thinking about fate, why?”

“It is said that when a person is born Brahmathevan scribes on his head, ‘such and such for so and so!’ Do you believe that, or not?”

“No! I don’t believe in fate. If we completely leave it to fate, then the belief that one can survive by having faith in God becomes meaningless! What Azhvars have said is …”

“Never mind the Azhvars! I have complete faith in fate. I think that everything happens according to fate. If not I won’t have escaped today …”

“Appan! You did not escape because of fate. You escaped because of ingenuity …”

“Not at all! My ingenuity landed me in unfathomable danger; it is the writing on my head that saved me!”

Talking they crossed the jungle. The entrance to Kadampoor palace could be seen from there. They could see the uproar there. Pazhuvertaraiyar’s elephant, horse and retinue were nearing the entrance. At the extravagantly decorated palace entrance Sambuvaraiyar and his people were waiting to welcome them. Hundreds of torches turned night into day. The resoundingly festive clamor of trumpets, cornets, tablas and drums were heard.   

Taking hold of Vandhiyathevan’s hand Azhvarkadiyan said, “Come! Let’s go; someone is going to see us!”

“No one will turn this side; even if they did my fate will save me.”

“In that case, why must we wait here?”

“Don’t you want to see the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar getting down from the elephant?”

“Is that all?”

“I also want to see if Pazhuvur Rani Nandhini is on the elephant with him, or if whether she is arriving in her covered palanquin …”

“Brother! Do not assume that fate will always be on your side. It may arrive in the form of a mayamohini and shake you up.”

“I am not a person to lose my head like that, Vaishnava! There are others for that!”

A majestic elephant arrived at the palace entrance. From it the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar climbed down. Following him Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani also got down. “Oh! This time Ilaiyarani did not travel in a covered palanquin. He has brought her publicly!” Azhvarkadiyan said.

“That is what I wanted to know. We can go now,” Vandhiyathevan said. But Azhvarkadiyan was no longer in a hurry to leave. He lingered. His eyes were fixed on the Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. By chance or perhaps drawn by telepathy, Nandhini turned in his direction.

She noticed Azhvarkadiyan’s eyes peering out of the darkness of the jungle. The shadow of fear spread across her face. The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar saw the change in her face. He turned in the same direction. Two figures were standing hiding in the dark shadows of the densely grown trees. At once he whispered something in Sambyvaraiyar’s ear. Sambuvaraiyar issued an order to two of his soldiers.

Pazhuvertaraiyar and Ilaiyarani entered the palace amid exuberant cheers and musical extravaganza.

At the same time two soldiers on horses entered the jungle surrounding the palace wall. They drove the horses into the jungle with difficulty. Even after traveling a considerable distance it did not appear that there was anyone around. They had nearly crossed the forest and reached the flat open ground on the other side.

“Brother! There is no one in the forest. It is the old man’s imagination,” said one of them.

At that time a dog came into view howling.

“Brother! Do you know when a dog howls,” the other man asked.

“If someone is dead it will howl,” said the first speaker.

“It will howl if it sees the devil or the demon or ghost,” said the other.

“Perhaps it thinks that you are the devil!”

“No, Brother! It thinks you are a ghost!”

They were then startled by the demonic laughter that came from above. They looked up. Above their heads seated on two branches were two ghosts! Grabbing their necks the two ghosts slapped the soldiers’ faces. Then they pushed them down from the horses! The wicked ghosts then leaped onto the horses and sped away, leaving the forest behind, across the open plain.

11. Friend or Foe?

Athitha Karikalan, his friends and retinue were passing the resplendently scenic area where river Manimutha met Vellaru. They were discussing the attention bestowed on the prince the previous night at Thirumuthukunram, and the temple work being done at that sacred station.

“I like very much what Sundaramoorthi Nayanar did at Thirumuthukunram,” said Parthipenthiran.

“What exactly are you talking about,” asked Athitha Karikalan.

“His refusal to sing in praise of an old woman!”

“What? I don’t know about this. Please elaborate,” said Athitha Karikalan.

During his pilgrimage of Saiva stations Sundaramoorthi Nayanar came to the Saiva station called Thirumuthukunram. As usual he went to the town’s Sivan temple. Pattars after conducting Pooja asked Nayanar, “You must sing in praise of our town’s lord!”

“Let’s see, what is the name of the idol?,” asked Sundarar. Based on the name Thirumuthukunram pattars have given the Sivan temple idol the name Viruthakireesuvar.

Nayanar’s face crumbled. Thinking,’Must I really sing in praise of old age,’ he asked, “Never mind, what is the Amman’s name?”

Viruthakireesuvari,” answered the temple pattars.

“You named the Swami old man. You have named the Amman also old woman! I cannot sing in praise of this old man and old woman. Forget it!” Sundaramoorthi Nayanar left the temple angrily.

The pattars knew that if their temple did not inspire poetry in Sundaramoorthi Nayanar, there was little chance that fame would visit them and the temple. Therefore they instituted another Amman in the temple and named her Balampikai.

They went to Sundaramoorthi Nayanar’s place and informed him of this new development. They requested that he vist Thirumuthukunram again. Sundaramoorthi Nayanar was generous. He visited the town again and sang in praise of Viruthakireesuvar in the company of Balampikai.

Hearing the story Athitha Karikalan rolled in laughter.

“Perhaps some bard who visited the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar may have felt as Sundaramoorthi did. He may have said that he won’t sing about an old man and an old woman. Perhaps that is the reason that he married Nandhini. Who knows,” he said.

Hearing this Parthipenthiran and Kanthamaran rolled with laughter. They laughed so hard they seemed in danger of falling off from their horses!

When they were done laughing Parthipenthiran said, “Why god has created old age, it is not clear. Why didn’t he have people live up to a certain age and then go away in peace?”

“What does it matter, what god had in mind! Isn’t it in our hands, ageing or not ageing,” said Karikalan.

“How can that be,” Kanthamaran asked.

“Do we think of Abimanyu and Aravan as old men?”

The other two men remained silent.

“In the art gallery at Thanjavur palace there are murals of my ancestors. Vijayalaya Cholar, Athitha Cholar, Paranthaka emperor – all of them appear old. But how does my great uncle Rajathithar appear? He is shown as the heroic warrior who is forever young! Rajathithar died at a young age. Therefore he was fortunate to have his youth live forever! Which one of us will be as lucky, we don’t know!”

The other two men did not like the way the discussion was proceeding. They remained silent.

“Why have you suddenly become quiet? Why are you so afraid of death? If this body is lost another new body will be born. Why should we fear death? If my friend Vandhiyathevan was here he will agree with me. An adventurous young man like him is rare. Even if he is left at the door to hell he will laugh heartily,” said Prince Athitha Karikalan.

At that time they saw in front of them two horses coming very fast stirring up the dust. At the blink of an eye the horses were upon them. At the speed they were coming it seemed that they would simply pass them without paying attention to the prince and his retinue.

To see who would be so impudent Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran got ready to block the road by crossing their spears! But a short distance from them the horses were deftly brought to a halt.

Vandhiyathevan and Azhvarkadiyan jumped down from the horses. Prince Athitha Karikalan could not contain his joy when he saw Vandhiyathevan. Jumping down from his horse he ran and hugged Vandhiyathevan.

“Brother! You will live a hundred years. I was just speaking about you,” said Karikalan.

The distaste Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran experienced while watching the scene unfolding in front of them was plainly visible on their faces. They rode their horses a little farther ahead and waited.

They saw that there were more horses coming. These also came to a stop. Kanthamaran noticed that the horses were from Kadampoor. He went to them and made inquiries.

He turned back and approached Prince Athitha Karikalan. “Crown Prince! This Vandhiyathevan is your friend; he used to be my friend also. But I am obliged to charge him with a crime. He betrayed our friendship! He stabbed me in the back and severely wounded me. Therefore it is my duty to worn you that you must exercise caution where he is concerned,” Kanthamaran said.

12. Spear Broke!

When Athitha Karikalan heard Kanthamaran’s accusation about his onetime friend Vandhiyathevan he laughed until his belly ached.

“Kanthamara! You are saying that Vandhiyathevan stabbed you in the back? Why did you turn your back?” More laughter followed his question.

Kanthamaran’s dark face reddened; eyes became the color of guava. Lips quivered.

“Sir! Do you consider this a laughing matter?” He asked.

“Kanthamara! Are you forbidding me from laughing? Laughter is a divine gift to man. The cow does not laugh; neither does the goat, horse, or lion. Even the fun loving monkeys do not laugh. Only those who are born human can laugh. And yet, you are telling me not to laugh! In fact it is a long time since I had a good laugh. Friend! Even I am surprised by my laughter. And yet, you are telling me not to laugh,” said Athitha Karikalan.

“Sir! I am happy that you are enjoying this moment laughing. But please do not laugh thinking that I was running away from this mighty warrior in defeat. He coveted and stabbed me in the back when I least expected it. By the grace of Durgadevi and the loving care of Nandhini Devi I recovered. Please make inquiries about this horrendous crime and grant justice. Or else please permit me now to punish him myself,” said Kanthamaran.

“Friend! I will certainly question him and see that justice is served. Until now it has not been said that justice was not served by Chempian kings. Didn’t our ancient king Sibi cut his flesh in order to grant justice to the dove! Didn’t our tribe’s Manuneethi Cholan sacrifice his own son to grant justice to the cow? You are not beneath the dove and the cow. I will not delay justice to you. Be patient until I question him! Vallavaraiya! Before you tell me the details about your trip, it is better that you respond to Kanthamaran’s charge. What do you say? Is it true that you stabbed him from behind? If it is, why did you perform such a cowardly and inglorious act? What for,” he asked.

“Prince! I did not stab this heroic warrior! I did not stab him in the back; and certainly I did not covet him in order to harm him. When he lay in a pool of blood unconscious after being stabbed in the back, I carried him on my shoulders to Senthan Amuthan’s house and saved him. But now I regret that I went to so much trouble to save his life. I feel sorry that I did not stab him on his chest and kill him. I neglected my duty towards my king because of friendship. Sir! He said that I betrayed his friendship. He did not only betray his friend, he betrayed his master as well. Ask him where, under what circumstances he was stabbed in the back! Ask him whom he escorted through the underground path in Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. Ask him whom he saw in the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s treasury cellar that night. Ask him what took place in his Kadampoor palace on the day of the flood festival on July eighteenth. Ask him who came hiding in a covered palanquin that day!”

Visibly shaken Kanthamaran interrupted. “Aday! Insignificant vermin! Stop your lies! Or else you will become the target of this spear,” Kanthamaran raised his spear.

Athitha Karikalan was surprised by this outburst from Kanthamaran. He grabbed the spear from Kanthamaran’s hand and bent it with his iron fists. ‘Padal!’ – the spear broke. Throwing the two pieces away Athitha Karikalan said, “Careful! I won’t idly watch my friends fighting in front of me … Parthipenthira! It is your responsibility from now on to arrest them if either one touches his sword or spear!”

Vandhiyathevan immediately handed his sword to Parthipenthiran who took it halfheartedly. “Kanthamara! Vallavaraiyan answered your charge. I will in time make my inquiries and give my verdict. Are you going to answer his questions?” Karikalan asked.

At a loss for words Kanthamaran swallowed on his saliva. “Sir! I have sworn that I will not speak to anyone about these matters,” he said.

Parthipenthiran interrupted saying, “Sir! It looks as if their accusations have to do with a woman. Therefore it is better to talk to them separately!”

“Yes, Parthipa! I agree. The three of you have each met Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani and have fallen in her lascivious net. That is why you want to gobble one another up!” Karikalan laughed again.

Parthipenthiran’s face showed his disappointment. “Lord! It looks as if you have decided to treat all important matters lightly today and laugh about everything. Good; for my part I will say that I also have many questions regarding this Vandhiyathevan. Let me ask the most important one. It was to save this man from the ship that caught fire, your dear brother jumped into the sea during that severe storm. After that Ponniyin Selvar vanished altogether. Whereas he had managed to crop up here like a mallet without a scratch on his body. Ask him what happened to your brother. If the sea took him then this cutthroat here is the reason for that,” he said.

Karikalan looked at Vandhiyathevan and asked, “What do you have to say for that?”

“Sir! Before I do, let him provide the answer to this question. It was he who left Ilankai with Ponniyin Selvar in his ship. Chief Minister Aniruthar and Colonel Poothi Vikrama Kesari asked Ponniyin Selvar to remain in Ilkankai. Yet knowing his brother’s command the prince left in his ship. Why did he not bring him safely to you? When Ponniyin Selvar jumped into the sea why did he idly wait? Why didn’t he stop the prince? Disregarding his own safety Ponniyin Selvar jumped to save this poor orphan’s life! Why didn’t this brave Pallava descendent and his men jump into the sea to save the prince? Did they consider it fun watching the sea take the prince away?”

Parthipenthiran’s face was seething. His hands were shaking, lips trembled. His body swayed. “Sir! It looks as if this fool is laying the blame on me. He might even say that I killed the prince. I cannot tolerate this even for a second,” he said.

Karikalan looked at him intently. “Parthipa! Didn’t I just say? My three good friends have reached the point of tearing and eating one another up. I am not blaming the three of you for this. I am aware that the Pazhuvur Rani’s power is such. You and Kanthamaran, get on your horses and ride on slowly. Let me follow you while I listen to the details of his trip. I will make inquiries about your accusations and find out the truth. But make sure of one thing. The three of you must remain friends. If you keep fighting with each other – nothing can dissatisfy me more than that!”

With no other way out Parthipenthiran and Kanthmaran rode their horses in front. Azhvarkadiyan whispered in Vandhiyathevan’s ear, “Appan! You have become very smart! Without revealing the truth or telling a lie, you talked your way out of it!”

Only then Athitha Karilkalan’s attention fell on Azhvarakdiyan.

“Oho! Who is he? He looks familiar!” He said.

“Yes, King! You have seen me a few years back!”

“Even your voice is familiar.”

“Yes, Sir! Three years ago at a rather crucial moment you heard my voice …”

A dark shadow swiftly went over Athitha Karikalan’s face. “Three years ago … crucial moment … what’s that? … Is that the voice I heard when I was searching for the enemy on Vaikai river island? Can it be?”

“That voice was mine, King! It was I who told you the enemy’s hiding place from behind the trees!”

“Aha! What a frightful day that was! When I think of the frenzy I was caught in that day … even now my body shudders. Vaishnava! Why did you hide yourself that day? Why did you want to remain anonymous?”

“King! You just said! About the frenzy you were caught in! You massacred everyone who was in your way. I wanted to live a little longer …”

“Was it the only reason? ‘Let anonymous lead the way,’ My throat aching, I called out so many times. Why didn’t you even then come out?”

“The sister whom I raised – she is now Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. I did not want to be subjected to her unending wrath …”

“But in your mind, it did not matter if I became the focus of her wrath! You villainous being!” Athitha Karikalan drew out the sword from his waist.

Vandhiyathevan was terrified. He was certain that it was the end of Azhvarkadiyan’s life. Feeling helpless he said, “Sir! This Vaishnavan has come from the chief minister. Hear his message and then punish him.”

“Aha! What is the use in punishing him? What is the use in punishing anyone at this point?” Karikalan returned the sword to its sheath.

Unlike Vandhiyathevan, Azhvarkadiyan did not appear to be frightened. With a curious smile on his face he said, “Knowing that you will turn your anger on me I have until now avoided meeting you. My sister’s anger at me also continues. Until today she has stubbornly refused to see me. But apparently her anger at you is over. Isn’t it after seeing the affectionate letter from Nandhini Devi that you set out for the feast at Kadampoor palace?”

“Aha! Wicked Vaishnava! How did you know that?” Karikalan asked.

“Sir! I am Chief Minister Aniruthan’s servant. Without the chief minister’s knowledge nothing can take place in the Chola empire!” Azhvarkadiyan said.

“You wait and see! One day I will exile both you and that anpil Aniruthan! …Now both of you get back on your horses! Ride next to me one on each side. We can talk as we go,” said Athitha Karikalan.

13. Manimekalai’s Heart

In the specially decorated anthapura room in the guest quarters of Kadampoor palace Nandhini was relaxing on the flower strewn bed. She was highly adorned. Her face was beautiful as never before. From her half closed eyes one could tell that she was daydreaming. Whenever the dark lashes opened momentary flashes of lightening from her attractive eyes enlivened the room. To anyone watching, this was proof that even though she appeared half asleep her mind was working at high speed.

If one looked a little more closely one could see that her half closed eyes were fixed on the smoke that rose from the small pot of ahil in the room. As the ahil burnt smoke rose in thick clusters, which turned into rings that circled upwards and  disappeared without a trace. No one knows what Nandhini saw in the spiraling smoke. Suddenly, she sighed. Her coral lips mumbled, “Yes, yes! All my dreams have dispersed like these rings of smoke. At least the ahil leaves behind an exquisitely fragrant smell. All that is left of my dreams are pain, sorrow, insults and disgrace!”

At that time, “Devi! Devi! May I come in?” Manimekalai’s voice was heard.

“Come, Child! Come! Do you need my permission to enter your room,” said Nandhini.

A seemingly calm and collected Manimekalai opened the door and walked in. But her swinging arms and darting eyes gave the impression that she was happily dancing and singing.

Nandhini sat up. Pointing to the ivory seat next to the bed she asked Manimekalai to sit down.

Seated Manimekalai said, “Devi! My brother had told me how I should behave in your presence. He has told me a lot about the sophisticated ways of the southerners. He said that I should not enter someone’s room unannounced!”

“To hell with the southerners and their sophisticated ways. Forget everything that your brother had taught you! Don’t even call me ‘Devi,’ or ‘Maharani!’ Call me ‘Sister!”

“Sister! Sister! It won’t bother you if I come calling often?”

“If you come calling often, it will indeed be a nuisance; but if you just remain here without leaving, that would be perfect!” Nandhini smiled.

Enchanted by her smile Manimekalai simply sat there looking at Nandhini’s face. “I have never seen anyone as beautiful as you. Not even in paintings,” she said.

“Girl! Don’t you also fall in love with me? Already the talk of the town is that I am a mayamohini. They insult me saying that I lure all the men who come near me!”

“Sister! If any such insult falls in my ear I will rip their tongues off before I do anything else,” said Manimekalai.

“There is no use criticizing the people, Manimekalai! Didn’t I marry an old man? That is why they talk in this way!”

Manimekalai frowned. “Yes, yes! Even I feel bad when I think about it. My brother also regretted it so much. But that is no reason to speak disrespectfully of anyone, is it …?”

“Let them talk, Manimekalai! Even Sita Devi, they criticized. But what did Sitai loose by it? Never mind about me. Tell me about you!”

“What is there to talk about me, Sister?”

“You rogue! Didn’t you say that you will tell the secret in your heart? Now you are saying, ‘What’s there to talk about?” Nandhini pinched Manimekalai’s cheek playfully.

“Sister! I want to be near you like this, always. If they arrange a marriage for me and tell me that women can marry women, I will choose you,” said Manimekalai.

“It’s not even a day since you met me! Already you are getting carried away with words. I am really happy about it. I always regretted not having a good friend like you. The women of Chola Nadu petty kings always go behind the Pazhuvur demon. At least you are here for me. But what you said now is not possible. A woman has never wed another woman in this world. You will have to marry a man …”

“What if I remain single, Sister?”

“No, Darling! No! This world will not allow you to be single. Your parents won’t let you; your brother also won’t. Only if they tie you around a man’s neck they will have peace of  mind. If you are indeed going to get married, whom would you like to marry, tell me!”

“Name the person, Sister; I will tell if you are right!”

“Alright, alright! I will. Do you want to marry the Saiva devotee Mathuranthakar? Or do you want to garland Athitha Karikalar who excels in valor?”

As if prompted by some recollection Manimekalai burst out laughing.

“Why are you laughing Manimekalai? Did you think that I will make fun of you? It is to settle this matter, your brother has invited me here specifically. In a short time Karikalar will be here. Your brother also will be here. I have promised him that I will find out what’s in your heart,” said Nandhini.

“Even I don’t know what’s in my heart, Sister? What shall I do?”

“Why did you laugh, at least tell me that,” asked Nandhini.

“Mathuranthakar’s name reminded me of something. Four months ago he was here. He arrived in your covered palanquin with curtains and all so that no one could see him. In the anthapuram we were not aware of this. We thought that it was you. ‘Why didn’t the Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani visit the anthapuram?’ – we asked each other. Sister! You said now that women cannot marry women! Marrying Mathuranthakar is like marrying a woman! …”

Smiling Nandhini said, “Yes! I also thought that you will not like Mathuranthakar. I told your brother also. Maathuranthaka Thevar is already married to my brother-in-law’s daughter. She is conceited. You won’t be able to live with her even for a day! So in other words you are telling me that your heart is with Prince Karikalar!”

“I won’t say that also, Sister! I have never seen him, so how could I have lost my heart to him?”

“Silly girl! In royal tribes does a woman need to see the man to lose her heart? From poetry and literature haven’t you heard of women who fell in love after seeing a painting or hearing a song?”

“Yes, yes! I also know that Athitha Karikalar is a heroic warrior whose fame has spread all over the world. Sister! It is said that Athitha Karikalar slashed Veera Pandyan’s head in one sweep! Is it true?”

Manimekalai did not notice the drastic change that came over Nandhini’s face at that time. Nandhini looked away for a few seconds. When she turned her face had regained its usual attractive countenance.

“Manimekalai! Do you think it is chivalrous to slash someone’s head in one sweep? Isn’t it a dreadful and monstrous act?”

“I don’t understand you, Sister! Isn’t it chivalrous to decapitate the enemy? How can it be monstrous?”

“Think about it! The enemy is here to kill someone dear to you. Think of your brother. Or assume you have a lover you intend to marry. When he is wounded and lying down this enemy comes with his sword drawn to cut his head off. Would you praise that man’s action,” asked the Pazhuvur Rani.

Manimekalai remained thoughtful. Then she said, “Sister! I find your question rather strange. Yet I will tell you what I think. If I am faced with such a situation I will not wait idly. I will grab the sword from the enemy’s hand and kill him myself!”

Nandhini eagerly embraced Manimekalai. “My darling! You gave a good answer! You are so intelligent, I hope you will get a proper man. Whether even Athitha Karikalar can match you is quite doubtful,” said Nandhini.

“I too feel that way. After hearing of Karikalar’s nature I feel a little afraid. Shall I tell you my secret, what’s really in my heart, Sister,” asked Manimekalai.

14. Will the Dream Come True?

Nandhini tilted Manimekalai’s chin and stared into her eyes that brimmed with life. Nandhini’s gaze was penetrating.

“My Darling! It is best that you do not share your inner thoughts with me. If we think about it, it hasn’t been even a day since we met. You must share your innermost feelings with only longtime friends,” she said.

“No, Sister! When I look at you I feel that I have known you all my life. My heart urges me to tell you what I have not shared with anyone. I am beginning to have the courage to ask you questions I have not dared to ask anyone else …”

“In that case go ahead and ask me, my dear girl!”

“They discuss in stories the phenomenon of magical realism. Can it really happen, Sister? When someone is not present in front of us, can it seem as if he is?”

“Sometimes it can happen; if we are very fond of someone, even if that person is not physically present in front of us, it may seem like he is. Same thing can happen if we dislike someone also. haven’t you heard of mayakannan’s story, Manimekalai? Why? You would have seen the drama! Hamson hates Krishnan. Therefore wherever he turns he sees Krishnan. He makes a fool of himself throwing the knife at him. Gopikai called Nampillai liked Krishnan very much. In her eyes also Kannan appeared everywhere. She would hug the pillar, the tree and the river flood, mistaking them for Kannan and only to be disappointed thereafter! Manimekalai, my girl! Who is the mayakannan who has bewitched you?”

“Sister! It was only four months ago that I saw him first. Before that Kanthamaran would always speak of him. His face never appeared in front of me then. After I saw him in person he began to appear in my dreams. Even during the day it would seem sometimes as if he was standing in front of me …”

“Yesterday also you glimpsed this impostor’s magical figure?”

“Yes, Sister! How did you know that?”

“No one told you about my magical powers?”

“Yes, they have. Is it true, Sister?”

“You can test it yourself; if you like, shall I, through my magical powers find out who this young and handsome lad who has captured your heart?”

“Please do! Let’s see! I am really shy to say his name.”

Nandhini closed her eyes for a few seconds. Then she said, “Isn’t it Varnar tribe Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyathevan, the love of your life, the man who has captured your heart?”

“Sister! It is true that you have magical powers,” said Manimekalai.

“Girl! When you have lost your heart to this extent why didn’t you mention it to your brother? Why tempt Mathuranthakar? Why bring Karikalar here in a futile attempt? Why invite me here unnecessarily?”

“Sister! My brother Kanthamaran does not like him …”

“Wonderful! Is it your brother who is marrying? But you said that it was Kanthamaran who told you about him! Isn’t it your brother who brought him here?”

“Yes, it was Kanthamaran who told me about him. He brought him one day to the anthapuram also. But later his mind has changed; there was good reason for that. It seems that in Thanjavur he stabbed my brother in the back, Sister! It seems my brother lay in your palace badly wounded? And he recovered because of your loving care?”

“Your brother is exaggerating my role. Never mind. What will you do now? The fellow who stole your heart is now your brother’s enemy?”

But do you know what he is saying?”

“He? Who is he?”

“Him! You just named him! He swears that he did not stab Kanthamaran. He says that someone else did the stabbing and left him by the Thanjavur fortress wall. He took him and saved his life, he says.”

“When did he tell you this?”

“Yesterday …”

“Did you meet Vandhiyathevan in person yesterday? You said that it was your hallucination?”

“That is what is so confusing to me. I don’t know if he was the object of sight or an illusion. If I think of what happened yesterday it seems like a dream. Sister! Sometimes when people die they say that they can talk to us, is it true?”

When Manimekalai asked this question there was fear in her voice.

Nandhini’s body also shuddered. Staring at the ceiling she said, “Yes, it is true! The spirit of those who die young will circle those who remain alive. If they were decapitated, sometimes only their heads would appear. Sometimes the torso alone would appear. Sometimes the two will come disjointed and ask, “Did you get revenge?”

Then looking at Manimekali she said in a loud voice, “Girl! Why did you ask this question? Are you afraid that something has happened to your lover? Who put this doubt in your mind?”

“There is a psychic in this palace. I sent for him. Yesterday someone had beaten him up. So instead of him his wife Thevarati came. She told me!”

“Cheechee! Don’t believe any of that!”

“I did not. If it is a spirit one cannot touch it, right, Sister?”

“The spirit and hallucinatory images are out of reach. Why do you ask? Yesterday, did you touch the fellow who has stolen your heart?”

“That is the confusion. I feel that I touched him; but then again I am doubtful when I think of everything else that happened.”

“Girl! Tell me everything that happened yesterday. I will clear your doubt!”

“Alright, Sister! If I blubber incoherently please interrupt me,” said Manimekalai. Then she told, “Yesterday I was here at about the same time as now. Just as my brother has instructed I came here to see if the maids have made all the arrangements to provide you a comfortable stay here. While here, I was looking at my face in the mirror!”

“You were admiring your beauty …”

“Not that, Sister! Don’t I know how fabulous my face is?”

“What’s wrong with your face? Rathi, Indrani, Menakai and Oorvasi will be jealous of you!”

“All of them cannot even measure up to the dust beneath your feet, Sister!”

“Alright, alright! Go on! You were looking at your face in the mirror …”

“Yes; suddenly another face appeared in the mirror next to my face.”

“Your lover’s face?”

“Yes; I was astounded …”

“Why should you be? You just said that you dreamt about him often! You even said that it was a phantom! An apparition!”

“There was a difference. In dreams it’s always distant. Even phantasmagoria … But here, – it was behind me, I feel embarrassed …”

“No harm, tell me, you mischievous girl!”

“It seemed as if he was approaching from behind to kiss me on my cheek. Startled, I turned back. There was no one. The face was not seen in the mirror also. I had a suspicion. I showed you the secret door to the adjascent hunting gallery! The mirror is exactly opposite to that door. I wondered if anyone had opened that door and was looking in. I also felt that it was highly unlikely. How can a stranger enter the hunting gallery. Yet, to clear my suspicion I opened the door and went there …”

Nandhini’s curiosity was now aroused. “Was the burglar hiding in the hunting gallery? Did he get caught,” she asked.

“What, Sister? You are calling him a burglar?”

“Burglar, not in the literary sense! I meant the rogue who stole your heart, Girl! Was he in the hunting gallery?”

“This is the strange part. He was not there. Instead there was our palace servant Idumbankari tidying up the room. His face resembles the kadu vetti karuppan in front of Aiyanar temple. I asked him, ‘Did anyone else come here?’ ‘No,’ he maintained …”

“Do you think that he was lying?”

“I don’t know about that. But I felt that there was another person hiding there. ‘Let the perfidy unfold on its own,’ I said to myself and returned to this room …”

“Did it?”

“Listen. From this room I listened for any noise in the hunting gallery. I heard someone talking! I also heard something falling down. While I sat here wondering what to do, this door moved. I put the lamp out and waited. This door has an inner circular door. Someone was trying to enter the room through that. ‘Help, help! Help me,’ I heard someone say. Because the voice and appearance resembled him I helped him to come inside here. Then I lifted the cover from the lamp. It was him!”

“Manimekalai! This is incredulous! It is like the story of Vikaramathithyan!”

“There is more! When I saw the man I have been dreaming about the last four months my heart was overjoyed; I had goosebumps all over. But I pretended to be angry. ‘How can you sneak into the anthapuram where women live?’ I asked. He said that there were some people chasing him, to kill him. ‘Coward on the run!’ I teased. He reasoned that he was not armed. Only then I brought up the topic of him stabbing my brother in the back. ‘Never!’ He swore, Sister!”

“You believed him!”

“It was believable at that moment. Only later when I went over what happened in my mind I was not sure what to believe and what not to …”

“What other strange occurrences have you got to relate?”

“While I was talking to him I was listening for any sounds from the adjacent gallery. I started to hear footsteps and voices. Therefore I decided that his claim that people were chasing him to kill him may be true. Listen, Sister! At that moment this foolish woman’s mind resolved to somehow save him. I also wanted to know who was on his trail wanting him dead. Was Idumbankari in on this? If so, was Idumbankari with him? Or was he with those wanting him dead? I was appalled that so many people knew about the secret underground passage that led to the hunting gallery. Especially now that you were going to stay here, I was worried even more. I thought of sending for my father but I could not muster the courage for that. If father saw that he has been in the anthapuram, his life would be in danger. So I asked him to wait here for a while and went into the hunting gallery to see who was there. Inside there were five or six people huddled near the wall near the entrance. They were astounded by my presence. Their presence frightened me as well. Overcoming my fear I resolved myself to sound angry. As I opened my mouth to ask who they were, my friend Chandramathi came calling, ‘Madam! Madam!’ I remembered him in the room. I was afraid that Chandramathi would scream at the sight of him. Deciding that I would confront those in the hunting gallery later, I turned back. Stopping Chandramathi in her tracks I came back with her to this room. He was no longer here; he has magically disappeared. ‘Was anyone here?’ I asked Chandramathi. She said that she didn’t see anyone. After looking around I went back to the hunting gallery. There also none of the people I had just seen were present. Only Idumbankari was dusting the room as before. ‘Who are the people who came here now? Where are they now?’ I asked. Idumbankari insisted, ‘No one was here, Madam!’ I could not believe him. My friend Chandramathi on the other hand started to tease me. ‘Sister! Today you have lost your mind for some reason. You are seeing people all over the place,’ she said. She told me that your entourage was about to reach the front entrance. She said that my father wanted me there immediately to welcome you. I left at once to be at the entrance. To reach there in the quickest way possible I followed Chandramathi and went up two stories, and then climbed the wooden rungs to the terrace. Then I saw another miracle. That Varnar tribe warrior was crossing the moonlit courtyard towards the wall. Then I saw him prop up a bamboo pole against the wall and climb over it. To my eyes this is what it looked like. Still I am not sure if this really happened or if it is a figment of my imagination …”

Nandhini was deep in thought. In her mind appeared the two faces that she had seen the previous evening in the thick woods a short distance from the entrance. She was also aware that horsemen were ordered to go behind them. Would they have been caught by now? If they were, will they be brought here? …

“Sister! What do you think?” Manimekalai interrupted Nandhini’s thoughts.

“Me? You want to know what I think? I think that you are madly in love,” said Nandhini.

“Are you also making fun of me like Chandramathi?”

“I am not making fun, Girl! Even you, who had spoken in person with him, cannot be sure if it was real or dream or your mind’s delusion! How can I say anything? Is there any other secret route to go from this room?”

“As far as I know there is no other secret route, Sister!”

“He also could have gone the same way as Chandramathi and you, and taken the wooden slats going up!”

“On the way we passed several maids. Sister! He could not have gone without their knowledge.”

“It is strange indeed … Didn’t you tell your father about this?”

“I did not, Sister! I feel shy to tell my father; I am also afraid. If supposing he had actually been here …”

“Yes. It is better not to talk to the men about this. Even if they were told they will not understand …”

“I am wondering whether to tell my brother or not …”

“If you tell him it will end up in a riot. Your brother is now focused on somehow getting you married to Karikalar!”

“Sister! You are the one who must help me. Kanthamaran has a lot of faith in you. If you tell he will listen …”

“Girl! I am here for a purpose, and you are asking for my help to defeat that! Very clever you are! Even if we drop the idea of having you married to Karikalar, you don’t know anything about this other young man! What is the guarantee that he will want you?”

“I am not worried about that, Sister! Whether he wants me or not …”

“A woman’s fate is just like this! Whatever a man may do, the woman must give up her life for him! Let’s see how your luck turns out. If something like yesterday happens again, you will tell me, won’t you?”

“If not to you, whom else would I talk to, Sister? Yesterday night I had a dream. I want to tell you about it also …”

“Daydreaming is not enough, you are having dreams in your sleep also? What is it? Did he again appear in your dream to fool you and then get away?”

“No, no! This is something different. It is terrifying even to think about. It is said that early morning dreams usually come true! Is it true, Sister?”

“What is the dream? Something different? Did you dream about someone else?”

“Dream was about him! Someone was coming to stab him with a knife. He has no weapons in his hand. But on the floor there is a knife that is brightly shining. I grabbed it. Wanting to stab the man who wanted to stab him, I ran. When I got closer his face came into focus. He is my brother Kanthamaran! I screamed ‘Oh,’ and woke up. My entire body was soaking in sweat. My limbs were shaking for a long time. The dream seemed so real. Will it come true, Sister?”

“Girl! Your mind is really disturbed. What actually happened seems like a dream. What was a dream seems real! I have got myself a good friend! If I am crazy you are a step above me,” said Nandhini.

At that time Chandramathi walked in. “They are on their way! They have passed Veera Narayana lake, we were told!” She informed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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