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Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (42 – 46)

January 14, 2017

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

42. ‘She is not a Woman’

Prince Karikalan remained thoughtful for a while. Wave after wave of old memories crashed in his mind giving way to new threads of thought each one unsettling him in a different way before disappearing. Resolutely putting an end to the clash of memories Karikalan sighed.

“Let’s not talk about the past now. Let’s talk about what has to be done. That is why I brought you here alone. We have lost the bet. The hog is gone. Let’s decide what to do now, and how to go about it. Vallavaraiya! I feel afraid when I think of speaking to Nandhini about our relationship. I cannot even look her in the face. Even at times when I accidentally glance, she presents only the face that begged me for Veera Pandyan’s life. Her gaze rips through my heart like a sword. My heart breaks when I think that my sister fell in love with Veera Pandyan and begged me for his life. Vallavaraiya! What do you think? Do you think that she is still unaware of the truth? Do you think she still does not know that she is our sister, Sundara Cholar’s daughter?”

“Crown Prince! If she is aware, would she have joined the Pandya Nadu saboteurs? Would she have, against the Chola empire, placed a little child on the throne and crowned him as the king of Pandya Nadu and emperor of the Chola empire? Would she have sworn with sword in hand that she would live to validate this ceremony? I saw with my own eyes at Thirupurampayam pallipadai at midnight …”

“After what you have witnessed, it is a wonder that Nandhini left you alive.”

“Sir! I am not surprised; it is natural that a woman is merciful!”

“Vallavaraiya! You don’t know the world. You don’t know anything about a woman’s deceitfulness and hypocrisy. I don’t know with what motive she has left you alive. But I know in my heart why she has sent an invitation and brought me here.”

“Prince! What is the reason?”

“She has brought me to kill me and avenge Veera Pandyan’s death …”

“Sir! It is in anticipation of such calamity that the junior stateswoman and the chief minister have dispatched me here urgently. But you didn’t listen to their plea not to go to Kadampoor palace …”

“Vallavaraiya! The junior stateswoman and the chief minister are well informed. But even they cannot stand in the way of fate! Perhaps fate has brought me here only to facilitate all what the astrologers have said about Arulmozhivarman, who knows? Vallavaraiya! Kanthamaran shot his arrow from behind me. Did he really aim at the bear? Or, at me? Did you notice?”

“I did not notice, Sir! But I will never agree that Kanthamaran is capable of such callousness. Would Kanthamaran kill from behind with an arrow, a guest – the emperor’s son? It is true that I don’t think highly of his intellect. I carried him and saved him when he was lying unconscious stabbed in the back. Because he saw me when he opened his eyes, he assumed that I stabbed him. His animosity from that incident has not gone. But even though he is short on wit, he is not evil minded! …”

“Friend! I do know what a deadly weapon a woman’s beauty can be. It can make any good man to turn against …”

“Sir! I also know a little about the power of beauty. But it can never make me …”

“Aha! Manimekalai is a good girl, she will not prod you to betray anyone …”

“I did not mean Manimekalai; to the eyes that have seen the full moon, would the firefly seem attractive?”

“Full moon? Whom are you referring to?”

“Prince! Do not be angry; I am referring to Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman …”

“Aday! Loudmouth! All the kings of the world are lying in wait for Kundavai’s hand. Even in your mind, can you entertain such a notion about this sister of mine?”

“Sir! The beauty of the full moon is for the earth’s emperors to experience; the poor and the destitute also delight in the moon’s cooling light. Who can prevent them?”

“Yes; there is no use being angry at you. I knowingly sent you with the letter to my sister. You also conducted yourself in a manner that satisfied her. But please don’t say this to Parthipenthiran! He is dreaming about becoming the Chola tribe son-in-law and Thoandai Nadu king …”

“Sir! That may have been true not very long ago. Now, both Kanthamaran and Parthipenthiran are ready to carry on their heads what Nandhini dictates with her foot …”

“I have been observing that; that is why they worry me.”

“All things considered, it seems that it is important that you meet Ilaiyarani soon and tell her the truth.”

“Friend! I doubt that I will have the courage. Instead of me, what about you telling her?”

“Prince! If I do, Ilaiyarani is not going to believe. Once I deceived her and got away. Therefore, she will think that this is also another trick.”

“But how will I meet Nandhini alone? She is in the anthapuram!”

“Sir! That will be possible through Manimekalai. I will arrange it …”

“It looks as if you have Manimekalai in your palm. Good job! Whatever else happens, if I can wed Manimekalai to you, my mind will have some peace.”

“Sir! I consider Manimekalai to be my sister. I am hoping that she will be ten times more fortunate …”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see, Prince! I am guessing that young Manimekalai has taken over the heart of the crown prince of Chola empire. I made some remarks about Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter a while ago. I did that to let you know what was in my heart. Other than the junior stateswoman no other woman can approach Manimekalai in integrity and intellect. If you marry Manimekalai all our troubles will be over. Sambuvaraiyar and Kanthamaran will be on our side. Pazhuvertaraiyars will be left alone. Ilaiyarani’s power will also diminish. After that Mathuranthaka Thevar will not even raise the subject of the kingdom. We can beat both the petty kings’ perfidy and the Pandya Nadu saboteurs’ quest for vengeance in one stroke …”

“This is all very brilliant, Brother! But I did not come to Kadampoor for marriage. A grave danger is closing in. Let me tell you, listen! When Pazhuvertaraiyar returns with Mathuranthakan he will be accompanied by a large garrison …”

“Sir! In that case why don’t we send word to Thirukovalur Malaiamman, and ask him to come with his troops? It is always good to be prepared!”

“I am considering that option. Do you know what I am tempted with at times? I want to raze to the ground this Kadampoor palace; at the entrance to the palace hang all those who congregated here to engage in perfidy. I am controlling my temper for the sake of my father. If only you had brought him to Kanji …”

“Prince! It was a Brahmaisque effort to deliver your letter!”

“Yes; the emperor has got himself trapped by these Pazhuvertaraiyars. Bats inhabit the golden palace I built for my parents in the great city of Kanji. I don’t know if I will have the privilege of welcoming them to the palace during my lifetime. I am even doubting if I will leave Kadampoor alive …”

“Prince! The longer you continue in this vain the more important it seems to ask Malaiamman to come with his troops …”

“I am thinking of sending you on that mission …”

“Sir! You must forgive me! Your elder sister has ordered me not to leave your side even for a second …”

“You have so far carried it out well.”

“Parthipenthira Pallavar is idling here. He is bored …”

“Yes; each second that he spends away from Ilaiyarani seems like an eon to him. I never thought that Parthipenthiran would be so captivated by a woman’s beauty. He is the one who ought to be sent to Malaiamman.”

“Good idea, Sir!”

“When he is away if I run into any danger you are here to help me …”

“Prince! Regardless of who is here, I don’t think that there is anyone in this world who has the audacity to harm you. I saw with my own eyes, the old warriors who were loquacious in your absence shaking and stuttering when they saw you!”

“Brother! I am not afraid of any man who will duel with me sword in hand. I am also not afraid of backstabbers like Kanthamaran who can shoot an arrow from behind …”

“Again, you are going down that path about Kanthamaran …”

“Listen, young man! I fear the hypocrisy that resides deep within a woman’s heart. My heart shudders whenever I think of what she may be harboring in her mind. Each enigmatic glance of hers is a spear going through my chest. As soon as I sense it my legs and hands give away.”

“Sir! I agree that you must heed Nandhini Devi’s hypocrisy. I have felt the extent of the deadly hatred that resides in her heart. I am afraid when I think of how she let me go free, if there is a hidden motive behind it. But this is because she is in the dark! Once you tell her that you are her brother there will be nothing to worry about!”

“You think so? Vallavaraiya! You are smart. But you are an innocent child who does not know the nature of women. If Nandhini finds out that she is Sundara Cholar’s daughter the enmity she feels towards me will increase a hundred fold. Even if she is offered the title of Thanjai empress her anger won’t go down …”

“Prince! If you feel that way, then give me the responsibility. I will tell Nandhini the truth. I will try to calm her anger …”

“You won’t be able to, Friend! No one can put a lid on Nandhini’s anger. Listen to what I am saying! If our Chola tribe has to be saved then either I must die; or she must die; or we both must die. I will kill her with the same sword that killed Veera Pandyan …”

“Prince! What kind of dangerous rhetoric is this?”

“Vallavaraiya! Is it wrong to take one life out in order to save an empire? So what, that she is a woman? So what, that she is my sister? Actually she is not a woman; she is a devil in the guise of a bewitchingly beautiful woman! If we leave her alive this Chola empire that has spread since the time of Vijayalaya Cholar will break apart … Aha! What is that?” Athitha Karikalan turned around, his question voicing fear.

They heard a commotion nearby in the forest. Both nudged their horses towards the sound. An extraordinary sight presented itself. A wild boar and a cheetah were engaged in a brutal fight.

“Aha! The fellow we came looking for is here!” Karikalan said.

“It looks as if the cheetah has taken over our job,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You think so? Keep watching,” said Karikalan.

With wide open eyes both watched the gory battle between the cheetah and the hog. The cheetah tried to jump on the swine and attack it with its nails and teeth. But the wild boar’s thick integument will not give in to the tiger’s nails and teeth. When the hog rammed into the cheetah and forced it to the ground against the roots of the tree, the cheetah was badly hurt. The swine’s teeth tore the cheetah’s skin into pieces. When one last time the hog rammed into the cheetah and pushed it down it lay still as if dead.

“Young brother! The cheetah is dead! The pig will now turn on us! We must be ready for it!” Karikalan released an arrow from his bow.

The arrow struck the hog on its neck. The hog shook its neck and turned. It saw the two horses and the horsemen on top. It turned to look at the cheetah. Perhaps it decided that the cheetah was no longer a threat! It leaped toward the horses in a brutal frenzy. Before Kariakaln could release another arrow from his bow it attacked his horse. From the force of the attack the horse stepped backwards. As its hind legs butted against the root of a tree it stumbled and fell. Karikalan became trapped underneath the horse.

The hog took a step back. Then, gathering speed it leaped again on the horse that was now lying on the ground.

43. ‘Where is the Tiger?’

Vandhiyathevan saw Athitha Karikalan’s predicament. At the blink of an eye he rode his horse to the pig and plunged his spear into the beast. The spear merely pricked the pig’s exterior. The animal shook itself and turned.

The motion wrenched the spear away from Vandhiyathevan’s hand. Having only been loosely attached to the pig’s back, the spear fell to the ground.

Now the pig came running toward Vandhiyathevan. He realized the danger he was in. His horse won’t be able to withstand the pig’s attack. He no longer had the spear. The prince was still trying to get up from under the horse. To save his skin his only option was to reach upwards from the horse and grab one of the branches of the tree. Cheechee! After living through so many dangers, in the end does one have to be killed by a wild boar? …

Fortunately, within reach was a tree with branches running low. Vandhiyathevan leaped from the horse and grabbed one of the branches. Crunching his shoulders he pulled his legs upwards with all his strength to hoist himself over on to the branch. The pig rammed into the horse. The horse stumbled, but avoiding a fall it ran away.

Karikalan was still lying under his horse. Vandhiyathevan was up on the branch. The wild boar stood between the two men and looked from one to the other.

Vandhiyathevan saw that the boar was wondering whom to attack. The prince was yet to free himself from under the horse. Even if he did it was doubtful that he could withstand the pig’s attack at that time. He had no weapon in his hand that he could swing effortlessly. The bow must be mounted. He may also be badly wounded from the fall. Whatever the outcome it was important to buy the prince some time. His mind working at the speed of light Vandhiyathevan came to a decision. Violently shaking the branch that he was on he shouted, “Aha! Ohoo!”

His trick worked. The pig came leaping at his tree in a ruthless frenzy.

Just as Vandhiyathevan was thinking, ‘Let it come, let it come. Come and hurl itself against the tree,’ the branch he was on broke. God! What now? … If he lands on the ground with the branch? Next minute the pig’s ghastly teeth will tear him into pieces. He must grab on to another branch to survive. He tried to do that. He reached for another branch with one hand. The branch was too thin. It bent and gave way. His hold began to slip, his legs were dangling! Alright! He will fall down; death awaited! No doubt. Whatever! He was able to save Athitha Karikalan one last time! Thanjavur stateswoman will be happy when she hears about it! She will shed some tears over his death! …

Right then there arose a terrifying noise; at the same time he lost his grip! Vandhiyathevan closed his eyes tightly. ‘thadal’ – he fell down; as he fell he became unconscious.

When Vandhiyathevan came to his senses and opened his eyes he saw Athitha Karikalar sprinkling water on his face. He bolted upright and said, “Prince! You survived?”

“Yes; with your help I am still alive,” said Athitha Karikalar.

“What happened to the wild boar,” he asked.

“There!” The prince pointed to the spot where the wild boar lay dead.

After staring at it for a few seconds Vandhiyathevan asked, “What a nightmare this small animal put us through! All what Kanthamaran said about the wild boar turned out to be true. How did you finally kill it?”

“I did not. It was you and your spear together who killed it,” said the prince.

Confused, Vandhiyathevan looked at the prince. “You have made good use of my spear! But I didn’t do anything! I failed at the crucial moment,” he said.

“When you were shaking the tree and shouting, I freed myself from under the horse and took your spear. All the anger that was frothing in my heart, I leashed it on this pig. When the spear went in, it let out a terrifying roar. But it did not die by the spear alone. You slipped from the tree and fell on top of it; it died from that shock!” Karikalar laughed recalling the moment. Vandhiyathevan also laughed. He felt his body around. “I didn’t get hurt probably because I fell on top of the pig. Now I can believe that Mahavishnu indeed incarnated as a pig and killed Iraniyatshan.  Appa! What a ruthless creature,” he said.

“Don’t compare varaha avatharam to this small wild boar, young brother! In the north in the jungles of Vinthya mountain I hear that there is a one-horned pig. It is almost as big as an elephant I hear. Just imagine that pig being here and butting into that tree that you were on,” said the prince.

“The tree would have come down with its roots. The spear you threw also would have broken, ending our story right here. The enemies of the Chola tribe would have been spared some work,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Young man! Tell the truth! When my horse fell down you threw the spear. Did you aim at the wild boar? Or did you take aim at me,” asked Athitha Karikalar.

Angrily Vandhiyathevan said, “Are really questioning me? If there was any doubt, why kill the pig? Save me?”

“Yes, yes! I should not doubt you. If you did not shake the branch and shout, that pig would have been my Yaman. Yet, when you threw that spear I did question, for a moment. Nowadays I have doubts about anything and everyone. I cannot rid myself of the notion that Yaman is following me. I thought that Yaman had arrived in the form of this pig to kill me …”

“In that case, well and good. King! The Yaman who followed you is dead and gone; we have no more worries. We have also won the bet with Kanthamaran. Let’s drag the pig and head back. Shall we,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“Yes; we should! But what is the hurry? Let’s rest here for a while before going,” said the prince.

“This is the first time I have heard you say that you are tired. Yes, that was rough, getting caught under that horse.”

“That was nothing; more than physical fatigue it is mental fatigue that is pulling me down. Must we go back the same way through the forest? We will have to join those fools and suffer their company. Why don’t we cross the lake?”

“God! This lake is like an ocean. You want to cross this? After saving me from the pig, you want to drown me in the lake,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I remember that you cannot swim. Even I cannot swim across this big lake. If we have a boat it will be easier. We did see a boat here, it’s probably somewhere along the riverbank. Why don’t we look for it?”

“What about the horses? We leave them to be eaten by the beasts of the wilderness,” asked Vandhiyathevan.

Then he jumped up as if recalling something. “Sir! Where is the tiger,” he asked.

“I too forgot the tiger. It’s going to be hiding somewhere in the vicinity. Yaman can follow me, if not as a pig, then as a tiger – can’t he,” said the prince.

Both began to look around. After a while Vandhiyathevan pointed, “Look!”

The creek that was draining into the lake gradually narrowed as it headed north. In that narrow section a fallen tree was bridging both sides of the creek. Both men had the same thought.

“Aha! Those women who came in the boat!” Both exclaimed as one voice.

“Those women must have gotten out on the island by the creek,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“A wounded tiger is very dangerous,” said the prince.

“We will have to kill the tiger and take it also with the pig.”

“How do we cross this creek? The horses cannot go on that tree-bridge!”

“Water is low; let’s get into the water.”

Karikalar’s horse had by then stood up and was standing beside Vandhiyathevan’s horse. Perhaps like their masters they were also discussing the terror that visited them only moments ago. Both men leaped on to their horses; they guided the horses into the water. The water was not deep. But mud and slush was plenty. Mired in it the horses struggled to make their way across.

‘This mud is nothing,’ Vandhiyathevan found solace by comparing it to Kodikarai’s quicksand. He began to describe it to Karikalar.

“Friend! You speak about the mud on the ground. What do you think of the mud in people’s minds? Do you know how hard it is for someone who had stepped into the mud of deception to get back on shore again?” Karikalar asked. Vandhiyathevan was convinced that the prince’s mind was as boggy as the mud they were traversing.

With much effort the horses reached the other side. Looking around them carefully both men entered the forest with caution. Bow and arrow were ready in Karikalar’s hands. Vandhiyathevan also had his spear ready to throw at the tiger. Suddenly rising over the mundane sounds of the wilderness a woman’s cry – ‘kreech’ – was heard. “Ammah! Ammah! Tiger,” she wailed.

At the same time that Manimekalai saw the cheetah on the branch one of the companions cooking in the gazebo also saw the animal and cried out. The cry fell in the ears of the two friends making their hair stand on its ends. Urging their horses they sped in the direction of the sound. When they took the turn around the bend on the riverbank they were startled by what they saw.

When Nandhini and Manimekalai were going down the steps to take a bath in the lake, the cheetah was crawling slowly up on a branch. After being severely wounded following the fight with the pig all what the cheetah wanted was to save its life. But no one other than that tiger knew this. Karikalar and Vandhiyathevan imagined that the cheetah was about to jump on the women in the water.

Vandhiyathevan was reluctant to use the spear. He worried about the spear accidentally striking the women. Karikalan had no such qualms. On the bow that was ready he placed the arrow and pulled it. The arrow took flight striking the cheetah on its abdomen. With a terrifying roar the cheetah jumped on the women. What followed was utter confusion. The cheetah and the women completely disappeared. Within seconds the three heads rose above the water in three different places. Mingling with the blood the lake water turned red.

44. Love and Revenge

The two friends were watching with trepidation. They jumped from their horses and ran to the lake. In the meantime the cheetah had moved a little away in the water! From the way it was floating it appeared to be lifeless. It was not at all apparent how much the two women were hurt by the tiger. Both men jumped into the water and headed toward the women.

Because he was afraid of going near Nandhini, Vandhiyathevan went towards Manimekalai. Other than gasping for breath after falling suddenly into the water Manimekalai was alright. She was not hurt! Feeling immensely happy at the sight of Vandhiyathevan approaching her, she closed her eyes tightly.

She did not see Karikalan putting his hand out to stop Vandhiyathevan and directing him towards Nandhini. Until Karikalan gathered her up in his arms and carried her up the steps and laid her on the ground she did not open her eyes. Only when Karikalan placed his finger under her nostrils to check her breathing she slowly opened her eyes full of love and anticipation wanting to let Vandhiyathevan know of her boundless love for him. When she saw Karikalar she swiftly sat up and moved away.

Seeing the disappointment on her face Karikalan laughed out loud.

“Manimekalai! What is this aversion? Why move so swiftly away at the sight of me,” he said.

“Sir! Won’t a woman be embarrassed being touched by a stranger,” said Manimekalai.

“Girl! You have made me a stranger? There is a unified effort at getting the two of us married!” Karikalan said.

“Swami! We can be familiar only after that effort succeeds! Until then you are a stranger,” said Manimekalai.

“But you can say if you consent for the arrangement?”

Kadampoor princess thought for a while. “Sir! You are the beacon of the Chola tribe; the wise king who knows everything. Should you be speaking in this manner to a little girl like me? Shouldn’t you speak to my father,” she said.

“Girl! If your father agrees, will you?”

“Once my father agrees and when he asks me I will answer. I am so mortified to be discussing this with you. You saved me from the tiger and from drowning. Because I am grateful for that I am being patient …”

Karikalan laughed. He said, “Manimekalai! You are a very smart young woman. Yet, you were deceived. But you should not try to deceive me because of it!”

“Sir! What is this talk? This ignorant girl will deceive you? Why? How?”

“Why are we beating around the bush? Would you speak so harshly if instead of me Vandhiyathevan had carried you ashore? Didn’t you close your eyes thinking that it was Vandhiyathevan? And then opened them wide with the same notion? Poor girl! You got cheated,” said Karikalan.

Manimekalai was embarrassed. She was also afraid. But drawing on her courage she said, “King! You do know my heart! And yet, why are you testing this foolish girl?”

“Manimekalai! I know your heart. In the same way I also know Vallavaraiyan’s heart. He does not deserve your innocent love. Look over there! The way Ilaiyarani Nandhini and Vandhiyathevan are talking, look how happy Nandhini is,” he said.

Manimekalai looked in the direction that he pointed. The poison of jealousy seized that moment to invade her childishly innocent heart.

***

Blood was oozing from Nandhini’s shoulder where the tiger’s nail had scratched her. She did not close her eyes like Manimekalai. She was in no hurry to move out of Vandhiyathevan’s hands also. Vandhiyathevan on the other hand lowered her hastily on the ground as if he had picked up a ball of fire. Even though she was soaking wet, Nandhini’s body was actually burning.

An unfamiliar angst seized Vandhiyathevan’s heart. His body trembled. Smiling Nandhini said, “Sir! Why all the agitation? Did you mistake me for the tiger? Or are you feeling sorry for bringing me ashore instead of the tiger?”

“Madam! Please do not say such harsh words. I am a little overwhelmed by the circumstances that forced me to carry you ashore …”

“Guilty conscience! No wonder it is pricking!”

“Devi! I am not guilty of anything!”

“You are not guilty? You sought my help to enter Thanjai fort. I helped you by lending you my signature ring. Then you broke into my anthpuram. Again I saved you from harm. How did you repay me for that? You ran away like a thief without saying goodbye. You said that you would return after seeing Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman. You did not keep your word. Don’t you feel guilty?”

“I acknowledge my mistakes. But each one has a reason. I am in the service of others. I am bound by Athitha Karikalar’s authority. If you think about it you will stop blaming me …”

“Yes; even to save a woman from the mouth of a tiger you will need Karikalar’s authority. Even to bring a drowning woman to shore you will need his permission. I was watching. Adada! How excited the prince was about saving Manimekalai! He would have been happy if I had drowned in the water. Without knowing his heart you brought me ashore …”

“Madam! Please don’t say that. Karikalar has come all the way from Kanji because you wrote to him …”

“But you came here running to prevent him from coming here. You came with the junior stateswoman’s message. But you didn’t succeed. You will fail in the same way each time you try to interfere into my affairs!”

Nandhini’s words added to Vandhiyathevan’s anxiety. He studied her face intently to learn from her expression what her words actually meant. But her face sheathed in its usual smile bared nothing.

Nandhini continued. “Your guilt is written on your face. You were caught on amavasai night near pallipadai. A nod to my men would have been enough; they would have killed you. I saved your life then also. Even for that you have no gratitude. I have never come across such an ungrateful person …”

“Devi! My heart is filled with gratitude for you. I swear.”

“But you have been here for so many days, yet you did not bother to express your gratitude? How can I believe you?”

“I was hoping to express it in private. But I have not had an opportunity …”

“You did not attempt to create an opportunity. Not even a nod, or a glance. Why? You did not turn in my direction even once all these days …”

“Devi! You are the distinguished wife of the treasurer of Chola Nadu …”

“You are making fun that I am married to an old man, aren’t you?”

“Aiyo! If I made fun of you I will land in hell …”

“No, no! Whatever happens, don’t call me Pazhuvertaraiyar’s distinguished wife! In fact I am not his wife …”

“Aiyo! What are you saying?”

“I am stating the truth. If someone abducts a woman by force, does she become his wife?”

“Devi! You came in the age old tradition of Tamil Nadu women. You will not do anything against that tradition!”

“I am aware of the women’s tradition. In the old Tamil Nadu women married whoever they fell in love with. They did not submit themselves into forced marriages!”

“But you …?”

“I know what you are about to say. You want to know how I agreed to a forced marriage with Pazhuvertaraiyar. It was for an important reason that I agreed. Old Tamil Nadu women have another special attribute also. They will seek revenge for injustice done towards them. Sir! You did not help me in my love life. Would you at least help me to get revenge on my enemies?”

As Nandhini’s words descended like thunder over his head and pierced his heart like vajrayutham Vandhiyathevan felt suffocated.

“Devi! Devi! What’s this? … Love? … Revenge? What do I have to do with your love? What does love have to do with revenge?”

“Everything; but there is no time to dwell on it now. The prince and Manimekalai are headed here. If you come tomorrow at midnight to my room, I will tell you …”

“How is that possible, Devi? You are in the anthapuram. How can I come there alone in the night?”

“Didn’t you one day escape from that room without anyone’s knowledge? You can return in the same way …”

Vandhiyathevan’s bewilderment was now complete. On Nandhini’s face there was no change. A smile lingered as always.

45. “You are my Sister”

The prince and Manimekalai walked toward Nandhini and Vandhiyathevan. As he walked, the prince kept his glance focused on Vandhiyathevan.

Once he was with them he looked up at Nandhini. He saw blood oozing from the red scratch marks on her cheeks and shoulder.

“Aiyo! Did that wretched tiger hurt you?” He said.

“Yes, Sir! But the tiger wounded only my body; it didn’t wound my heart!” Nandhini answered.

The words struck Karikalar’s heart like arrows. Before he could respond an agitated Manimekalai rushed to Nandhini’s side. “Yes, Sister! It has left its mark! Fortunately I have anjanam. Come, I’ll take care of it! The sooner it’s applied, the better!” She said.

“Little Sister! Such wounds don’t matter to me. So many of these have healed. Tell me if you have anjanam to treat the wounds of the heart,” she said.

“Oh! There is, Sister! There is that also!” Manimekalai took Nandhini by her hand to the marble hall.

The prince and Vandhiyathevan walked to the rear of the building and sat under a sprawling tree on the polished marble stone.

“Sir! The sooner we leave from here, the better! If we stay too long Kanthamaran and his father may misunderstand!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“Let them misunderstand. Will they take our heads off? As long as these girls don’t misunderstand us … as soon as they come we will say goodbye and leave,” said the prince.

Soon Nandhini and Manimekalai returned after changing their clothes and making themselves presentable. Eyeliner was applied on Nandhini’s cheek and shoulder masking the blood and scratch marks.

“We were waiting to say goodbye,” said Karikalar.

“Really? It is past noon. You must eat with us. If I let you leave now, Sambuvaraiyar’s daughter will never forgive me,” said Pazhuvur Rani.

“We will wait on one condition. Manimekalai has applied medicine to the wounds. She said that she has a cure for the heart also! If she says what that cure is we will wait,” said Karikalar.

“Instead of asking her why don’t we guess what her cure is,” said Nandhini.

“Perhaps she meant the forgetfulness that comes with time,” said Karikalar.

“That cannot be; there are wounds of the heart that aren’t cured by the passage of time,” said Nandhini.

“In the case of women there is a good remedy for troubles of the heart. Tears!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“The prince of Vallam is always on the lookout for a chance to insult women; but he is not right. After certain troubles – even the ability to cry is lost. When that happens how can it serve as a remedy,” asked Nandhini.

“If both of us are wrong, what is your guess?” Vandhiyathevan asked.

“Alright; I will answer. The remedy you had in mind can reach the heart through one’s ears! The remedy you had in mind is music that arises from a lute or fife and a melodious voice!” Nandhini said.

“Yes, Sister? How did you guess?” Manimekalai asked.

“Didn’t I say that I was a magician? I have the ability to know what’s on other people’s minds. Sir! Do you both agree to the extraordinary powers of music?” Nandhini asked.

“Yes, yes! I also acknowledge our mistake for not recognizing it. I remember Kanthamaran saying that Manimekalai is a talented musician and that she plays the lute well,” said Karikalar.

“What a brother! A day does not pass without the Kadampoor prince singing the praise of his sister. What he said about Manimekalai’s musical abilities is true. Manimekalai has even brought her lute. Fortunately, today she does not have the misfortune of having to entertain the musically untrained ears of mine alone. Sir! You saved us foolish women from becoming the tiger’s meal today. Shouldn’t we thank you for that? You must have a meal with us and enjoy Manimekalai’s music before leaving,” insisted Nandhini.

Vandhiyathevan gestured to the prince to decline the invitation. The prince had no eyes for him. “The princesses’ wish is our delight and pleasure,” said Karikalar.

“Manimekalai! Your dream has come true. Go and see if the cooking is over! Or else, tell them to hurry.” Nandhini bade.

Manimekalai at once stood up and left. At the same time Vandhiyathevan also stood up and started looking around.

Noticing it Nandhini said, “Didn’t I say that I possess the magical power to read other people’s minds? I want to put it to the test. Shall I guess what’s on the mind of the prince of Vallam?”

Laughing Karikalar answered, “Alright, let’s see!”

“He is kicking himself for killing the tiger and saving these two women. He thinks that it would have been better if the two of them had ended up in the tiger’s belly!”

Continuing to laugh Karikalar asked, “Pal! Is that what you are thinking?”

“No, Sir! I am not thinking that. But it is true that my thoughts were about them and the tiger. I was marveling as to how the tiger that got caught to them managed to survive,” he said.

“What, young man! You are bluffing! The tiger is alive? Again? The dead animal was floating on the water! Where is it now?”The prince stood up.

“Over there!” Vandhiyathevan pointed.

Within shouting distance from where they were the water’s edge could be seen through the branches of the trees. The boat that the princesses had come in lay there tied up. The cheetah with its front paws on the edge of the boat was trying to climb in.

“Aha! The tiger’s life is very sound,” said Karikalar.

“Sir! Come on, let’s go get it. It’s a mistake to leave a wounded tiger alive,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“Varnar tribe Warrior! Why should two warriors struggle with a wounded tiger? I will call Manimekalai. She will take the tiger down with her little knife,” said Nandhini.

“See, Friend! Pazhuvur Rani holds that much of esteem for our valor. Do you need me? Can you do this by yourself?”

“Or shall we send Manimekalai?”

“We can send Manimekalai. But what will we do if that girl starts applying eyeliner on the wounded tiger also?”Vandhiyathevan mumbled.

“What are you thinking?” The prince asked.

“I am wondering if I should chop the tiger’s head and lay it down at the Pazhuvur queen’s feet. Let’s see if that will make her happy.” Vandhiyathevan walked brusquely away from there.

“Did you hear what that foolish fellow said? Is valor required for chopping off the head of a fallen tiger?” Karikalar’s laughter ceased abruptly when he caught sight of Nandhini’s face.

“Perhaps the question is best answered by you,” said Nandhini.

Karikalar trembled. His voice breaking he said, “Nandhini! You sent a letter through Kanthamaran. That is why I am here. If not I will not be.”

“At least now you respected my request. Thank you very much,” said Nandhini.

“I thought that you have forgotten the past. I thought that is why you sent the letter …”

“Is the past forgettable, Sir? Have you forgotten everything? …”

“No, it cannot be forgotten. I am also unable to! You begged me with tears in your eyes. I did not listen. I was caught up in the frenzy of the war at that time. I have not forgotten any of that. It is true. But why did you send the letter? Why did you bring me here?” The prince asked.

“Sir! For three years you have not visited Thanjavur. You have not come to see your ailing father …”

“He is not father to me alone, Nandhini! …”

“Yes, he is father to the junior stateswoman also! He is father to Ponniyin Selvar also. Yet your absence is your father’s biggest grievance. Someone had told the emperor that I am the reason for your absence. Because of it he does not even look at me. Sir! Isn’t the harm you have done enough? Do I have to shoulder this blame also? …”

“But it is true. You are the reason I have not been to Thanjai …”

“In that case I will go away. You come to Thanjai, accept your father’s throne and the jeweled crown …”

“Nandhini! That will never happen. I have no desire for the throne. Let Mathuranthaka Thevar be on the throne with the jeweled crown and rule the kingdom …”

“Sir! You know Mathuranthakar well. Can he rule this big empire even for a day?”

“If he cannot, the Pazhuvertaraiyars are there to help him; you are there …”

“Sir! I see what you want now. I will go away from Thanjai, from the Pazhuvur palace … You come to Thanjai …”

“No, no! You are mistaken! That is not what I want. The harm I have done to you is more than enough. I don’t have to bear the guilt of chasing you away from Pazhuvur palace also …”

“Sir! Can’t we both be in Thanjai? Isn’t there room for both of us in that big city? We don’t even have to see each other!”

“We may not have to see each other. But can we stop our minds from thinking? You said it just now! That we cannot forget the past. You talked about the wound in your heart. My heart is also wounded. I cannot also forget.”

“You may not forget; but can’t you forgive? Even after all this time you cannot forgive me for my mistakes?”

“Nandhini! You did not do anything that needs my forgiveness. I am the one who is guilty; I am the one who has to ask your forgiveness. I left Kanji with the intention of asking for your forgiveness. But what I heard on the way has made me unfit to even ask for your forgiveness.”

“Crown Prince! It is not at all proper for you to ask my forgiveness. You are the beloved son of the emperor. I am an orphan abandoned by both mother and father …”

“No, Nandhini! You are not an orphan …”

“Even though Treasurer Pazhuvertaraiyar has graciously accepted me as his Ilaiyarani …”

“Not only that, Nandhini! I am wondering how to tell you the truth …”

“You can say anything to this foolish woman. Even strangers are daring to dally with me. They want to provoke me and insult me …”

“Nandhini! Hereafter, I will not tolerate that kind of behavior from anyone. You only have to say the word. I will send the fellow to yamanulagam without a second thought …”

“You have always been kind to me. You have even defended me to Pazhaiyarai junior stateswoman. She is your sister …”

“Nandhini! You are also my sister! Just like the junior stateswoman you are my sister also; I am your brother!”

“Crown Prince! Ever since I married someone else you have been treating me like a sister. It is fitting of your tribe’s glory. But how can I consider the beloved son of the emperor, the one who was born to rule the three worlds, my brother …?”

“You have not understood what I said. Nandhini! You are really my sister; you are the beloved daughter of the emperor who reigns over the three worlds …!”

When she heard this Nandhini laughed out loud.

“I don’t know if you are being delusional, or if I am the insane one!” She replied.

“This is no delusion! This is not insanity!”

“So you are teasing this foolish woman!”

“Look at me, Nandhini, and tell me! Do I really look like I am teasing you?”

“Sir! You look at my face and tell me! Do I look like the emperor’s beloved daughter? Is my face glowing with the royal charisma?”

“Nandhini! I have seen your face since you were a five year old. I have marveled at the incomparable beauty that radiates from your face. Now I understand where it arises from. I found out midway after I left Kanji. It is known all over the world that no one is as beautiful as Vaithumbarajan’s daughter Kalyani among those wed into the Chola tribe. She is my grandmother; she is still alive in Pazhaiyarai. Even at seventy years of age her divine beauty can blind one’s eyes. All that beauty has taken sanctuary in you. It is not with me, not with the junior stateswoman; not even with Arulmozhi. From my father it has come to you …”

“Sir! What are you saying? There is trouble with my mind. Or the defect must be in my ears …”

“No, Nandhini,! No! There is nothing wrong with your mind or your ears; you are my father’s daughter; that makes you my sister. Before the emperor married my mother he fell in love with a great lady from one of the islands of Eezhanadu. He secretly married her. You are her daughter, therefore, my sister!” Karikalar said in a voice heavy with emotion.

Seemingly in great shock, Nandhini stared at Athitha Karikalar’s face. Then her face cleared. “Sir! Is this the news that you heard after leaving Kanji?” She asked.

“Yes, Nandhini! It explained so much that had been a puzzle to me.”

“Crown Prince? Who brought this news? The prince of Vallam?”

“He is the one! The junior stateswoman Kundavai sent him with this news!”

“Aha! From the old days they have perfidiously plotted to keep us apart. Their tricks are still continuing.”

“You are mistaken, Nandhini! There is no perfidy in this. I never understood the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi’s motives for trying to separate us in our young days. I was very angry about it. Only now I understand what sort of calamity she saved us from. But she could have revealed the truth at that time. Because of it they did you a great injustice; they did harm to me also. Let bygones be bygones. Let’s forget the past, even if we cannot forget, let’s forgive …”

“Sir! Is this the only tale that the prince of Vallam told you on the way here? Was there anything else?” Nandhini asked.

“Why do you call this a tale, Nandhini? Don’t you believe it,” said Athitha Karikalar.

“Is it so easy to believe? Could I have ended up this way if I was the emperor’s daughter? Could I have been dealt such a cruel and unhappy life? Alright, let’s assume that it is true. Is this all that Vandhiyathevan said? Did he say anything else?”

After slight hesitation Karikalar said, “Yes, there was something else. He said that you have joined the Pandya Nadu saboteurs. He said that you are determined to wipe out the Chola tribe; that you worship a sword that bears the fish emblem. He also said that you crowned a small boy near the pallipadai at Kollidam shore jungle. Nandhini! Forget all of that! Just like me you have a right to the Chola tribe’s glory. You are emperor Sundara Cholar’s daughter, our beloved sister. My first obligation from now on is to seek retribution for all the injustice done to you …”

“Sir! You believe all of this, don’t you? Then why did you wait so many days after coming to Kadampoor? Why didn’t you try to tell me before?”

“My mind was tortured. I needed time to accept this new relationship of ours. I was also waiting for a good opportunity when I could explain everything in detail. This is not news that I can discuss in front of others! Fortunately, a wild boar and a cheetah gave me that opportunity today …”

Nandhini interrupted. “Sir! The beasts of the wilderness are indeed dangerous! But they cannot do harm as much as humans. Only today I found that out,” she said.

“Sister! You said just now that it is not possible to forget the past. I also agreed. I asked for forgiveness for what is unforgettable. You did not answer.”

“Crown Prince! Perhaps I will forgive all the harm you have done before. But I can never forget what you did today; or forgive …”

“Aiyo! What did I do today? I am not aware of any wrong that I did today?”

“I will tell you. There, he comes. Take a look at that villain!”

“You mean Vallavaraiyan?”

“Yes; the one who is coming empty handed without the tiger’s head, him! One day he met me in Thanjai. He said that he will consider himself lucky even if my toe were to touch him. I did not want to touch him even to kick him out with my feet. After I said that I was going to call the servants he ran away. Because I did not submit to his vile fantasy he has concocted this dreadful fiction. He promised to bring me your head if I wanted. He is afraid that I will expose him. For that reason he met you midway and tried to stop you from visiting Kadampoor. That is why he is not leaving your side even for a minute. That kind of vile being, someone I did not want to touch even with my foot – you made him embrace me and carry me ashore. And you were watching it. Can I forget this? Or forgive?”

Hearing Nandhini’s angry words spoken with fire in her eyes, Karikalar’s head began to turn. The marble hall, the lake and the water, the trees of the forest – all were turning. Collecting himself he said, “Sister! Nandhini! Can this be true – what you are saying? I truly do not know what to believe. Can Vandhiyathevan be so vile? Even just a short while ago I was thinking of marrying this innocent girl Manimekalai to him!”

“Sir! You don’t have to believe me. You always act in a hurry. Not this time. For a couple of days be patient and observe his activities. You will find out,” said Nandhini.

46. The Boat Drifted Away!

On one side there was Vandhiyathevan walking towards them. On the other side was Manimekalai calling out, “Sister! The food is ready,” as she came towards them.

After checking both sides Karikalar said, “Nandhini! Vandhiyathevan was not the only one who tried to stop me from coming to Kadampoor palace. The vaishnavan called Azhvarkadiyan also brought the same message! My father’s close friend, chief minister Aniruthar, whom I respect very much sent word!”

“Chief minister Aniruthar is your father’s lifelong friend. He is trying to rob your father of his life itself. He has your respect! So he is trying to see that you don’t succeed to the throne …”

“Why? Why?”

“Because he thinks that you are a hot tempered atheist. His dream is to crown your younger brother, turn him into a brave vaishnavan and turn this entire Chola Nadu a Vaishnava place. When your brother disappeared at mid sea, sand got thrown into his dream!”

“For that, why should I be prevented from visiting Kadampoor?”

“Can I share all these secrets with you?”

“How do you know these secrets?”

“Sir! You have forgotten that I am that vaishnavan Azhvarkadiyan’s sister …”

“Are you really his sister? Do you expect me to believe that story?”

“I too have no faith in that story. I won’t ask you to believe it. I grew up in his father’s house. Therefore he called me his sister. This vaishnavan used to call me the reincarnation of Aandahl. His dream is that I should go with him from place to place, sing the pasurams of Azhvars and spread the Vaishnava tradition!”

“Like the Budhhist priestesses he wants to turn you into a Vaishnava priestess?” Athitha Karikalar asked.

“Nothing like that. His desire is to marry me and go from place to place as a couple singing devotional songs. His desire is that I should have many children to promote the Vaishnava cause.”

“Cheecheee! Where is that monkey-face Thirumalai? Where are you? He wanted to make you his wife?”

“Sir! That is my ill fortune. Blame it on the stars! All the men who come near me have only foul thoughts …”

“Compared to the old man Pazhuvertaraiyar’s twisted mind, why talk of anyone else?”

“Crown Prince! Please do not speak disrespectfully of Pazhuvertaraiyar to me. He fell in love with me. He married me in front of the world. I was just an orphan, he honored me as his queen …”

“But what do you want, Nandhini? Do you really worship him as your husband? In that case …”

“No, no! I am immensely grateful to him. But I am not living with him. He also did not insist. Sir! I was born into poverty, abandoned at birth. Yet I gave my heart to only one person. I never wavered from that …”

“Nandhini! Who is that fortunate man? No; you don’t have to say. Who are you? Tell the truth! If you are not my father’s daughter, if you are not my sister, if you are not Azhvarkadiyan’s sister, then who are you? Tell me, Nandhini! If I don’t find out I will go insane,” said Karikalar.

“I also want you to know that. But your friend, and my friend are here. Next time when I get a chance I will certainly tell that,” said Nandhini.

Turning to Vallavaraiyan who was by then standing beside them Pazhuvur Rani asked, “Sir! What is this? You have come back with bare hands! Where is the tiger’s head?”

“Devi! I was not lucky enough to bring the tiger’s head and lay it at your feet,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Aha! This is the extent of your bravery? You recited poems singing the glory of your ancestors! You said that they plucked the heads of the three tribal kings and hung them up in the fields!”

“What is that poem,” asked Karikalar.

“Sir! Do you want to recite? Or shall I,” Nandhini asked Vandhiyathevan.

“Rani! I don’t remember reciting a verse like that,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You don’t remember. But I remember well. Let me recite, Sir!

army as verdure, blood as water
precious earth tilled by elephants – revered
kings of verse, their king Varnan plucked and planted
three tribal kings – their heads!

“How is the poem, Crown Prince! You chopped off the head of only one Pandyan. This warrior’s ancestors took the heads off of Seran, Cholan and Pandyan and planted them in the fields …!”

Hatred and jealousy threw their legs up from the hips and danced on Karikalar’s face. “Nice ploughing! Nice planting!” His laughter rang out as thunder.

Vandhiyathevan could not look up and face Karikalar. Stuttering he said, “Devi! I never recited such a poem to you!”

“So what? If you are ignorant about your tribe’s glory at least now learn about it! For someone who was born into a tribe that took the heads off of the three great tribal kings and planted them in the earth, you could not even bring the head of a wounded tiger?”

“Devi! That wounded tiger is dead and gone. I did not want to chop off the head of a dead tiger.”

“How can that be? I saw the tiger struggling to get on the boat,” said Karikalar.

“I showed you that sight. It must have died after it lay down in the boat. Perhaps it died of remorse for injuring Pazhuvur Rani’s beautiful body, who knows?”

The fury on Karikalar’s face subsided and a smile appeared. “But it could have died in the water? Why hop on the boat and die,” he said.

“Like me it appears that the tiger also does not like water. Of all the ways, death by water is the most terrifying for me,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Yet, you boldly jumped into the water just a while ago? So much regard for these foolish women?”

“Devi! I am more terrified of women than water. Because the prince urged me to, I jumped. Now I know that I need not have jumped in that manner,” said Vallavaraiyan.

“Yes, yes! You are only worried about your fate in the water. You have no qualms about drowning and killing other people in water,” said Nandhini.

It was plain on Manimekalai’s face that she did not care for any of this talk. She said, “Sister! The food will get cold; come, let’s go!”

The four of them walked toward the marble hall. Every now and then Manimekalai glanced at Vandhiyathevan. Her intuition told her that his mind was troubled and that the prince and Nandhini were the reason. ‘Whoever turns out to be your enemy, I will be on your side; don’t worry!’ – she tried to tell him with her eyes. But Vandhiyathevan did not look at her at all. He appeared to have completely sunk into a sea of despair.

It is natural for readers following this story to be disgusted by Nandhini Devi’s perfidious words and atrocious lies about Vandhiyathevan. However, we won’t be so outraged if we to the best of our knowledge think back to the circumstances of her birth and life. Human character is shaped by traits that have become soaked in the blood through inheritance. They undergo changes because of one’s surroundings, habits and life experiences. The deaf-mute Manthahini grew up mostly in the jungle. She had to exercise supreme caution to live among the animals of the wilderness. To save her life she also had to on occasion savagely kill these animals.

In her heart that was as pure as milk love originated once as a nourishing spring, as water from earth. Soon that spring died turning her heart into a dry desert. The hand of fate dealt her a crushing disappointment. The shock of it turned her insane. Yet, with time her heart’s wound healed. The nourishing spring that was love again flowed. Her love for Sundara Cholar turned into an adoration of the child, his son Arulmozhi Selvan.

Manthahini’s daughter Nandhini had inherited many of her mother’s character traits. However the world treated the daughter worse than it did the mother. She was forsaken by her own mother. She grew up among strangers. More than the hardship her mother faced amidst the wild beasts of the jungle, she suffered at the hands of civilized humans. The insults she suffered at the hands of the royal family at her young age pierced her heart with the sharpness of diamond turning it into a hatred deadlier than poison. The remedy that could turn hatred into love was never within her reach. Whoever she chose to love either ignored her, or through bad luck was taken away from this world. Those who treated her with disrespect and those whom she hated lived in glory. What other reasons are needed to poison a woman’s heart? There was no room in her heart for anything other than revenge for those who insulted her and betrayed her. The necessary talent for perfidy had been incorporated in her from the time of her mother’s conception of her. The trials, disappointments and frightening experiences have wiped out kindness, love and such gentler feelings from her heart and made it harder than steel and stone. To better understand what is to follow in this story we felt that it was necessary to provide this bit of psychoanalysis.

***

During the meal also they did not engage in any friendly chatter. Nandhini, Karikalar and Vandhiyathevan were each buried in their own woes. Manimekalai was the one affected by this. She had arranged for the swimming and picnic in the forest with the hope of spending time leisurely with Pazhuvur Rani. Her excitement grew as the prince and Vandhiyathevan joined them unexpectedly. But what followed, the manner in which the other three spoke and conducted themselves did not please her. Her childish heart had promptly forgiven the pain she had felt when she saw Nandhini and Vandhiyathevan together. She told herself that it was her mistake to have misunderstood and given into jealousy. After that she could neither understand nor be happy about the others’ cheerless silence or their stern demeanor.

Therefore when the meal was over she said, “Sister! Shall we go back? Shall I ask them to bring the boat? Are the two of them coming with us or are they going back on their horses?”

Only then Karikalar returned to this earth from his musings. “Ah! Ah! We are going back without listening to this girl’s lute? No! Nandhini! Have you forgotten? Manimekalai! Do not deceive us,” he said.

“I did not forget. You and your friend don’t look like you are interested in music. You seem as if you are standing on thorns. In any event, no harm done. Manimekalai! Where, bring the lute and come,” she said.

“What for, Sister! Why do you want me to play in front of people who don’t seem interested?” Manimekalai made a fuss.

“No, no! It is the prince who is asking. If his friend does not care for music he can cover his ears,” said Nandhini.

“God! I am no enemy to music! A boatwoman named Poongkuzhali in Kodikarai sang this song,

when the sea with its waves is quiet
why is the inner sea so tumultuous?

When I think about it even now I get goosebumps,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Some people only like certain people’s music. I wonder if you will like my singing or not,” said Manimekalai.

“If they don’t like, who is giving up? Let me see. Bring the lute,” said Karikalar.

Manimekalai brought the lute. She sat on the top step of the marble building. She tightened the strings and tuned the instrument. It was a lute with seven strings. It could play one swaram half the way and another further up. For a while she filled the air with sweet music from the lute alone. Karikalar and Vandhiyathevan actually forgot all their worries. They happily surrendered their minds to the sound of the lute.

After that to the accompaniment of the yazhl Manimekalai started singing. She sang the divine pasurams of Appar, Sambanthar and Sundarar. After a while the prince said, “Manimekalai! Your singing is magnificent! But you are only singing devotional songs. I am not that religious. I have handed over saiva devotion to Mathuranthakan. Sing some love songs!”

Manimekalai’s cheeks dimpled self-consciously. She hesitated.

“Girl! Why are you reluctant? If you sing a love song here, I will not think that it is intended for me. My friend also will not. So, go ahead!” Karikalar said.

“Even if someone thinks that Manimekalai will not care.” said Nandhini.

“Come on, Sister! Do you have to tease me in front of two men,” said Manimekalai.

“The mistake is that you think that they are men. They could not bring a dead tiger’s head, can we call them men? In the old days the heroic men of Tamil Nadu will capture the tiger alive, force its mouth open and wring its teeth out. They will then adorn their spouses with the tiger’s teeth as jewels! Those days are gone! Never mind! You sing! The other day you sang for me? Sing that beautiful song,” said Nandhini.

With the lute as accompaniment Manimekalai sang the following song. For whatever reason, more than her earlier performance, this time her voice filled the air with immense sweetness.

‘beside the sweetly crawling water
beside the happily placed mountain
in the shade of the tree filled with fruits
we held hands delightfully submitting

Is it a dream – my friend
Or just my imagination!

in the punnai tree grove
at the golden hour of sunset
he called for me
we whispered in our ears

Is that a dream – girl
Is that miracle a lie?

crossing barriers
trespassing as a burglar
with unbounded love
he showered me with kisses

Did this happen – weren’t
We happy then!’

In this manner Manimekalai added more verses in various melodies and continued singing. The other three fell deeply into the flood of music. Tears welled even in Nandhini’s eyes who had for various reasons turned her heart into stone and steel. Athitha Karikalar forgot this world entirely. Vandhiyathevan every now and then as if waking up from sleep looked at Manimekalai. During those moments he was startled to see her glance always fixed on him. “Aiyo! What harm have I brought this girl?” His heart lamented.

While being submerged in the flood of music and emotions they did not notice the wind gradually gathering speed. They also did not notice the small waves that started appearing in the lake and the waves gradually becoming taller. Only when the wind turned into a storm and felled a tree down with its roots the four of them opened their eyes and looked around. They saw a severe storm waging around them and heard, ‘Oh!’ – the big waves in the lake rising and falling noisily.

Then it was Nandhini who cried, “Aiyo! Where is the boat?” The boat was not where it had been tied. It had traveled farther away jostling along with the waves.

“Aiyo! Now what do we do?” Nandhini cried.

“If both of you can ride the horses then please go. We will manage,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Are you trying to kill us in this storm where trees are falling all around?” Nandhini asked.

“There is no need for that; let’s wait here until the storm dies down. What are we going to do by going there? There is enough food; Manimekalai is here for singing. I have not been so happy in recent times,” said Karikalar.

“Prince! That is not right! What would Sambuvaraiyar and Kanthamaran think,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“It looks as if he untied the boat when he went in search of the tiger,” said Nandhini.

“Sister! Why do you cast unnecessary blame? When he came the boat was by the riverbank. No one needs to worry. When my father sees this storm he will send bigger vessels for us,” said Manimekalai.

Within a short time her prediction came true. Two big boats that were the size of ships came towards the island. Sambuvaraiyar himself was present in one of those boats. He was very happy to see the four of them safe.

Carrying them the two boats went back in that lake that was as rough as the ocean. Except for Sambuvaraiyar, there were storms waging in the hearts of the other four people also.

(End of Part IV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From → Notes, Uncategorized

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