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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (21 -24)

May 27, 2017

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

21. Life Dangled!

Sometimes a second can stretch like an eon. Vanathi was experiencing one of those moments. It was probably only a few seconds on that swirling tiled roof when she closed her eyes and prayed to Durga Parameshwari. When her whole being was shaken up by a collision she opened her eyes. She knew that the roof had crashed into the tree at the riverbank. But fortunately Vanathi’s body had got caught among the low hanging branches of the tree. She escaped hitting the roots or trunk of the tree. Realizing what had happened she held firmly to the branches. Her legs were in the water. The flood pulled her legs with such force it felt as if they might get torn off any moment. The loose end of her sari also pulled her into the flood.

At that moment from out of the blue a resolve and boldness took possession of her. Biting her teeth, with all her strength, she brought her knees up and pulled herself up to the branch. Reaching over the low hanging slender branches she perched herself squarely on a bigger branch. She squeezed the water out from her sari.

Hearing the sound of water getting sloshed around she remembered the crocodile. When she looked down she saw only its tail beating about. The rest of the body was covered by the broken pieces of the roof. Gradually wiggling through the wreck it emerged. Perhaps to express its delight it opened its mouth wide. It seemed to be telling Vanathi, “Come, come! No matter, you will eventually fall into my mouth!”

Vanathi was also jubilant at the way she had survived. “Oho! Is that right? You are going to gobble me up? Crocodile! Your gimmicks are nothing to me! There is no use showing your teeth to me. Don’t rely on me to relieve your hunger! Look somewhere else!” Vanathi told the crocodile. Hearing the sound of her voice the crocodile stared at her wide eyed.

“Oho! You are still tempted!” Vanathi looked around her. She was in a precarious place. Branches from that large tree hung low on the side of the water. On the side facing the shore the branches did not go down. If she climbed down the main trunk, there was the crocodile waiting camouflaging among the roots. If she were to jump straight into the water from where she was, the rippling current of the river was ready to pull her deep down into the abyss. Even looking down at the swirling water made her head spin. “Even if the branches are not low, let me try to jump on the ground,” thought Vanathi. She got up to walk along the branch to the other side.

After being in the water for so long her legs were chilled to the bone. When she tried to stand, her legs began to shake. “Cheechee! Legs! What has happened to you?” Vanathi sat down again. “Who is more patient? The crocodile? Or me? …” She will have to test this out.

At that time Vanathi was startled by the sudden noise of Gajendran bleating. The elephant that had crossed the river a short while ago was returning. At the same time she saw a boat along the shoreline. There were two people in the boat. Yes, yes; of the two one was the astrologer’s disciple; the woman was Poongkuzhali! In the end has it got to be Poongkuzhali, who must come to rescue her?

The boat came to the base of the tree. Poongkuzhali saw Vanathi on the tree. “Princess! You found a good place to hide. Come down quickly! Do you know who is on that elephant there?” She asked.

The answer hit Vanathi in a flash.

Yet to make sure she asked, “No. Who is it?”

“The very person you went in search of! It is the prince,” said Poongkuzhali.

Vanathi stared at the elephant in disbelief. She felt that she should no longer be sitting on the branch. She decided to climb down as Poongkuzhali suggested.

But the boat, unable to withstand the tug of the water, was moving away. She saw Poongkuzhali jumping out. Aiyo, what is this? Didn’t this girl see the monstrous crocodile lying there? Nine thousand thoughts flooded Vanathi’s mind in that second. Words tumbled out incoherently from her mouth.

Poongkuzhali only heard the word, ‘Crocodile!’ She turned. Yes; next to her was the enormous crocodile with its wide open mouth. It slapped its tail vehemently on the water.

Poongkuzhali is no coward! She had come through many dangers. But what is courage while standing ten feet away from the open mouth of a crocodile? One missed step meant death. How to escape? She will have to get on the boat again!

Poongkuzhali therefore jumped into the water. The boat had by then gone a long way. The astrologer’s disciple seeing that he cannot stop the boat there decided to go a little farther down along the shoreline to find a place to stop. He didn’t see Poongkuzhali’s predicament. Using her long and deft strokes Poongkuzhali started swimming towards the boat. She soon realized that the currents in the Kaveri floodwater were more challenging than the turbulent sea that she was accustomed to. The water pulled her down. She felt the crocodile encroaching from behind. In addition her sari got caught in the branches adding one more hurdle.

Vanathi was watching from the branch above. Poongkuzhali’s bitterness against her, her own vow just a short time ago in response to Poongkuzhali’s harsh words, her rejection of Poongkuzhali’s hand and thereby falling into the water – in lightening speed Vanathi’s mind reprocessed these events and emotions. She also remembered that it was Poongkuzhali who saved Ponniyin Selvar from the sea and took him to Soodamani viharam, and the gratitude owed to her by Cholanadu as well as herself. There, he is coming on the elephant. How would he feel if Poongkuzhali falls into the crocodile’s mouth before he gets here? What will he think of Vanathi? In fact, isn’t this girl in this predicament because she came to save Vanathi?

These thoughts appeared in Vanathi’s mind in one hundredth of the time it took for readers to read about it. Mind is faster than the wind – these aren’t mere words. Of all transmissions mind is the fastest. In that one hundredth fraction of the time Vanathi also decided where her obligation lay. She lowered herself to the next branch. Lying horizontally on it she extended her hands down and grabbed Poongkuzhali’s hair. Poongkuzhali looked up. She could not get away from Vanathi’s hold. She put her hand out. Vanathi grabbed that hand. She began to pull Poongkuzhali up. Latching onto a branch with her other hand Poongkuzhli pulled herself up from the water. She climbed up to the same branch as Vanathi. Unable to bear both of their weights the branch bent. Without letting go of Poongkuzhali’s hand Vanathi moved to the branch directly above. When Poongkuzhali also tried to go up her legs stumbled. Next second she was dangling between the branches and the river’s flood. Her one hand alone lay caught in a tight grip between Vanathi’s two hands.

In those few seconds the crocodile slowly crept out from among the roots. Out in the open seeing the dangling figure from the tree it opened its mouth wide. Poongkuzhali’s body and life hung in the open.

Vanathi’s tired hands were at the breaking point from bearing the weight of Poongkuzhali’s diamond hard body. The fear that at any moment Poongkuzhali would slip from her hands and fall into the crocodile’s mouth pounded at Vanathi’s heart. If that happens she cannot ever face the prince. When Poongkuzhali falls she may as well fall with her. That was it.

The elephant is here. The prince is on top. Will these hands do their work until he comes for her rescue …? The elephant stood at the foot of the tree. Again it brayed. The crocodile turned and looked at the elephant. Whatever thought crossed its mind – it went back and lay among the roots.

Vanathi also bent down and looked at the elephant. She looked at the man on top. Yes; he was the prince! Ponniyin Selvar!

“Elephant-keeper! Elepohant-keeper! Just like you saved those little birds the other day, save these foolish women today!” She said to herself.

No; she can no longer bear the weight of this boatwoman! Just a minute’s delay will tear her arms out of its sockets! Apapa! She calls herself Poongkuzhali! But her body weighs like iron!

“Elephant-keeper! Elephant-keeper! Hurry up, will you? …”

‘kreech!’ – Poongkuzhali screamed. Fear gripped Vanathi’s heart. She closed her eyes tightly.

The weight became heavier on her hands. Thinking it was the crocodile pulling Poongkuzhali down, with closed eyes she tried harder to pull her up.

“Let her go! Let her go!” The voice of the prince reached her ears like ambrosia. Without a second thought she let go of her hands. She opened her eyes.

She saw Gajendran winding its trunk around Poongkuzhali and lowering her to the ground. Poongkuzhali’s eyes were closed. She must have screamed when she felt the elephant’s trunk around her.

Vanathi remembered fainting once in the same manner. It is a wonder that in this situation that is ten times more dangerous she is able to remain fearless and conscious!

It’s a pity that the junior stateswoman is not here to applaud! No harm. One day she will find out. What is her fate now? Will the prince take Poongkuzhali and leave her on the tree?

If he did that it will be proper punishment for her foolishness! No, no! Gajendran’s trunk is reaching for her. Vanathi closed her eyes again. When she opened her eyes she saw herself standing next to Poongkuzhali on the riverbank.

Overcome by affection she eagerly embraced the boatwoman. With tears in her eyes Poongkuzhali said in a voice filled with emotion, “Princess! You saved my life today. I came to rescue you from the flood. Instead you saved me from the crocodile’s mouth. I will never forget this.”

“Poongkuzhali! I saved you? It’s the elephant-keeper who saved both of us. You should thank him!”

“My life really does not matter. My aunt sent me with a message to her beloved son. I didn’t want to die without delivering that message,” said Poongkuzhali.

Vanathi looked at the prince seated on the elephant. At that moment she was gripped by a giddy exuberance. “Elephant-keeper! Elephant-keeper! Will you take us on the elephant?” Peals of merry laughter followed her question.

22. Happy and Sad!

Hearing Vanathi’s mirthful words the prince smiled as he climbed down from the elephant.

“Aha! Being on an elephant is a difficult task. It is similar to being on a throne. Climbing atop an elephant is hard! Being seated there is hard! Climbing down is harder than all else. Yet, there are times when a man has to endure these difficulties,” said Ponniyin Selvar.

“Some take on these difficulties for absurd reasons. There are those who will bring an elephant to save little birds,” said Vanathi.

“You still remember that, Vanathi! Since it never came up until now, I thought that you had forgotten the incident!” said the prince.

“Those who go around the world performing heroic deeds can forget. What else is there for me who waits aimlessly inside the palace? I remember you coming on an elephant that day; I also remember you leaving with a frown soon after hearing that I am the Kodumbalur girl!”

“There was good reason for that then, Vanathi!”

“The same reason is still present, Sir! You are the son of the emperor who rules the world, Ponniyin Selvar the apple of the eye for Cholanadu. I am the daughter of petty kings, born and raised in the rural wasteland; moreover, the orphan daughter of a soldier who was felled in the battlefield! …”

“Vanathi! You are not being fair to me! Your words are unreasonable! Never mind! I have to go to Thanjai urgently. Tell me quickly! How did you end up here? Why are you alone? You were floating on a roof? Why is this girl here? How did she end up in this dangerous situation? …”

“I am glad that you remembered my presence. If I am given a minute alone I can say what I have to say and then leave,” said Poongkuzhali.

Coming face to face with the prince under such extraordinary circumstances had made the two women unusually bold and talkative.

“Ocean Princess! You think I have forgotten you? How can I? It was you who kept driving the boat while I kept calling you! I can never forget the sight of you who came in such a hurry dangling between the tree and the open mouth of the crocodile!” The prince laughed.

“I cannot also forget Vanathi’s plight trying to hold you. But how did you two end up here? Why? One of you, please hurry up and tell me!”

“Ponniyin Selva! Your beloved sister and I came to stop you from going to Thanjavur. The junior stateswoman is afraid that if you come to Thanjavur at this time there will arise a big war. She wants to meet you and talk to you …”

“Where is the junior stateswoman now?”

“In Kudanthai …”

“How did you come here alone?”

“On the way we stopped at Kudanthai astrologer’s house. It was then that Kaveri’s breach washed the astrologer’s house away. Prince! They say that Mother Kaveri has protected you from when you were a baby. I also know that you are very fond of River Ponni. But to think of the hardship caused by the river to the towns, villages, the people, their cattle – it is frightening. It makes one believe that Mother Kaveri is viscious …”

“Vanathi! Do not cast blame on Mother Kaveri! This great lady loves our Cholanadu. When that love overflows it breaks its bounds. Those who don’t know that will blame Mother! Why? Some blame even the ocean king for rising over his limits. But Poongkuzhali will never blame the Ocean King!”

“Forgive me! I will stop blaming Mother Kaveri! When your sister and I were at Kudanthai astrologer’s house Kaveri let her love flow abundantly. Your sister and others were able to climb to the top of the temple tower. Because of my stupidity I fell into the water. I latched onto the roof of the astrologer’s house and floated all the way here …”

“So, to save you Poongkuzhali followed in the boat. Very nice! This Gajendran had to come to save both of you. The elephant’s intelligence is incredible. It picked both of you up delicately like flower petals and placed you on the ground without a wrinkle or crinkle. Whereas this morning the same elephant picked up the elephant-keeper who came late running with goad in hand, and threw him a great distance. If the man survives, that will be a miracle!”

“Aiyo! What was that about? I was going to ask about it …”

“What did you want to ask?”

“I wanted to ask if you were hurt in anyway by the elephant-keeper or the goad.”

“It was true that I was in danger; how did you know about it? Did the astrologer foresee it? This mad affliction of relying on astrology is still with the junior stateswoman?”

“The astrologer did not see it coming. Even if he did, we won’t have believed it. We heard from the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar!”

“What? What? What did he say?”

“Yes, Prince! It was the treasurer, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar who told us. When we were at the astrologer’s house he suddenly barged in. He told about the danger you were in. He told about the poison soaked goad …”

“Aha! This is a wonder! How did he know? Has he become an astrologer also? Or, perhaps … did he set this up?”

“No, Prince! He did not. He happened to eavesdrop on the Pandyanadu troublemakers. That is how he found out …!”

“Oho! What else did he say?”

“I am frightened to even think about it, let alone say it. He said those saboteurs have a plan to send you and your father and elder brother Athitha Karikalar to yamanulakam on the same day. To save Athitha Karikalar, he hurried off to Kadampoor. He asked the junior stateswoman to warn you and the emperor …”

“Aha! Since the news turned out to be true in my case, it must be for others also. Ocean Princess! You had something to say?”

“Yes, Prince! Eezhathurani asked me to bring you to Thanjai immediately …”

“Aha! I forgot to ask you about that. It is for the sake of Eezhathurani I came in such a hurry. Someone abducted her by force and brought her to Thanjai, I hear. Is it true?”

“It is, Sir! But Chief Minister Aniruthar had good intentions …”

“Oho! It was Aniruthar’s work? He must have wanted my father to meet her. Poongkuzhali! Did the chief minister succeed? They … the emperor and Eezhathurani – did they meet?”

“Yes, they did!”

“My life’s dream has been fulfilled. No other news can give me such happiness. As long as my aunt is near him my father’s life is safe. You know that great lady has an extraordinary talent for seeing the future, Poongkuzhali!”

“Yes, I do. As long as Eezhathurani is there the emperor is not in danger. But …”

“But, what? Why do you hesitate, Ocean Princess?”

“I cannot say this, my tongue fails me. … Eezhathurani thinks that her final days are here. Before she closes her eyes she wants to see you once!”

“Oh, God! What are you saying? You give me good news and then like thunder deliver this terrible news also! I cannot be delayed even a moment longer, Vanathi! Ask the junior stateswoman to forgive me,” said Prince Arulmozhivarmar.

23. Troops Arrive!

The great city of Thanjai was in an upheaval that day. The people had completely forgotten about the rain, the storm and damage that they have incurred. ‘The heroic warrior who conquered Eezham, Prince Ponniyin Selvar who reigns in the hearts of Cholanadu people is in Nagaipattinam; he is on his way to Thanjai; a big crowd is following him with the intention of placing him on the throne and crowning him as emperor,’ – such news first floated as rumors in the wind.

Later, it was repeated by more people who had actually seen him in Nagaipattinam. The news brought a storm of feelings, just like the one that had wreaked havoc a few days ago – in the hearts of the people of Thanjai. They decided to give the prince the sort of grand welcome that the city had never seen before. They began to decorate the streets outside the fort. They stood in little groups on the streets talking. Instruments such as drums, cymbals, trumpets and tabors were gathered. Those who were good in singing and dancing began practicing so that they could use the occasion to showcase their talents. Mothers and young girls began dreaming about how they will present themselves. Some who were impatient by nature proceeded to the outermost parts of the city so that they will be the first to receive the prince. Others made fun of them.

If the outside showed such excitement soon there were signs that important events were expected from inside the fort also.

The fort opened as usual in the morning. Curd and buttermilk sellers, vegetable venders, employees of the palace entered the palace as on any other day. A few arrived to complain about the damage caused by the storm. They also went inside the fort. As usual the velakara troops also entered the fort.

After that the gates were slammed shut. Outsized bolts were drawn up. Padlocks were slung through and slammed shut noisily. Those who came afterwards were stopped by the guards outside the gates. While the people wondered aloud about the reason for such unusual measures so early in the day, the bridge over the ditch that surrounded the fort also was lifted and closed. After that, no one could even go near the entrance.

Those who came to the main entrance in the north inquired about the west and south entrances. They were astonished to hear that these gates were also closed and the bridges drawn.

“What is going on? There is no war! There is no enemy troop marching here! Enemies who are capable of such action are not even close to any of these entrances. Even if Irattai Mandalam troops were to come, they still have to cross Kollidam, Kaveri and other rivers. And those rivers are flooded!” The people exclaimed as they gathered on the outskirts of the fort. Some raised the question whether these measures were intended to bar Ponniyin Selvar from entering the fort and proceeded to answer it as well. “That must be why,” they said. As the rumor spread the people’s anger grew. “Who are these Pazhuvertaraiyars to stop the prince who was born in the Vijayalaya Cholan line from entering the fort? If the Pazhuvertaraiyars would do that, then it is time to break the walls!” – there were those who took this attitude also.

How does the monster of rumor start? How does it spread? The mechanics of this mystery is still under discovery. Suddenly another scary rumor began to spread. It was that the long expected death of Sundara Chola emperor had finally taken place. “The emperor is dead? Is it true?” They asked at first. Some who had witnessed the long-tailed star fall to its death that morning after shining brightly for a minute, took that as proof and confirmed Sundara Cholar’s death. “If this is true, what is going to happen now?” Isn’t this kind of anxious discussion the next natural development. Will there be trouble regarding the throne? Would the petty kings divide into two and fight with each other? Will the Chola empire dissolve into smithereens because of these internal disputes? Will enemy garrisons invade the empire that has been flourishing for over hundred years?

While the people were thus talking, “There, the troops are coming,” a cry arose. People ran here and there. They climbed on tall trees and buildings to see. What they saw shocked and surprised them.

There were three roads that went west and south west from Thanjai in those days. One was going to Rameshwaram from Kodumbalur; the other went to south Pandyanadu via Madurai; the one going to Karoor and Seranadu through Uraiyoor was long and wide. Late that afternoon there were troops advancing on all of these three roads. People first saw the soldiers marching in front. Row after row followed. The end was never in sight.  Soldiers kept coming and coming.

Fortunately tiger flags were being carried by those in front. This ruled out any notion of an enemy invasion. They were Cholanadu troops. But why? Where are they coming from?

When they came nearer the smaller signs on the flags could be made out. From these signs it was apparent that they were the Paranthaka Chola troops from Kodumbalur, the selected kaikolar troops from south Pandyanadu, and the Arinjaya Chola garrison from the Eezham war. Within a short time people in Thanjai found out that it was the southern commander Poothi Vikramakesari who was behind this development. In a sense they were now able to guess what was going on. It was well known in Cholanadu that Kodumbalur periya Velar, Poothi Vikramakesari wanted to give Vanathi, the beloved daughter of siriya Velar who died in the Eezham war, in marriage to Ponniyin Selvar and place her on the Cholanadu throne. Therefore it was fitting that while Prince Arulmozhivarmar was being brought from the east by a crowd of enthusiastic citizens, Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari should arrive at the same time from the west with a large garrison.

The people were aware that the Pazhuvertaraiyars and their cronies, the petty kings, were trying to crown Mathuranthakar. Therefore, Thanjai citizens understood that Kodumbalur Poothi Vikramakesari has arrived with his troops to place their beloved Ponniyin Selvar on the throne. Their enthusiasm went overboard. They got ready to welcome and host the soldiers who kept arriving like the waves of an ocean.

In those days in Thanjai there were many inns run by commercial enterprises such as Kodumbalur manikramathar, Thirupurampayam Valanchiar, Uraiyur tharmavanigar and Nanathesathisai ayirathu aignootuvar. Arrangements got underway in these inns to provide food for thousands of people. This news was warmly received by the people of Thanjai. They roamed about the streets congregating in groups to talk. Because they were one hundred percent behind Arulmozhuvarmar they did not have to be secretive. When the soldiers started pitching their tents near Thanjai the people walked over to them engaging them in pleasantries.

At sundown three sides of the city were occupied by the soldiers. Access to one side of the fort was barred because of Vadavaru that ran alongside the fort and the flood. The troops did not consider this an impediment to their plans. We have seen the main north entrance of Thanjai fort. This was where Vandhiyathevan entered the fort the very first time following Nandhini Devi! Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari’s tent was set up within sight of this entrance.

As the first quarter of the night was ending the colonel returned to his tent after inspecting around the fort. About a hundred people were already gathered inside. Among them were Veleer troop leaders, Kaikola troop leaders, heads of Pandyanadu and Kongunadu. Many leaders who brought victory in the Eezhanadu war were also there. Besides them there were also many heads of commercial groups; especially the leaders who had famously earned the name all over the world as ‘global thousand fivehundred,’ were there. They were wealthy men who were in the shipping trade with foreign countries. They had the means to send armed ships to safeguard the vessels that transported goods. Apart from these men, Thanjavur city’s aimperunkuzhu and enperayam leaders had been invited and were present in that tent.

24. Strategic Discussion

After the usual exchange of greetings Kodumabalur periya Velar addressed the group:

“Almost everyone I had sent an invitation to is here. Except Thirukovalur elder Malaiamman king. There must be a good reason for his absence. We are here to discuss a matter that many consider dangerous. The world knows how devoted we are to Sundara Chola emperor and the Chola family. We have proved this on many occasions in numerous affairs. Yet our enemies may claim that we are here against the emperor’s wish. They may even say that we have come with troops to battle with the emperor. But we have not had an opportunity to find out in person what the emperor wants. We cannot see the emperor alone. We are denied even a moment alone with the emperor. Everyone knows why. It has been said that the emperor remains in Thanjai because of his health. In truth I am of the opinion that the Pazhuvertaraiyars are keeping him imprisoned. I am not sure what you think …”

When the colonel paused many voices arose saying, “Yes, yes,” “That is the truth,” and “They are keeping the emperor as a prisoner!”

“Your answer in the affirmative implies that all of us are united in sentiment and intent. Chola empire has reached this preeminent position because of the thousands of soldiers who have sacrificed their precious lives since the time of Vijayalaya Cholar. We are proud to say that we are from Cholanadu. We are here to protect the Chola tribe and the empire from harm; not conspire against the emperor. The enemies of the emperor have kept him in prison for three years. They say that he is not in good health. Vijayalaya Cholar bearing ninety six battle scars on his body entered the battlefield at eighty years of age. With a sword in each hand he chopped the enemies’ heads in whichever direction he turned heaping them as mountains! Is it credible if Sundara Cholar who was born in that warrior’s tribe refuses to come outside because of ill health? It appears that the evil minded have robbed him of his sanity through sorcery. If he was sane would he even consider crowning Mathuranthakan who has never ever sighted the battlefield, when he has two great warriors like Bheemarjunan for sons? …”

In response, many voices rose as one. “How do we know that this is the emperor’s wish?” They asked.

“Indeed we do not know firsthand. It may be a tale hatched by the Pazhuvertaraiyars. But even our Chief Minister Anirutha Brahmarayar believes this …”

“Aniruthar also may have joined them. Who knows,” said one person.

“May be. Finding out the truth is one important reason for our meeting here. You would have heard the rumor that is going around in Thanjai city today. I did not believe it. I believe that we will be able to see the emperor alive. When we see him we will find out directly from him his wish about the crown. If in case the emperor says that he wants to crown Mathuranthakan, will you all accept it? …”

“We will not! We will not!” Voices rose loud and clear.

“I also will not. Because, if the emperor was in his right mind he will never say that. This is a matter settled during emperor Paranthakar’s time. I heard with my own ears when the king in his deathbed said that it will be Sundara Cholar and his descendents who will ascend the throne. Many who heard this are probably here. The late Kandarathithar tried to raise his son so as to not instill in him a desire for the throne. We all know that his beloved wife the elder stateswoman, Chempian Madevi, the saiva devotee, is adamantly opposed to the idea of crowning Mathuranthakan. There must be an important reason for this. So why is Sundara Cholar eager to crown Mathuranthakan? I will give another example to show that his mind is not sane. After Veera Pandyan was killed and the Pandya garrison was destroyed my brother set off to punish the Eezha king who helped the Pandyan. Because we failed to send adequate troops and armaments to aid him, he was killed – heroically – in the battlefield. To be rid of the shadow of disgrace cast on the Chola tribe, Ponniyin Selvar and I went. We destroyed the Eezha troops. We captured Anuradhapuram. We drove Mahinthan into hiding. You are aware that treasurer Pazhuvertaraiyar did not cooperate with us. The businessmen among you sent us food and helped us a great deal. Yet, our soldiers underwent much hardship. Inspite of it, how was it possible to destroy Mahinthan’s troops? Because of the leadership of the greatest of all great Cholanadu warriors! Ponniyin Selvar! How did his father, the emperor, honor this great warrior? By charging him with the felony that he betrayed the kingdom; by ordering him imprisoned! Can anyone in his right mind give such an order …?”

“Colonel! Again you are speaking about the emperor’s order. What is the proof that the order came from the emperor,” asked one person in the crowd.

“There is no proof. We are here to find out the truth about this also. If this order came without the emperor’s consent, think what a dangerous position Cholanadu is in. Think of everything that happened after. The soldiers who went to imprison the prince refused to do it. The prince voluntarily gave himself up. Obeying the emperor’s order he started his journey back in Parthipenthira Pallavan’s ship. On the way it appears that the storm broke out. Then came the rumor that the prince had drowned in the sea. I never believed it. I strongly believed that the ocean king will not have taken Ponniyin Selvan. When all others from that ship are alive how can the prince alone have drowned in the sea and died? Therefore, once the prince came ashore there must have been a conspiracy to arrest him. The prince somehow sensing trouble had escaped and remained safe somewhere; I believed that he will emerge at the right time. Many of you also expressed that was your hope as well. Our hope triumphed. We know that the prince came out on the night of the storm in Nagaipattinam, and that Cholanadu people are bringing him to Thanjai in a victory celebration. We came here to be of support to them. But the saboteurs have once again played their hand …”

“What? What?” Many asked in a concerned voice.

“Just a few minutes before this meeting the news arrived. When the prince was just about to leave Thiruvarur this morning, the elephant began to rut. It had thrown down the elephant-keeper violently. Then it had torn off in a wild run. In the ensuing turmoil the prince had gone missing!”

“Aiyayo!” “What is this calamity?” “Is god aiding the evil-minded?” Many began to fret in this manner. The colonel raised his hands asking them to be quiet.

“When I heard the news I was also devastated. I pulled myself together and came for this meeting. Just as Prince Arulmozhivarmar is an exceptionally gifted warrior, he is also intelligent. He will not easily fall into the saboteurs’ conspiratorial trap. I am waiting for some good news any second now. In the meantime, I want to know your opinion about what we should do, how we should behave in these testing times!”

When the colonel concluded his remarks in this manner, the others expressed their opinions. On most counts they were unanimous. They differed in certain minor points. Many were of the opinion that their representatives in that tent should request a meeting with the emperor the next day, and if granted they should clearly tell the emperor, “We don’t want Mathuranthakan taking the throne.” Some insisted, “One, the emperor should remove the Pazhuvertaraiyars from their autocratic positions; or, the emperor should leave Thanjai and go to Pazhaiyarai.”

“Because Athitha Karikalar has already been crowned as prince, he is the one entitled to the throne; if he voluntarily steps down, then the next in line is Arulmozhivarmar. We must without a doubt make this clear to the emperor, and make him also agree,” said some others. “If there was no chance of meeting the emperor, if the gates to the fort remain shut, there is no choice but to use force,” said some others. “What force? We simply tell the soldiers to break open the gates and the walls,” some said. Some thought that it would be better to wait until news of the prince arrived, and that Athitha Karikalar ought to be informed and brought to Thanjai also.

“What’s the use in waiting? The Chola garrison under the control of the Pazhuvertaraiyars are on the other side of Kollidam. Because of the flood in Kollidam and other rivers those troops cannot come here now. Therefore, this is the right time to break into the fort and free the emperor from the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ prison,” insisted some others.

While this argument was taking place a soldier who was guarding in the front entered the tent hastily. He whispered something in the colonel’s ear. “I’ll be back. Keep talking,” the colonel told the men in the tent. Then he left.









From → Notes, Uncategorized

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