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Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (21 -25)

October 8, 2016

Translated from the novel Poniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

21. Privileged for Palanquins

That year rainy season did not begin when it was supposed to. Twice it began to rain as usual, but then it suddenly stopped. In the river Kaveri and its surrounding rivulets the tide of water gradually reduced.

In the newly planted fields, crops began to wilt. ‘The curse of the long tailed star!’ – people said to each other.

“This is an inauspicious time for the country,’ ‘problems with the government,’ ‘nothing heard about the prince, ‘on top of everything else even the sky is giving up on us!’ – throughout their journey Poongkuzhali and Senthan Amuthan heard such talk.

Having no rain was in a way convenient for the journey. ‘chuleer!’ – the sun hit them from morning. In the afternoon it was an unbearable humidity. Even when they walked under the cool shadow of the trees along the royal thoroughfare, sweat poured.

“This does not feel like October! It is more like the hot days of May,” they said to each other.

A short time after the palanquin from Pazhuvur palace passed them, a cool wind began to blow. ‘sala sala’ – the leaves on the roadside trees could be heard dancing to the rhythm of the wind. From the northeast darkness began to creep in. Dark clouds were gathering in the horizon. Within a short time the shapes of clouds were climbing the sky like a herd of rutting elephants.

Soon the breeze turned into a strong wind; in the wind rain drops pelted down with fury. ‘Cho!’ – within fifteen minutes the drizzle changed to a noisy downpour. The plight of the roadside trees in the wind and rain cannot be described. ‘chada chada,’ branches began to break and fall. ‘keech,’ screeching, birds that had taken sanctuary in the trees flew away in all directions. The people on the road also scattered, running in different directions.

Some ran to escape from the wind and rain. Others ran out of fear that they may die if the branches fell on their heads. Some others ran afraid of hearing the thunder that sounded as if the earth’s mantle was exploding. A short time after the rain took over, realizing that the day had abruptly come to an end and night was on them, Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali gave up the idea of entering Thanjavur fort that day.

They decided that it would be progress enough, if they could be at Senthan Amuthan’s garden hut that night. In the darkness of the rainy season they encouraged each other and walked with caution.

“Poongkuzhali! You have experienced many storms and much heavy rain in the middle of the sea. You row your boat amidst waves the size of mountains! You are not afraid of this rain,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“However much it rained and stormed in the middle of the ocean, no trees can fall on your head. If it falls, it will be thunder,” said Poongkuzhali.

‘chada chada,’ before Poongkuzhali could even finish her sentence a tree was heard cracking and falling ahead of them. Senthan Amuthan firmly held Poongkuzhali’s hand and stopped her from walking further.

“There is no use in hurrying now. There must be a building somewhere. Let’s take shelter there and proceed when the rain eases a little,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“Let’s do that. But how will we find a building in the dark,” asked Poongkuzhali.

“When the next lightening strikes, keep your eyes open. Look on both sides,” said Senthan Amuthan.

Lightening arrived blinding the eyes, turning both sky and earth into a pool of golden light.

“There is a building,” said Senthan Amuthan.

Poongkuzhali also saw the building. During that momentary illumination she also saw a big tree horizontal on the ground ahead of them. It looked as if there were people trapped underneath.

“Amutha! Did you see the tree on the ground? Under it …,” she said.

“Yes, I did. The same fate is going to visit us if we don’t hurry. Let’s get inside the building quickly!” Dragging Poongkuzhali by the hand, Senthan Amuthan hurried towards the building.

Both reached the building. They squeezed the water out of their wet clothes. Poongkuzhali squeezed the water out of her long hair as well. The water fell on the floor and ran as small rivulets.

“Adadah! We made the floor wet,” said Poongkuzhali.

“No harm done. The floor is not going to catch a cold or fever! You got soaked,” said Amuthan.

“I was born and bred by the sea. My other name is ‘Ocean Princess.’ Rain will not do me any harm,” said Poongkuzhali.

Her mind leaped from the roadside shelter near Thanjavur fort to Nagaipattinam Soodamani viharam. Wasn’t the person who first called her ‘Samuthra Kumari’ in that Soodamani viharam?    

“Poongkuzhali! My garden and hut are only a short distance away. Once the rain stops let’s go there. My mother will take good care of you!” Poongkuzhali’s ears weren’t entirely tuned to Amuthan’s words.

Once again lightening struck dazzling the eyes. Just one stroke. In the sudden light they saw clearly what they only glimpsed before. Both of them were horrified. On the road almost in front of that building lay a huge fig tree uprooted. Its sprawling branches and aerial roots lay mangled and broken. Underneath, two horses and five or six people were trapped. They saw a few others trying to free those who were trapped. They were hastily moving the broken branches aside. ‘Aiyo!’ ‘Appah!’ ‘Here!’ ‘There!’ ‘Hurry!’ – feeble cries reached them through the background noise of the rain.

Beyond this there was something else that stole the attention of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali. A short distance from the fallen tree there was a palanquin on the ground. Two men stood beside it. All the others were perhaps trying to free the ones trapped!

“Amutha! Did you see the palanquin?” Poongkuzhali asked.

“I did, it looked like Pazhuvur Ilaiayarani’s palanquin.”

“Why didn’t that tree fall on top of that palanquin?”

“God! Why are you saying that? You said that you were going to see Pazhuvur Rani and through her accomplish something?”

“Yes, even so, I don’t like that Pazhuvur Rani that much!”

“If you don’t like her, must a tree fall on top of her?”

“Why, trees must hit only ordinary people? Heads of queens must be exempt? … Never mind; can we now go near the palanquin and talk to Pazhuvur Rani? Can we ask for her help to enter the palace?”

“Wonderful! Good time to petition the rani! Good place! If we go near the palanquin they will think that we are coming to rob in the dusky hour of the rainy season and beat us up.”

“If I met the Rani then my task would be simple …”

“How?”

“I will mention my sister-in-law’s name. Or I will say that magician Ravithasan sent me.”

“Good idea! But how to go near her? Look over there, Poongkuzhali!”

Again there was lightening; in the light two people were seen lifting the palanquin. Aha! They are leaving? No, no! It looks as if the palanquin is coming towards this building! Yes, soon the palanquin was at the building. The carriers put it down on the ground.

“Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani is coming in search of us!” Poongkuzhali said.

Taking her hand Amuthan tried to move to the interior part of the building; but Poongkuzhali refused to go.

Meanwhile, “Who’s there?” A stern voice asked.

Seeing that it was one of the palanquin carriers Poongkuzhali said, “Don’t be afraid, Brother! Like you, we are also fellow travelers. We are taking shelter from the rain!”

“Alright, alright! Do not come near the palanquin,” said the same voice.

“Why would we go near the palanquin? We were not born to travel in palanquins!” Poongkuzhali said.

“Even Valluvar Peruman has discussed this. On the topic of payback for good deeds done in a previous birth …,” Senthan Amuthan began.

“Enough, enough! Shut your mouth and be quiet! How many are you?”

“Only the two of us. Even if two hundred more people came there is room in this building,”said Amuthan.

Amuthan stated what he believed to be true. He did not know that there was a third person standing behind the pillar in the back of the building.

“I said it before. When it started to rain I said let’s go wait in this building; no one listened. That is why we are in this predicament!” The palanquin carrier told his companion.

“Who knew that this would happen? We thought that we will be inside the fort before the rain got severe. At least the tree did not fall on the palanquin,” said his companion.

Again, another lightening brightly illuminated the place. Both Senthan Amuthan’s and Poongkuzhali’s eyes and attention were on the palanquin. They saw in that brief second that there was a woman in the palanquin lifting the curtain and peering in their direction. They also noticed the smile and look of recognition on the woman’s face.

Next second, darkness again enveloped the building.

“Amutha! Did you see?” Poongkuzhali whispered.

“Yes, I did.”

“Who is in the palanquin?”

“Isn’t it Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani?”

“What did you think?”

“It looked like Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. But I am not sure.”

“I have no doubts. I am sure.”

“Sure about what?”

“It is not Pazhuvur rani; it is my mad athai rani who is in the palanquin!”

“Shh! Don’t be loud!”

“If I am not loud, how can I get things done?”

“Such as?”

“Such as, the matter that we came all this way for. We have found my aunt. Now we must free her and take her with us!”

“That is impossible now, Poongkuzhali! Let’s see where the palanquin is headed. Then we will think of a way to free her.”

“You mean, leave the leash and go for the tail instead? We cannot do that; we must rescue her now. If you are afraid, you just be!”

“Shouldn’t our aunt agree to be freed? ‘jahm jahm’ – she’s riding in the palanquin. Where is she going; why, who wanted her captured – don’t we need to find out?”

“They may be taking her to the dungeon, who knows? What can we do after that?”

“Why not? I went to the dungeon and came out. I too have some influence in the palace. I will somehow free your athai. You just be now!”

Poongkuzhali also decided not to do anything. At that time something they never anticipated happened.

The lifted curtain on the palanquin seemed to completely move to a side. A figure emerged from it. It walked quietly as a cat and within a second it stood facing them. Because it was completely dark it escaped the eyes of the soldiers standing below on the steps of the building. Even in the dark Poongkuzhali knew that it was oomai rani. She grabbed both of their hands and rushed to the far end of that building in the back.

She embraced Poongkuzhali kissing her forehead to indicate her happiness. After that a conversation followed briefly between the niece and aunt in sign language. No one knows how they could communicate in that manner in the dark! No one knows how each one comprehended the other’s meaning! This is something we can neither understand nor explain.

Poongkuzhali said to Senthan Amuthan, “Did you understand what athai was saying? She wants me to go in the palanquin. She wants you to take her to your house!”

“What do you want to do, Poongkuzhali,” asked Amuthan.

“I am going to do what athai wants. Isn’t that a good way to find out who ordered her to be captured?”

“Think, Poongkuzhali! It is a good idea. But who knows what danger is inherent in it?”

“Amutha! Don’t worry! There is no danger to me in this. If there is, I do have the knife tucked in my waist,” Poongkuzhali said.

After embracing her aunt once more, Poongkuzhali walked just as quietly, climbed inside and pulled back the curtain on the palanquin.

22. Aniruthar’s Disappointment

Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar has remained in the capital for a few days. Government officials, petty kings, troop commanders, foreign messengers, representatives of business groups, temple administrators and linguistic scholars from the south and north kept coming to see him. The entrance to his palace presented an unending traffic of overly enthusiastic crowds.

Aniruthar did not keep a security force for himself. His entourage was very small. In this way he avoided having any trouble with the Pazhuvertaraiyars.

Yet, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar was complaining. Ever since the chief minister’s return, security has been compromised. Under the pretext of visiting the chief minister, all sorts of people were entering the fort. Because the chief minister’s residence was next to the emperor’s palace traffic had increased even around the royal palace. Lots of people came in showing the chief minister’s emblem and saying his name.

The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar wanted to streamline all of this. But he did not have the courage to go directly and fight with the chief minister. If the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar were here, both of them together would have found a solution. As the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar had chosen this moment to leave for Kadampoor, Kalanthaka Kandakar, – the junior – felt as if one of his hands were broken. As if it was not enough to increase the traffic inside the fort and jeopardize its security, Chief Minister Aniruthar, under the pretense of requesting the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s help frequently dispatched orders to him.

A few days ago he asked for a few soldiers to send to Kodikarai. Kalanthaka Kandakar helped by lending the men. The day before he had sent word that he needed one of the covered palanquins that belonged to Pazhuvur palace, along with palanquin carriers in order to provide transport for a noblewoman coming from Thiruvaiyaru. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar fulfilled this request also. But inside, his heart was frothing. ‘This Brahmarayan is involved in some devious work. Who is this noblewoman who must be brought in a covered palanquin? Why is she coming here. This needs to be investigated. At this crucial moment, my brother has gone away,’ he fretted.

Another man was also dying to know who had arrived at Chief Minister Aniruthar’s palace in  the covered palanquin. He was none other than Anirutha Brahmarayar’s loyal disciple Azhvarkadiyan.

The morning after the heavy rain Anirutha Barhamarayar completed his bath, meditation and prayers and came to the foyer. He sent the guard to find out who was waiting to see him. When he heard that Azvarkadiyan was one of them, he ordered that he be brought in immediately.

Azhvarkadiyan hurried in and stood humbly before his gurunathar.

“Thirumalai! How did it go?” Aniruthar asked about his last mission.

“Guru! Forgive me! I have come back with defeat,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“I sort of expected that. You could not meet Athitha Karikalan at all?”

“I met him, Sir! I conveyed your messages. It was pointless. I could not stop the prince from going to Kadampoor palace …”

“Is the prince now in Kadampoor?”

“Yes, Guru! I left after seeing him enter Sambuvaraiyar’s palace. Sambuvaraiyar gave a royal welcome to the prince. I cannot describe the enthusiasm of the surrounding villagers.”

“All that is to be expected. Who else has come to Kadampoor palace?”

“Parthipenthiran and Vandhiyathevan are there with the prince. From here the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar has come with the Ilaiyarani. Additionally I hear that several petty kings from Nadunadu and Thirumunaipadinadu have been invited …”

“Thirukovalur Malaiamman …”

“He came with the prince up to river manimutha and then turned back …”

“That old warrior will not just wait. By now he would have started to gather the troops. I hear that from the south Kodumbalur periya Velan is coming with a large garrison. May god save this kingdom from any calamity. Thirumalai! During your journey what did you hear the Chola people say?”

“They are mostly talking about the tragedy that befell the prince at sea. They are very angry at the Pazhuvertaraiyars. Some are blaming you also …”

“Yes, yes! They have good reason for that. Thirumalai! I am thinking of giving up this chief minister job soon.”

“Guru! If you did that I will also have my freedom. I will happily travel and spend my time singing Azhvar’s hymns all over the country. When are you going to give up your occupation, Sir!”

“I am going to try one last time to prevent any misfortune to the kingdom; when that plan is executed I will quit.”

“What is this plan, Guru?”

We have completed the very important first step in the plan. Thirumalai! I have obtained victory in a challenge that you gave up saying that it was impossible …”

“I am not surprised, Sir! What is the challenge?”

“Didn’t I ask you to bring a mute woman who is wandering like a mad woman in Eezhatheevu? Didn’t you come back and say that you failed to accomplish it?” Aniruthar asked.

“Yes, Sir! That dumb woman …”

“Last night she was brought to our palace.”

“Aha! Wonderful! Wonderful! How did you accomplish this?”

“I expected the woman to come to Kodiakarai for news about the prince, to find out whether he survived or not. I sent people to catch her in the event she turned up. Fortunately she did not give too much trouble. Listen to this joke, Thirumalai! I arranged for her to be brought in a covered palanquin from Thiruvaiyaru. For this I requested Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s palanquin …”

“Sir! There was a big storm and heavy rain last evening!”

“Yes; because of that they were held up on the way. Even I was worried. It was after midnight when the palanquin arrived here, only then I was relieved.”

“Oho! It was past midnight? You stayed up all that time to welcome her?”

“I was awake. But I did not go to welcome her. I had the women in the house do that. Isn’t she a mad person; I was worried, wondering what sort of trouble she might create. Fortunately nothing happened. She ate well and went to sleep immediately. Thirumalai! To tell the truth, I am still a little afraid of seeing her. It’s good that you came at this time …”

“Guru! I am also eager to see this lady …”

“In that case, come! Let’s go to the anthapuram. You know her already, don’t you? She is also aware that you are in the young prince’s camp. Therefore she may be cordial with you.”

Guru and disciple went to the residential suites in the back of the palace. Anirutha Brahmarayar ordered the maids to bring the visitor from the previous night.

The maids brought the woman out.

Aniruthar stood stunned at the sight of the woman.

A smile hovered over Azhvarkadiyan’s face.

23. Can the Dumb Woman Speak?

After taking a look at Poongkuzhali, Aniruthar beckoned the maids who were with her. He questioned them in a low voice.

After they answered his questions he asked them to leave the room.

“Thirumalai! It looks as if there has been a mistake!” He said to Azhvarkadiyan.

“Yes, Sir! I feel the same way.”

“This girl is young. She cannot be more than twenty.”

“Not even that.”

“The lady I was expecting is around forty.”

“Maybe more than that.”

“Yes, yes. You have seen Manthahini Devi in Ilankai, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Sir! I saw her, and I tried to bring her here as you had ordered. I could not.”

“This woman is not Manthahini Devi, is she?”

“No, Guruthevar! Certainly not!”

“Then, who is she? How did she end up here?”

“Best is to ask her,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“What is the use in questioning a mute?”

Guruthevar! Whether she is a mute …”

“That is what I asked the maids. They said that since she arrived she had not uttered a word.”

Guruthevar! Whom did you send to find her?”

“Aha! Did that fool make a mistake?”

“Which fool, Guruthevar? You would never have sent a fool on an errand like this?”

“He seemed intelligent; the day I was in Pazhaiyarai, didn’t a young man fight with Varnar tribe Vallavaraiyan?”

“Yes! Pazhaiyarai doctor’s son Pinakapani.”

“He is the one! After sending you and Vallavaraiyan to meet Karikalar I had that doctor’s son released from the jail. I found him suitable for our spy division. So I sent him to Kodikarai. I heard that he had been to Kodikarai before.”

“Is he the one who brought this girl here?”

“I gave him a good description of her. After bringing her to Thiruvaiyaru he sent word that the mission had been successful …”

“Sir! Where is that intelligent spy who succeeded in something that I failed to accomplish? Isn’t it better to question him about this girl?”

“That would be nice! But last night he met with an unexpected accident …!”

“Adada! What accident? What happened?”

“He was also coming behind the palanquin. Because I had ordered to bring her to the fortress after dark, they left from Thiruvaiyaru at twilight and were nearing the fort close to nightfall. You know about the sudden storm.”

“Yes, Sir! I was also terrified of the storm and had to take shelter for a short time in one of the roadside resthouses.”

“A short distance from the fort a large tree was completely uprooted during the storm. Fortunately it did not fall on the palanquin. It fell on those following behind. The doctor’s son Pinakapani got trapped under the tree.”

“Only the tree fell on that rascal’s head? Thunder didn’t strike him?” A woman spoke in an angry voice.

Chief Minister Aniruthar stared at Poongkuzhali in surprise. Aghast, “Thirumalai! Was that her speaking,” he said.

“Yes, Sir! I think so.”

“How strange? Can a deaf woman hear? Can this dumb woman speak?”

“It is indeed strange when a deaf individual hears; and a dumb individual speaks! But as the all powerful Vishnu Moorthi’s ardent devotee, if you set your heart on something what miracle is not possible? What Azhvar has graciously proclaimed is …”

“Enough! Don’t invite the Azhvars here now; leave them alone! This is not something that happened through the grace of Vishnu Baghvan; something has gone terribly wrong. This girl has played us out. Who is she? What is her motive? Why did she act like a deaf and dumb person all this while?”

Guruthevar! Why not ask the girl herself?”

Appan! When I look at the smile on your face, I feel that you know her. Alright! I’ll ask her. Girl! Are you not deaf? Can you hear what I am saying …?”

“Sir! At times I have wished that I were deaf. But right now I am thrilled that I am not. If not I would have missed hearing the news about the tree falling on the head of that scoundrel, the doctor’s son! Is he dead,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Aha! You can hear; you are talking also; you are not dumb,” said Aniruthar.

“Certainly this girl is not dumb,” said the disciple.

“Aha! You discovered that I am not dumb! It proves what I have heard; that Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar is the most learned person in the Chola empire,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Girl! Are you making fun of me? Be careful! If you are not dumb why were you silent from last night until now? Why did you pretend to be dumb? Tell the truth,” asked Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar.

“Sir! Until my arrival here yesterday, I could speak. People even called me a chatterbox. When I saw the chief minister’s palace and the kingly reception given to me, I was in awe; I turned speechless. The women in your palace spoke to me through signs. Thinking that all of them were mute I answered them through signs. After hearing you speak, my ability to speak also returned …”

“No doubt, you are a chatterbox. I am surprised that doctor’s son was able to catch you. Even if he is a fool, he is capable …”

“Swami! That son of a sinner did not bring me here. If he had tried to, by now he would be on a pilgrimage to yamalokam!” Poongkuzhali showed the knife tucked in her waist.

“Girl! May god bless you. Put that knife back. Why are you so angry at him? Is that why you are denying that he brought you here?”

“He did not catch me or bring me here; but his men left me tied up in the boat. They tied my sister-in-law to a tree. To top it all, that scoundrel of a doctor’s son told me that he had nothing to do with any of this …”

“To that extent at least, he is smart. He has behaved just as I told him to …”

“Sir! Chief Minister! You are the one who sent that rascal? Are you the one who ordered that my aunt, a dumb simpleton, be brought here by force?”

“Your aunt? Karaiyar’s daughter Manthahini is your aunt? In that case, you … who are you to the lighthouse keeper Thiyagavidankar,” asked Aniruthar.

“Sir! I am his only daughter!”

“Aha! I didn’t know until now that Thiyagavidankar has a daughter who is such a chatterbox!”

“Please, don’t tell this outside, Sir!”

“Why, Girl!”

“It’s been trumpeted all over the country that nothing in Chola Nadu misses the eyes and ears of Chief Minister Brahmarayar. If it comes out that you are in the dark about something, won’t it ruin your reputation?”

“Girl! I am not worried about my reputation. Please tell me news that I do not know. You said that they caught your aunt, where is she now? How did you arrive in the palanquin that I sent? Where did you get in,” asked Aniruthar.

“Sir! Why did you send people to catch my aunt who cannot even speak?”

“Child! I am not going to tell you that, it is a government matter.”

“Sir! In that case I will also refuse to answer your question.”

“There are ways to make you answer!”

“That won’t work with me!”

“Girl! I will send you to the dungeon!”

“No dungeon can keep me in.”

“Those who go to the dungeon never return.”

“I know a young man who returned, Sir! Even yesterday the two of us were traveling together …”

“Who is he, Senthan Amuthan?”

“He is my other aunt’s son. He and I together were coming from Kodikarai.”

“Why, Child?”

“I have for a long time wanted to see the palaces and towers of this Thanjavur city. I also wanted to see emperor Sundara Cholar. It is said that the emperor is not in good health? How is he now, Sir? Can I see him?”

“His condition remains the same, Child! There is no improvement, therefore forget about the idea of seeing the emperor! …”

“How can I forget, Sir! I must see the emperor. I must tell him about the way women are abducted against their wish in his lawful kingdom …”

“Girl! I don’t have the time to be arguing with you. I also did not order that you be brought here against your wish. How did you get in the palanquin that I sent, tell me! Did anyone make you get into the palanquin by force?”

“No, Swami! It wasn’t like that. As we were getting closer to Thanjavur fort I saw this empty palanquin. Because it was raining I climbed in …”

Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar looked at his disciple Azhvarkadiyan. “I think now I am beginning to understand. When the storm hit, they have put the palanquin down. At that time she had let her aunt out and taken her place in the palanquin. The doctor’s son did not notice because he was unconscious struck by the tree. The palanquin carriers also did not notice. This must have happened not too far from the entrance to the fort. Thirumalai! Do you think that my guess is correct,” he asked.

“It happened just as you described; I saw it with my own eyes.”

“You saw it? How? Why did you keep your mouth shut all this while? Tell me!”

“Early last night in the rainy season’s darkness I was not too far away from the fortress entrance. There was a severe storm with heavy rain; trees were breaking and falling. I decided to take refuge at a roadside shelter for travelers. After a little while a young man and this girl also came there. She mentioned her aunt’s son, perhaps it was him. When lightening struck, I saw that he had a ruthratsha bead chain on his neck. I thought to myself, ‘Here is a Saivan ripened in the bud. Let me tell him the story of Vaishnavism; we can kill some time this way.’ Meanwhile a palanquin was brought to the same shelter and was lowered to the ground. On the curtain was Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palmyrah emblem. A woman alighted from the palanquin and approached them. In a dark corner of the building the three of them huddled together speaking only through gestures. Then I saw this girl getting into the palanquin. When the place was lit by lightening I saw, ‘the woman who came from the palanquin is one; the one who climbed back is another.’ The palanquin carriers paid no attention; when the rain appeared to be slowing down, they picked up the palanquin and marched on! …”

“Aha! Is that so? They have deceived me? All this while you did not say a word! What did those two do afterward?”

“When the palanquin left, they also left. After that, I also left …”

“Thirumalai! Why were you a silent spectator? Why didn’t you stop her aunt? Are you also mixed up in their deceitful schemes?”

“That is an affront, Guruthevar! An affront! You know that I am not capable of that kind of betrayal. First of all, I did not know that you were involved. Because the palanquin had the Pazhuvur emblem, I assumed that they were carrying out the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s orders. Moreover, am I able to stop Manthahinidevi? One can stop a tornado; but not her! I have already tried in Ilankai and failed. In addition she knows me. As soon as she saw me she will become agitated and take flight; after that no one can catch her …”

“In the end, the doctor’s son does seem a smart guy. He brought her this far, didn’t he?”

Guruthevar! I feel that you are mistaken. Manthahini Devi must have wanted to come. When she got closer to Thanjai, she changed her mind …”

“May be, may be so; yet, she couldn’t have gone far. The rain and wind lasted all  night! She must be somewhere close by. Thirumalai! We must find her somehow. Perhaps this girl knows where she is staying … Child! What is your name?”

“Poongkuzhali, Sir!”

“Aha! Beautiful name! For choosing names, there is no one like Thiyagavidankar. Poongkuzhali! You must know where your aunt is staying. If you do, please tell me! No harm will come to her.”

Poongkuzhali considered his request. “Swami! I know where my aunt might be. If you tell me why you wanted to bring her here, then I will tell you where she is …”

“Poongkuzhali! This is a rather serious government matter. Confidential information concerning the palace cannot be made public.”

“I too cannot disclose …”

“It is impossible to talk to this girl …”

“Sir! On one condition …”

“Aha! She is laying conditions on me! What is it?”

“If my aunt will be given the Thanjavur throne and the jeweled crown, I will bring her myself.”

“Thirumalai! This girl is mad …!”

“You realize it only now! Guruthevar! Don’t ask her for anything. I know where her aunt is. Her aunt’s son Senthan Amuthan is in the garden just outside Thanjavur fort. He and his mother provide flowers to the Thallikulathar temple. The woman you are looking for will be there. If a few men can accompany me, I will bring her,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Poongkuzhali glared at Thirumalai. “If anything like that is carried out, I will right now walk to the front of the emperor’s palace and complain! I will tell the world of your atrocities,” she said.

“Thirumalai! She must be put in the dungeon; there is no other way,” said Anirutha Brahmarayar.

“If anyone comes near me I will kill them!” Poongkuzhali brandished the knife she had tucked in her waist.

“Sir! There is no need to send her to the dungeon. Instead she can be sent to the junior stateswoman, Madam Kundavai’s palace. Isn’t the junior statewoman here now? She will cure this girl’s insanity! The junior stateswoman may also have an errand for her,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“What do you mean? What errand can the junior stateswoman have for this girl?”

Guruthevar! Don’t you know? Yesterday’s storm has wreaked havoc along the Chola Nadu coast. Messengers have arrived from all sides, they are waiting for you at the palace entrance …”

“Yes, yes! I must see them now. Instead, I have wasted time speaking to this girl. It would have been better if she had been born dumb …”

“Then you can inflict harm without having to answer to anyone,” mumbled Poongkuzhali.

“I hear that Nagaipattinam is in great danger. I hear that the tide is risen drowning the entire city! …”

Both, Poongkuzhali and the chief minister were startled by this news.

“The junior stateswoman may herself come here to discuss it with you,” concluded Azhvarkadiyan.

Before he could close his mouth, there were cheers arising from the entrance. “Thirumalai! Since when are you capable of extrasensory perception? It looks as if the junior stateswoman is here!” Aniruthar rose and walked toward the entrance.

At that time Kundavai Devi and Vanathi walked in through the same entrance.

The anxious look on the junior stateswoman’s face disappeared when she saw Poongkuzhali; joy and wonder took over.

24. Princess in a Hurry

After welcoming the princesses and seating them, the chief minister also sat down.

“Devi! If you had sent word I would have come over! What is the reason for this sudden visit? Is it the emperor’s health?” He asked.

“There is no change in the emepror’s health, Sir! It is his mind that is disturbed. Last night’s storm affected him deeply. He did not sleep all night. He kept moaning about the hardship of the poor citizens living in huts. With the first rays of the sun he asked me to come and see you. He wants aid delivered to those affected by the storm without delay. I am here specifically to convey this message,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Devi! What can this humble fellow do? I am chief minister in name only, don’t you know that? Elder Pazhuvertaraiyar is not here now. He would have locked the treasury and taken the key with him. Without his permission even Kalanthakakandar cannot open the treasury! What help can I offer to those who have suffered losses? You would have noticed the crowd lining up at the entrance. I am embarrassed to even face them. That is why I am hiding here,” Anirutha Brahmarayar professed poverty.

“Sir! Please do not be alarmed. I am giving all of my personal wealth. My mother will do the same. You can have everything in the emperor’s palace. Father said so. To relieve the hardship of the poor, at least temporarily, please do something …”

“Your personal wealth will be equivalent to offering pop corn to the hungry elephant. The entire Chola nadu was affected by yesterday’s storm. We don’t even have news yet as to what happened where. My spiritual disciple here tells me the most frightening news. It seems that the tide was so high, the entire coast from Kodikarai to Nagaipattinam is under water …!”

Aniruthar noticed the fear that came over the three women’s faces upon hearing his last words.

Immediately he continued in a less alarming tone to abate their fear. “I do not believe this news. These are only rumors that have spread faster than the storm. It’s too soon for word to have arrived from the coast. Even if they came on horses the messengers cannot be here before noon today. In the meantime, we will start making arrangements to deliver all the help that we can.”

Regaining her composure the junior stateswoman Kundavai said, “Rumors about Nagaipattinam reached my ears also. I have that to discuss also. We just returned after helping them. If the monastery was hit, that would be a pity; what can the monks do?” She directed her gaze towards Poongkuzhali.

“Sir! How did this girl come here? Isn’t she Kodikarai Thiyagavidankar’s daughter, Poongkuzhali?” She asked.

“Yes; she is Thiyagavidankar’s daughter. But she is not passive like her father. She is very mischievous. She pokes her head into matters unrelated to her and creates problems” said the chief minister.

The junior stateswoman had her own misgivings. Has Aniruthar brought Poongkuzhali to get information about Arulmozhi? He is the minister who dallies in covert actions! However, deciding that she should be on Poongkuzhali’s side she said, “That cannot be! Poongkuzhali is a good girl! Come here, Child! Why is the chief minister unhappy with you? Did you trouble him?”

Poongkuzhali went near the princess. “Devi! It is the chief minister you should be questioning! Please ask him if I am the one troubling him or if it is not the other way around,” she said.

“Oho! You are also not happy! Come here, Girl; come and sit next to me!” The junior stateswoman made Poongkuzhali sit next to her.

“Sir! Why did you bring this girl here? Is it something very important?” She asked.

“Madam! I did not bring her here. I didn’t even know about the existence of this troublemaker. It was she …” Aniruthar hesitated.

“Devi! Why is the chief minister hesitating? Please ask him to continue,” said Poongkuzhali.

“She came on her own looking for her aunt.”

“Who is her aunt? Oho! Senthan Amuthan’s mother? Isn’t their house just outside the fort?”

“No, not Amuthan’s mother; she has another mute aunt. Princess! You may as well hear it. There is a dumb woman who roams the jungles of Eezhanadu like a mad woman. I wanted to bring that lady here regarding an important matter. I have been working hard to accomplish this; finally, I had success. At that time …”

Agitated, Kundavai Devi rose from her seat. “Really? Is that lady here now? I must see her at once,” she said.

“Forgive me, Devi! At the crucial moment of victory this girl  has interfered and spoilt matters,” said the chief minister.

Disappointed Kundavai sat down again. “Poongkuzhali! Is this true? What did you do,” she asked.

“Devi! Please ask about the tactics the chief minister employed to bring my aunt here. You will not blame me then,” said Poongkuzhali.

The chief minister then briefly described what happened.

After listening the princess said, “In that case won’t she be somewhere near this fort? Shouldn’t we look?”

“Fortunately there is no necessity to search. My disciple says that he saw her in Senthan Amuthan’s hut this morning,” said the chief miniter.

“Then what is the delay? All other matters must wait. We can go and bring her; if you are not going, I will go. Vanathi! Come, let’s go!” She said.

Azhvarkadiyan interrupted. “Devi! We must think carefully! If that lady sees a big crowd of people she may become confused and start running. After that we may be able to contain a storm, but not her!” He said.

“Yes. Thirumalai is right. Poongkuzhali’s aunt may be startled to see us and may take flight. All our efforts will be wasted then! What is your advice, Thirumalai?” The chief minister asked.

“Ask this girl to bring her. There are only two people in the world who can tame that lady! One of them is this girl!”

When the chief minister asked, “Who is the other person,” Azhvarkadiyan hesitated. Then he said, “Rumor has it that this other person drowned in the sea!”

Pretending to ignore him, Kundavai Devi told Poongkuzhali, “Karaiyar’s Daughter! Go immediately and bring your aunt here! No harm will come to her. I must see your aunt immediately concerning a very important matter! You will do this favor for me, won’t you?”

“Alright, Madam! I will try. Yet, the chief minister did not have to resort to such crude ways. If I had known before …”

“Yes; when we are not open such unfortunate mistakes are inevitable. I realize that now. Bring your aunt soon! After that you have another important task,” said the junior stateswoman.

“Thirumalai! You also go with this girl! If there is any problem for both of you to enter the fort bring her through the secret passageway to the palace,” said Aniruthar.

After Poongkuzhali and Azhvarkadiyan left, Kundavai told the chief minister, “Sir! Please see to the people waiting at the entrance. After that I need your advice on an important matter!”

“I won’t be long, Madam! I also must speak to you!” With that Aniruthar left.

Vanathi, who was silent all this while asked, “Sister! What is the other important task that you have for Poongkuzhali? Are you going to send her again to Nagaipattinam?”

“Yes, Vanathi! Don’t worry yourself! No harm will come to Ponniyin Selvan.”

“I am going with her to Nagaipattinam, Sister?”

“What will you do there? We will need another person to look after you!”

“That boatwoman cannot stand me, Sister!”

“How do you know what’s on her mind?”

“She didn’t talk to me at all!”

“You didn’t talk to her; she didn’t talk to you.”

“I was looking at her face every now and then. She did not look at me once; she is angry at me!”

“Yes, Vanathi! All the unmarried virgins of this country do have a problem with you. There is no point feeling sorry about it,” said the junior stateswoman Kundavai.

25. Aniruthar’s Crime

The chief minister soon returned after speaking to those who had come to see him that day.

“Madam! I have made arrangements to the extent that I can . I have sent men all around to assess the damage caused by the storm. I have sent word to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar also, that he should let the treasury be open under both of our watch.”

“Sir! It seems that there is an underground treasury cellar adjascent to the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’spalace! Is it true that it’s heaped with vast amounts of treasures? The elder stateswoman mentioned it once.”

“That lady thinks that a thousand new temples can be built using the wealth in that room. Even I have not gone into that cellar, Madam! No one who goes there comes back alive,” said the chief minister.

“That’s alright, Sir! Will they be able to bring that mute mother? I am worried that it’s going to end up like the saying, ‘what was within hands’ reach could not be devoured by the mouth!’

“Madam! What do you know about this lady? How did you come to know about her? Why are you so agitated about her?”

“Sir! A few days ago the emperor himself told me about her.”

“What? Did he say that she is alive? Did he?”

“No, Sir! He related the history from twenty five years ago. He thinks that she is dead. That is why his mind is in a turmoil. Aren’t you the one who told my father that she fell into the sea and died? Then, how did you learn that she is alive?”

“I was about to ask you the same question. How did you come to know that she is alive, Devi?”

“Alright, I will tell. Varnar tribe warrior is the one who told me first, when he returned from Eezham. After that my brother Arulmozhi …,” as if realizing her mistake, Kundavai placed her hand over her mouth.

“Devi! If you do not want to tell me about Prince Arulmozhivarmar, then you don’t have to. I will forget all together that you brought his name up.”

“No, Sir! I came here thinking that I will tell you everything. I have seen that there is only harm done by covering up matters, nothing good ever comes out of secrecy. I learned my lesson last night. Sir! The sea did not take my younger brother. The ocean king saved Ponniyin Selvan and brought him to shore. He is now at the Buddhist monastery at Nagaipattinam. It was to see him that I went to Nagaipattinam. But I suspect that you are aware of all of this.”

“Your suspicion is justified; but, Devi, I did not expose your secret! I will interfere into anyone’s affairs, except yours – that is my policy. I have ordered my people to do likewise. I have complete confidence that whatever you undertake is the best course. Malaiamman Kodumbalur Velan and I have always said, ‘If only the junior stateswoman had been a man, she would conquer the entire world.”

“It is true that I have had that ambition. Even though I am a woman I hoped that through my brothers my dream would come true. Now I have given up that dream, Sir! I have dediced that women should never interfere in affairs of the kingdom! See, I arranged for my brother to be at Nagaipattinam Soodamani viharam. Look at the disastrous outcome!”

“Nothing has happened, Madam! Ocean king who saved Ponniyin Selvan at mid sea – would he now hurt him while he is ashore?”

“Sir! Come to my father now immediately and speak these encouraging words.”

“Aha! The emperor knows, does he? That the prince is in Soodamani viharam?”

“I told him last night; I had to.”

“Aha! It would have been better if we had waited a few more days. I thought that you had made a very good arrangement! Devi! There is turmoil all over Chol Nadu. The havoc that the storm wreaked yesterday had been building up in the hearts of  the Chola people for some time now. People are very angry at Mathuranthakar and the Pazhuvertaraiyars. They know that vessels were dispatched to imprison the prince. Many believe that it was the Pazhuvertaraiyars who drowned the prince in the sea. At this time if the people find out that the prince is alive they will rise up in fury. They will demand that the jeweled crown be placed on the prince’s head immediately. The Pazhuvertaraiyars are also waiting for a reason to fight. Kodumabalur periya Velar is also heading towards Thanjai with a large garrison. Devi! I am afraid that blood is going to flow in Chola Nadu. I fear that this great country will be destroyed by sibling rivalry. I am praying day and night to Sri Ranganathar that nothing like that happens.”

“My prayer is the same, Sir! I have abandoned the desire that my brothers ascend to the throne. As far as I am concerned I have no objections for crowning Mathuranthakar.”

“You have no objections! But the people do! The emperor ought to live for many years. But as fate would have it, if something happens to him, that very day this Chola Nadu will turn into a bloody battlefield …”

“Sir! I am more terrified than ever before that such misfortune is just around the corner. Last night the emperor’s condition was extremely troubling. That is why I had to tell him that Ponniyin Selvan was safe. But, he did not believe! He thought that I was merely trying to pacify him. He babbles incoherently about the ghost of the vengeful woman who died years ago, seeking revenge on his sons …”

“Oh, my God! What a disaster! Please tell me what happened yesterday!”

“That is why I am here, Sir! I am here for your advice. Earlier when I came for the opening of the Sundara Chola medical center, the emperor told me the old history. When he took refuge in the island next to Eezhanadu, he said that a fisherman’s daughter saved him from being attacked by a bear. After that he said that he lived a fantasy life with that woman for a few months in that island. Then he was brought back to Thanajai. He said that he saw the fisherman’s daughter in the crowd gathered at the palace grounds; that he sent you to find her, and that you returned with the news that she had drowned in the sea. Ever since then he said that girl’s ghost has been tormenting him in his dreams and that in recent days her appearance has become increasingly more frequent …”

“Devi! Did you believe all of that?”

“Because father’s story was so out of this world I was very disturbed. Being troubled by a dead woman’s ghost I thought was the result of a troubled mind. But then I had other doubts. One day Vanathi heard the emperor scream. Seeing a figure resembling Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani standing in front of the emperor, she fainted. Ever since then I had a suspicion that there was some connection between that fisherman’s daughter and Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. That was confirmed by what Vallavaraiyar and Arulmozhi told me. Sir! Can Nandhini Devi be that woman’s daughter?”

“I can only make guesses, just like you. Madam! If we look at the resemblance it does seem likely. But can one decide based on that alone? Nandhini Devi can also be the fisherman’s daughter’s younger sister. There are only three people who know the answers …”

“Who are they, Swami?”

“One is the elder stateswoman, Chempian Madevi. She harbors a painful secret in her heart. But unless she speaks about it, we cannot question her. I know when the great Kandarathitha Thevar was dying the elder stateswoman shared it with him. Kandarathithar was about to tell me. Before he could get two words out his breathing stopped …”

“Who are the other two, Sir?”

“The other two are mute, they cannot speak. They are Senthan Amuthan’s mother and aunt. We cannot find anything from Amuthan’s mother. She is devoted to Chempian Madevi. As long as that great lady is alive Amuthan’s mother will not tell us anything. That is why I have been trying so hard to bring her elder sister Manthahini from Eezhanadu …”

“Aha! That fisherman’s daughter’s name is Manthahini? When did you come to know that she was alive?”

“Devi! I have known it for over twenty five years.”

“What? What? You have known it for twenty five years and yet you didn’t tell my father? Sir! Don’t you know that my father’s mental agony stems from his belief that she had died?”

“I know, Madam! I know.”

“Knowing it, you didn’t tell him the truth?”

Aniruthar sighed. His face showed the battle going on in his mind. He said:

“Devi! I committed a crime twenty five years ago. You are the first person to hear about it. Your father sent me to find the fisherman’s daughter, didn’t he? We sped on horses. We reached Kodikarai. We found out then that she had jumped from the top of the lighthouse into the turbulent sea below. Those who saw the nightmarish scene with their own eyes told us. A shaken Thiyagavidankar himself told me, stumbling and stuttering. That is what I came and repeated to my friend in Thanjavur …”

“What is your crime in this, Sir?”

“This is the crime. The fisherman’s daughter fell into the sea, but did not die. A fisherman who rowed past in that turbulent sea saw her and saved her. He brought her to shore farther away from Kodikarai. On my way back, I saw their boat. I found out who the woman was in the boat. I gave the boatman a lot of money and asked him to take her safely to Ilankai and to remain in Ilankai. He agreed. I returned to Thanjai and gave the news that the fisherman’s daughter had drowned in the sea. I knowingly committed this crime thinking that I was doing the best for your father. I never expected that crime to create such a horrendous result after this many years …”

Junior stateswoman Kundavai interrupted. “Sir! Even if it was a mistake, you did it because you believed it to be in the best interest of my father. After that, did you ever hear about the fisherman’s daughter?” She asked.

“Why? Every so often I did. Once he was crowned as prince, Sundara Cholar went to the Madurai battlefront. I went on a pilgrimage to Kasi. I stayed there a few years studying theology and philosophy. When I returned I saw in Pazhiyarai, Eesana Pattar‘s father chatting with the fisherman’s daughter. He told me an incredible story. He said that the fisherman’s daughter had stayed for a few days at the elder stateswoman’s palace garden, and that she had run away after giving birth to twins there, leaving the babies behind. He said that when she thought of her infants she would sometimes return surreptitiously to see the children. I asked what happened to the children. He said that it was a secret only known to Chempian Madevi. I let it go thinking that it was best not to pry. Devi! Doesn’t everyone say that when Arulmozhi fell into river Kaveri when he was small, Mother Kaveri saved him? Even at that time I thought that it was the fisherman’s daughter who actually saved him …”

“You thought correctly, Sir! After seeing the great lady in Eezhanadu that is what Arulmozhi said. But please listen to this twist! Do you know what my father thinks? He thinks that it is the fisherman’s daughter who died in the sea who has returned as a ghost seeking revenge on his people. Last night when the storm wreaked havoc outside, my father’s inner storm also reached a new height; he did not let me sleep also. He repeated all the old stories. ‘That vengeful woman who fell into the sea is the one seeking revenge now. She is the one who had drowned my Arulmozhi in the sea and killed him! She will seek her revenge on Karikalan also!’ He kept wailing. ‘Won’t you take me when at least one of my sons remains alive, Yama!’ He cried. However much I tried to console him he would not listen. That is why I had to tell him about Arulmozhi being safe at Nagaipattinam Buddhist monastery …”

“Did the emperor calm down after that?”

“No; after that his mental agitation increased! At first he did not believe it. When I told him that I had actually gone to see him, he believed. He asked why I didn’t bring him with me. After the chills and fever he was not strong enough to travel, I said, adding that I will make arrangements to bring him soon. But I also hinted at the trouble that may arise in the country if he were to come now. When he heard that his agitation took a different turn. ‘It is this kingdom that has become my children’s yaman. If we deem that they are not entitled to the throne, then my sons will be alive and well. That is why I am in a hurry to bring them here!’ He said. Suddenly another fear took hold of his mind. Because of the fierce storm and wind last night the palace was really rattled. Once following an onslaught of thunder my father lost his mind. ‘My Daughter! I am not going to see Arulmozhi again. I know very well about the storm winds and cyclones that originate in the eastern sea. The tides will rise up to the height of coconut trees during this storm. Sea water will flood inland for long stretches drowning out the places. Like the Kaveripattinam that went under water once, Nagaipattinam will also be taken. Particularly the Buddhist monastery, that is in between the canal and the coast will not survive. That vengeful fisherman’s daughter could not take my son at sea. So she is going to kill him on the shore! I am going now to stop her and save my son,’ crying he tried to stand up. Stumbling he fell on the bed again. Sir! Even the mountain and the rock would melt if it had heard the voice of my father sobbing and crying then,” said the junior stateswoman.

Tears streamed down from her eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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