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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (18 – 20)

May 6, 2017

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

18. Fooled Elephant-keeper!

According to one contemporary scholar, “Opportunity is a name for God!” When god does not want to reveal his actions he would it seems go by the pseudonym ‘Opportunity.’ Of the most celebrated heroes and scholars who have accomplished incredible feats in the history of the world,  their biographers often point out that they have been aided by circumstances. Some would say that god took special care of them by sending opportunities their way. There are also those who would teach that the glory lay in one’s time of birth; the strength of one’s horoscope, what Brahma has deemed, or the blessings earned in a previous birth – as reasons to explain the happenstance of life’s favorable circumstances.

In our time – if Mahathma Ghandhi did not go to South Africa, would he have reached the pinnacle where his life is celebrated today among humanity’s best and preeminent? We know that life’s circumstances played a significant role in the lives of Chandrakupthan, Vikramathithan, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Duke of Wellington, George Washington, Joseph Stalin and other great men. It will be a mistake to conclude that god favors some and not others. Besides the famous heroes and scholars we encounter in history books, god also keeps sending opportunities to numerous others.

Leaving god aside, making use of these opportunities also depends on man’s ability to think and make the right decision at the right time. Those who allow opportunities to slip, leave this world at the end of an ordinary life without achieving fame or status. Those who make correct use of opportunities leave their name forever engraved in history.

How can we explain the disparity in the lives of people born on the same day at the same time?

* * *

Such an opportunity crossed Prince Arulmozhivarmar’s path that day. The opportunity arrived when the elephant violently threw the elephant-keeper down and when the crowd shouted, “The elephant is in rut!” If he did not make use of that opportunity history would have taken a different course; in the history of Tamil Nadu Rajaraja Cholar may not have risen to fame and glory.

Fortunately he had the intuition and intelligence to recognize the opportunity and make use of it. He reminded himself of the story that boatman Murugaiyan had related the previous day. In a second he surmised that the man who approached the elephant was not the real elephant-keeper but someone who had come with a devious motive and that is why the elephant hurled him into the air. If he tried to find out who he was, and what his motive was he will lose the opportunity that came his way. He cannot make use of the commotion that arose following the cry, ‘the elephant is in rut!’ His main goal at that time was to escape from that crowd as fast as possible and reach Thanjai.  To achieve it there will not arise a better time.

Therefore, he called Murugaiyan. He whispered something in Murugaiyan’s ear. Then standing on Murugaiyan’s shoulder he climbed onto the elephant’s back. At the same time he knocked down the howdah that was on top of the elephant. The howdah rolled to the ground. Then he whispered in the elephant’s ear. The elephant tore off in a frenzy, bleating as it went. Soon it was running in a maddening gallop.

At the same time Murugaiyan shouted in a loud voice, “Run! The elephant is in rut! Run at once!”

The people became even more frightened. They scattered and ran in all directions. They ran into nearby alleys and nooks. They ran inside houses that were open and hid themselves. Even a brave warrior, even if armed, cannot fight an elephant in rut. What can people, unarmed men, women, children and the elderly do when faced with a rutting elephant – other than to run?

Once the prince crossed Thiru Arur town, instead of taking the road to Thanjavur, he took the elephant in a north-westerly direction. Earlier, he had thought of stopping at Pazhayarai and seeing his beloved sister if she happened to be there. Now, he will do just that. It will seem natural for a rutting elephant to stray off from the main road. If he went on the Thanjai road people are likely to follow him. If the elephant ran off in a direction to nowhere, then no one will follow him.

Thinking fast and acting on it he directed the elephant through fields, embankments, irrigation channels, rivers and their branch rivulets. The elephant marched on without a care. The prince felt as free as a bird in the sky. His instinct told him that he was nearing a turning point in his life.

When the elephant started to run Murugaiyan also ran shouting, “The elephant is in rut!” He aimed straight to the spot where the elephant-keeper had landed after being thrown down by the elephant. Near the Chola palace where the prince had stayed was a famous pond called Kamalalayam. He went there and looked around. Many who were afraid of the elephant had gathered around the pond. Some had even stepped into the water. Unsteady on his feet, a man was coming out. Murugaiyan recognized the magician who had taken the elephant-keeper and Rakamaahl the previous night. Lucky fellow! He was alive even after being hurled by an elephant! He was the same man who had come running with goad in hand claiming to be the elephant-keeper …! The goad was nowhere to be seen. Did it fall into the pond?

Murugaiyan went to him and said, “Elephant-keeper! Fortunately you are alive! Where is the goad?”

Kiramavithan known as Thevathasan looked Murugaiyan up and down. “What are you asking, Friend? Who are you? I am just coming out after a bath,” he said.

“Oho! Is that right? You are not the elephant-keeper? Didn’t the elephant pick you up and slam you down? Then, where is the elephant-keeper?” Murugaiyan asked.

Displaying more disbelief Kiramavithan said, “How do I know? Why are you asking me?”

“Magician! Why are you trying to fool me? Last night you took the elephant-keeper to the crematorium and warned him, ‘The royal elephant will be in rut!’ But you yourself forgot the warning and got caught to the elephant today! Well, that is your problem! Where is the elephant-keeper? Where is my wife Rakamaahl,” asked Murugaiyan. Kiramavithan’s face showed more disbelief and alarm.

“Elephant-keeper and Rakamaahl? Are you mad?” Kiramavithan turned and looked around him.

“That’s right! Just like the elephant, I have also lost my mind! Just tell me where the elephant-keeper is! Or else …” Murugaiyan tried to sound more authoritative.

Revathasan who was looking around now smiled at Murugaiyan. “You are calling me a ‘Magician.’ You seem to be a bigger magician than me! You seem to know everything! So there is no use in keeping anything from you. ‘The elephant will rut! Don’t get on the elephant,’ I came to warn the prince. This is what I got in return. Your wife and the elephant-keeper are in a house over there. If you want to see them I will take you to them. Was the prince harmed? Is he alright,” he said.

“The prince is alright. He is the one who ordered me to bring you and the elephant-keeper …”

“You must get me a good award from the prince, alright? Really … isn’t it true that I saved him today? Ah! Look over there …!” The magician exclaimed in surprise.

Where the magician pointed there appeared to be a spear jutting out from among the oleander bushes. “Ah! The goad!” The magician cried as he ran towards it. Running faster Murugaiyan overtook him. Bending down through the oleander plants he cautiously plucked out the goad holding it from its base.

When he turned around the magician was nowhere. “Adada! I got fooled!” – he ran here and there looking. It was of no use. Entering the large crowd gathered at the pond, Magician Kiramavithan had mysteriously disappeared.

After the elephant ran away in a frenzy Murugaiyan saw that the people were again returning to the Chola palace. But he was not going to linger.

He tried to remember where he had seen the magician the previous day and walked in the direction of that house. On the way along the royal thoroughfare people were standing in groups talking. Some who had seen the elephant running said, “It seemed as if a person was on top.” Others rejected that notion. “How can that be? The elephant started running after plunging the elephant-keeper down! Who could have got on it?” They said. Arguing in this manner the people were walking back towards the Chola palace. They were eager to make sure that their beloved prince was not harmed in any way.

Murugaiyan went in the opposite direction. He was soon at the alley branching off from the royal thoroughfare. The place was deserted. It wasn’t easy to find the house that he had seen only at night. Murugaiyan kept searching as he walked. There was one house that had a lock on the outside. From inside came the sound of someone moaning. Next to it was an old dilapidated house. Murugaiyan entered the old house, climbed on the roof of the adjscent house and jumped into the yard. Just as he had expected the elephant-keeper was there. He was not sane. Not only his hands and legs were tied, he was also tied to a pillar. He was trying desperately to undo the ties with his teeth. In between he gave up trying and shouted in a loud voice.

His face gained some sanity when he saw Murugaiyan. He had seen Murugaiyan at Nagaipattinam. He knew that he was with the prince. So he cried excitedly, “Murugaiya! Untie me! Untie me! The traitors have fooled me! The prince is not in any danger, is he?”

While unfastening his ties Murugaiyan briefly related the events of that morning. Then he asked the elephant-keeper what had happened to him. Stumbling he answered, that he was brought to this house to be given a magic vest for his safety in the event the elephant began to rut, and that the magician began chanting while burning incense, and that he had become drowsy and fallen asleep, and when he woke up he found himself tied to the pillar.

Both men left the house and hurried to the Chola palace. When they arrived they saw a bigger crowd of people there than before talking in anxious voices.

The people were concerned because the prince was missing. No one there knew what had become of him. Some said that they had seen someone on the elephant. They thought that it was the prince.

It was public knowledge in Cholanadu that the prince was an expert in training elephants, and that he even spoke their language. Some confidently stated their belief that Ponniyin Selvar had rode off on the elephant to tame it and to avert any danger to the people.

It was at this time that Murugaiyan and the elephant-keeper arrived there. When the people found out what had happened to the elephant-keeper the night before their astonishment and disbelief increased ten fold.

The immediate assumption was that the man who came running with the goad after tying up the elephant-keeper was sent by the enemies of the Chola tribe. When some people said, “Perhaps he was sent by the Pazhuvertaraiyars,” many believed them. Their anger at the Pazhuvertaraiyars increased. In a furious rage many set off to Thanjai at once. While some made inquiries about the direction that the elephant had run off and tried to follow in that path others headed furiously on the road that led directly to Thanjavur.

19. Thirunallum

Vanathi, while holding on tightly to the tiled roof of the astrologer’s house as well as her own life, kept floating in the breach water of the river Kaveri. The floodwater carried her east, sometimes slowly, and at other times pulling her with force. Sometimes the roof got caught in currents turning in place over and over.

Sometimes it went over ground that was not far beneath. The depth could be gauged by looking at how far the water was up a tree or a partly submerged building. Before Vanathi could make up her mind about jumping off, the current carried her off to deeper areas.

In any case Vanathi was not very keen on jumping off. Because, she had decided that River Ponni’s floodwater was taking her to Ponniyin Selvar. She was acutely aware of the danger awaiting the prince that Pazhuvertaraiyar had vaguely pointed out. She believed that river Kaveri was taking her to save him from this danger.

Aha! The nerve of that Poongkuzhali! She flaunts such familiarity with the prince! Yet, one must admit, there is good reason for her behavior. Isn’t the prince alive today because of Poongkuzhali? – No, not at all! What did the Kudanthai astrologer say? It is the stars the prince was born under! There will be many dangers; but none will take his life! What can the pitiful sea, storm or floodwater do to someone who has been destined to rule the world. Someone will be the alleged cause. Poongkuzhali was fortunate to be chosen for that role! How can she act familiar, just because of that? For a long time Vanathi had longed in her heart for such an opportunity.

Once when the roof was simply swiveling in one spot Vanathi saw a boat at a considerable distance. She saw a woman and a man in the boat. She could not tell who they were. Because it was the woman who was rowing she wondered whether it was Poongkuzhali. Was she coming to rescue her? Did the junior stateswoman send her? Enough, enough! The woman had the prince already in her debt. She also must not be under obligation to Pongkuzhali! No! She must not be rescued by Poongkuzhali!

At times the boat appeared to be getting closer. Then the roof sped away leaving the boat far behind.

During one of those instances when the boat was thus out of sight, the roof appeared suddenly to change direction heading south. It traveled a long way on this course. It passed Kaveri’s south bank and was in a floodplain that resembled an ocean. Finally the boundary of this floodplain was also within sight. Aha! Isn’t this a riverbank? Yes, yes! It is arasalattankarai! Kaveri’s breach water has submerged many a places and finally fallen into this river. Because its southbank is a little elevated it is being contained and flowing through it. This riverbank, its tree covered vista is familiar, like a thread of memory from a previous incarnation. No, no! It is in this lifetime that she has been here two or three times! She is nearing a sacred place called Thirunallam. In memory of her beloved husband Kandarathitha Cholar, Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter Chempian Madevi was keen to renovate the temple here and rebuild it in granite. On the riverbank was a Spring resort used by the Chola family. Once when Chempian Madevi took the junior stateswoman there, Vanathi had accompanied her! How eager at that time she was, to listen to the birds singing in the gardens surrounding the palace! Aha! What happened there once was unforgettably etched in Vanathi’s mind.

20. Young Chicks

When Vanathi first came to Pazhaiyarai from Kodumabalur, she was amazed by the water resources of Cholanadu. There were no rivers in Kodumbalur; there were only ponds. During the rainy season the ponds would be jostling with water filled to the brim. They would dry up during the Summer. There was no moving waterway drawn by currents like rivers and canals. In Vanathi’s birthplace one did not see tanks abundant with lotus and water lily. Therefore Vanathi was enchanted by the natural beauty of her new home. Unaware of time passing by, she would watch drops of water scatter like pearls on the lotus leaves that spread like umbrellas for the fish in the water; the humming beetles that circled over the blooms of lotus and lilies.

Once Vanathi and Kundavai had gone to Thirunallam on the invitation of Chempian Madevi. They stayed at the vasantha maligai. Chempian Madevi and Kundavai would engage in lengthy discussions about the lives of Hindhu scholars and their poetry that was rich in devotion. Chempian Madevi would also relate stories of her travels with her beloved husband Kandarathithar whose pilgrimages had taken him to temples in the west. Vanathi’s interest lay elsewhere. She was more eager to hear the birds singing in the gardens of the Spring palace and the busy humming of the beetles around the lotus flowers that filled the tanks. She was more eager to watch the current swirling in the river that ran alongside the palace, and the bright red koomba flowers that swirled in these currents. Because Kodumbalur lacked such pleasing and harmonious scenes.

One day Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter and the junior stateswoman were having a lively discussion. “Vanathi! Go see the gardens! I will be there shortly!” Dispatched to the outdoors with this curt dismissal Vanathi happily sauntered away. After wandering at will in the garden she ended up at the lotus pond. Bordering the pond were tall towering trees reaching up to the sky. Among them was an illupai tree. It was the flowering season for illupai. Its flowers covered the ground like a mat. Their fragrance filled the air. Vanathi sat at the base of the tree on one of the big roots leaning against the trunk. The singing of the birds swept through her ears like ambrosia. She felt her mind and body relax. Vanathi had not until that day imagined that life could offer such unconditional bliss.

From the ground the river was visible through the gaps between the trees. Off and on Vanathi’s eyes captured the moving water in the river. During one of those moments the figure of a young man came into view. Vanathi’s eyes were drawn to the spectacle of the olive sheen of his body contrasted against the ochre tint of the  water as he swam with half his body submerged and half out in the open. Cheechee! How stupid it is to be attracted to a strange young man’s appearance? Vanathi who considered modesty and artlessness as part of her inheritance was embarrassed by her thoughts. Her eyes however were beyond the control of her mind; they kept returning to the river. In time she became angry and irritated at herself.

Just as Vanathi considered leaving the place something else happened. From above her head she heard the panic-stricken cries of newly hatched young birds. She looked up. What she saw was frightening. At the fork of a branch sat a bird’s nest. A few chicks had their heads out. ‘kreech, kreech!’ – they cried. They were frightened. They were appealing for help. On the branch was a wild cat slowly making its way towards the nest.

Vanathi shouted, “Aiyo! Aiyo!” Someone shouted back, “What? What?” Then she heard footsteps. She saw the young man leaving the water and running towards her.

At the same time two adult birds flew in from out of the blue. They circled the nest and roused a racket cawing. They were the parents; woodpeckers with lengthy beaks. As one of them kept circling, the other one tried to threaten the cat as if to peck the animal with its beak. The bird really wasn’t a threat to the cat! If it got caught in the cat’s mouth it will only end up in its belly. Yet, to save its young ones the bird bravely put up a fight. Having lost both her parents at a young age, Vanathi empathized with the scene.

The cat after being still for a while put out one of its paws. It even managed to touch the tip of the nest. Vanathi again howled. By then the young man was standing next to her. She was too shy to look at him. She could not speak. She pointed to the nest.

Until then the young man had thought that it was the woman who was in danger. He looked up. Again he smiled at Vanathi. His smile and glance melted Vanathi’s heart making her forget even the birds.

But the young man ran to the cat. Standing underneath he threatened it with verbal assaults. It looked down and growled. “Troublesome cat!” He said as he picked up a stone and threw it at the cat. Missing the cat the stone struck the branch. The cat jumped to the next branch and then another tree and disappeared without a trace.

Meanwhile, another problem had arisen. When the stone struck the tree, the nest already dislodged when the cat put its paw on it, became even more shaken. It started slipping from its secure corner where the branch forked. If it had slipped completely, the chicklets that escaped the cat’s mouth would have hit the ground and died. Fortunately, one end of the nest remained attached to the tree. From there the nest swung precariously with the birds inside. The lives of the young ones also swung with it. The woodpeckers were more alarmed now and cawed louder while circling the nest. If the wind gathered even a little more speed the nest will fall to the ground. It was unlikely that the chicks can survive a fall from such a height.

The young man was taking stock of the situation. He seemed to consider climbing up the tree. Then he changed his mind.

“Girl! Come and wait here. If the nest falls try to catch it with the loose end of your sari. I will be back!” He said and ran from there.

He returned just as he had said. But he did not come back walking. He came on an elephant. Vanathi knew his intention. She walked to the lotus pond and sat on the steps lining it. From there she watched what the young man was doing.

As the elephant paused under the tree, the young man took the nest in his hands and carefully placed it back in its nook at the fork between the two branches. The parent birds shouted louder. But this was a cry of joy.

The young man looked around. “Girl! Where did you go?” He shouted. Vanathi felt shy. She remained silent. Getting down from the elephant the young man started to look for her.

A thought entered Vanathi’s mind that made her forget herself and laugh out loud.

Hearing her laughter the young man turned and walked to the pond. “Girl! Why are you laughing? What has happened to make you laugh so heartily?” He asked.

The young man’s voice again melted Vanathi’s heart; she felt more self-conscious than before. She studiously averted her eyes from him. “Girl! Why did you laugh? Won’t you speak?” The young man asked again.

Keeping her countenance Vanathi said, “Nothing. Just that you seem such a brave warrior – you brought an elephant to fight with a cat – it made me laugh!” The young man also laughed hearing her answer.

“A cat? The way you screamed I came running to battle a tiger!” He said.

Vanathi felt bolder now. Her shyness disappeared.

“Aha! Is that right? In Cholanadu where the tiger flag flies high why should anyone be afraid of a tiger? Are you from Pandyanadu?” She said.

The young man smiled brighter than before. “Girl! I am not a foreigner; I am from Cholanadu; I have been to battlefields also on the elephant. Who are you? Where are you from? You are very talkative!” He said.

“Elephant-keeper! Be respectful! What does it matter who I am? Why do you want to know,” said Vanathi.

“Alright. I will not ask. You seem to be well connected. I am leaving!” The young man started going up the steps.

Again in a playful voice Vanathi said, “Elephant- keeper! Elephant-keeper! Will you take me also on the elephant?”

“Alright, I will. What will you pay me?”

“Pay? I’ll talk to my uncle and get you a job at Kodumbalur palace. Or, I’ll make you the commander of the elephant army,” said Vanathi.

“Oho! You are Kodumbalur Princess!” The smile disappeared from his face. A frown appeared.

“Is it so bad that I am the Kodumbalur princess? I cannot go on your elephant?”

“No, no! There are plenty of elephants in the Kodumbalur stall; plenty of elephant-keepers too. Why me?” The young man walked away brusquely.

Vanathi waited hoping that he will turn and look at her. But he went away on the elephant without turning even once.

This incident remained deeply buried in Vanathi’s heart. The elephant-keeper, his smiling face and pleasant voice lingered in her memory invoking a happiness that was previously unknown to her. The memory of him coming to the aid of the young birds on an elephant was forever a source of amusement. She would laugh to herself. Then she would be overcome with embarrassment. She would grow hostile thinking about his pride, his frown and abrupt departure upon hearing the word Kodumbalur. All in all, the elephant-keeper was a recurring presence in her thoughts. The uncertainty whether these thoughts were improper was also a source of worry.

There was talk in the palace that Ponniyin Selvar will be visiting his sister in Thirunallam. Just like all the other women in the palace Vanathi was also eager to see the prince who was the apple of the eye for Cholanadu. But the opportunity did not arise. There was only talk that the prince had arrived, but he never stepped inside the anthapuram.

Vanathi who was shy by nature did not make the opportunity to see the prince like the other women. Only on the day when the prince was leaving Vanathi happened to see Ponniyin Selvar from the palace balcony. He was on his elephant. That Vanathi did not believe her eyes, is not just a manner of speech. When she saw that the young man whom she dared to tease and order around as the elephant-keeper was the celebrated prince of the land, how can Vanathi trust her eyes? She verified the fact many times with the women standing next to her. The resulting heartache and embarrassment cannot be described.

The memory of her offering the man born to rule the world the job of head elephant-keeper at Kodumbalur brought her laughter! At the same time tears welled in her eyes. She perpetually bemoaned her foolishness. ‘Elephant-keeper!’ – she had called him. She  believed that it was the reason for his frown. He would have thought that she was a woman without shyness, without modesty, diffidence or delicacy. There was no measure for the pain this thought caused her. On many occasions she thought of jumping into a river or pond and killing herself. On many occasions she tried to tell the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi about her blunder. But she could not summon the courage; her tongue invariably failed her. If the prince had mentioned it Kundavai Devi would have told her. Since Kundavai Devi did not ask her, she decided that the prince had not talked about the incident. Amidst much heartache this thought provided her some consolation. She decided that she would kill herself one day after asking Ponniyin Selvar for forgiveness in person. But she could not summon the courage for that either.

After returning to Pazhaiyarai, whenever there seemed to arise an opportunity to see the prince, she ran and hid herself. She thought of killing herself rather than going in front of the prince. Not knowing what had happened at Thirunallam the junior stateswoman and her friends could only raise their eyebrows and exclaim, “This girl is so incredibly shy!” They decided that this was a part of her timid nature.

Vanathi soon found out that there was another reason for Ponniyin Selvar to dislike her. Just like the countless number of people who believed that Prince Arulmozhivarmar would one day become the emperor who will rule the world, folks in her hometown also subscribed to this notion. Vanathi was vaguely aware that her uncle had therefore planned on marrying her to Arulmozhivarmar. Kundavai Devi’s companions often hinted that this was the reason why Poothi Vikramakesari had sent Vanathi to Pazhaiyarai. Sometimes they would tease Vanathi directly. “That is why you are refusing to go in front of the prince! Don’t we know your tricks,” they would say. Their words poured as molten lead in Vanathi’s ears. So this explained the frown that appeared on the elephant-keeper’s face when he found out that she was the girl from Kodumbalur.

It was during this time when Vanathi’s young heart and mind were thus caught in a turmoil, Ponniyin Selvar left for the war in Eezham. Arrangements were made for all the maidens in the palace to present themselves with oil lamps in hand and bid the prince success as he departed. This was one occasion Vanathi could not refuse to participate. She was also eager to see the prince who was leaving for war. She also hoped that even if she were unable to speak perhaps her face and eyes would do the work. But events unfolded contrary to her expectations. When the prince came over and looked her in the face she dropped her oil lamp and collapsed to the floor unconscious. The readers know the rest of the story!

* * *

These thoughts paraded through Vanathi’s mind as she approached Thirunallam on the tiled roof that served as a vessel. She knew that Ponniyin Selvar had sympathy for her. He had let her know that himself; and through the junior stateswoman as well. But there was an obstacle for his kindness to turn into love. She knew what it was. The prince knew that others were trying to arrange their marriage based on the belief that he will one day be the emperor. He had good reasons to believe this. Vanathi’s uncle had on many occasions stated it. Why? Even the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi was a part of this conspiracy. Many others also knew about it. Even the boatwoman Poongkuzhali was being sarcastic! Therefore, it is no surprise that this thought has become wedged in the mind of the prince as an obstacle for his love!

But when the prince hears about the vow Vanathi made a short time ago, that obstacle will be removed! Will he come to know about it? Why not tell him herself? Foolish Vanathi! You who become tongue-tied in his presence! Taking him for an elephant-keeper in this Thirunallam, you talked endlessly and earned from him the name ‘talkative girl!’ After that, you have not been able to look him in the face or speak in front of him! Orphan Vanathi! When you see the prince again, don’t be a fool! Boldly state what’s on your mind! ‘Even if you ascend the throne, I will not. I have vowed! If you were just an elephant-keeper and take me once on the elephant with you I will consider that to be paradise!’ Tell him so!

This is all well and good. But is there going to be an opportunity to say any of this? Where is this flood taking her? Is she going to drown without ever seeing the shore? No! There, the shoreline is within sight! The glittering dome of Thirunallam palace can be seen. Aha! It feels as if it was yesterday that the prince came on his elephant and saved the little birds and spoke to her so kindly!

What’s that? An elephant! An elephant-keeper seated above! The elephant is charging, rolling like a hill nonchalantly, across this floodwater. It is already at the shoreline. It is heading west along the shoreline! Who is seated so majestically on the elephant? Perhaps … Cheechee! What a silly idea! Why would the prince be here on an elephant? All alone?

Just because she mistook the prince for an elephant-keeper once, all elephant-keepers are not going to morph into a prince! How foolish? Regardless, even if this man is just an ordinary elephant-keeper, he may be able to help her, won’t he? He can rescue her from this rooftop and floodwater and take her to the shore. If she says who she is he may even take her to Ponniyin Selvar!

“Elephant-keeper! Elephant-keeper!” Vanathi shouted. Whether it fell on his ears, or whether he simply decided to ignore her cries, his elephant did not stop; the elephant-keeper did not even look behind! The elephant strode on. Soon the elephant and the keeper disappeared around the bend in the river.

Before Vanathi could even fully realize this disappointment there came a more frightening realization. The roof had gathered speed. Yes, yes! The floodwater was moving rapidly. The shoreline with its tall overarching trees and their exposed outsized roots were fast approaching her. When her roof boat reaches the corner it is certainly going to crash into those roots. Once it crashes it will break into pieces and sink into the water. What will be her fate then? Can she scramble to the shore? Or, will she be caught in the current, smash herself against the roots and die?

Aiyo! What’s this? There is a crocodile among the roots grotesquely opening its mouth! Is it real? Or, fake? Or, is this all another delusion of hers?

The shore is here! The tiled roof is about to collide with those roots. Vanathi closed her eyes tightly. “Mother! Durga Parameshwari! You are this fatherless, motherless, orphan girl’s destiny! I surrender myself at your feet!” She prayed.

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