Sunday, 24 August 2014

Chapter 4: In the Midnight

After a simple dinner at Poonguzhali’s house, Vandiya Devan sought her father’s help to go to Eelangai. However Thyaga Vidakaraiyar expressed his regrets. “Once there were many boats banked in this beach but now they all have gone to Sethu Karai to help our army cross the sea to Eelangai. I own two boats and my son has taken two men to Eelangai and I do not know when he will return. What do I do?”

“Who were those men? Your daughter said that they seemed strange.”

“Yes. They were strange and I didn’t like them too. I do not know who they were and why they were going to Eelangai. They had the Pazhuvur signet ring with them but despite that I wouldn’t have asked my son to go. But my daughter-in-law is very greedy and when they gave a bag full of gold coins, she urged my son to take them…”

“Ayya! How can this be? How can your son listen to a woman who has no knowledge about anything?” he asked and then added hesitantly, “I am sorry. This is your family matter and I have no right to judge anybody.”

“Thambi! There is nothing wrong with what you said. There is a curse on my family. My son…” he said hesitantly

Vandiya Devan remembered Senthan Amuthan’s description about his family.

“Is your son deaf and mute?”

“Aha! How did you know?

Vandiya Devan then told him about how he had met Senthan Amuthan and had stayed at his home in Thanjavur.

“Aha! So you are that man? I got news about your escape days ago and I also heard that Pazhuvur soldiers are searching for you everywhere.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Now I know why you are in such a hurry to go to Eelangai.”

“Ayya! I am not going to Eelangai to escape from the Pazhuvur soldiers. I am bearing a message for a very important person in Eelangai. If you do not believe me, I can show it to you.”

“That’s unnecessary Thambi! I trust Elaya Piratti’s words more than anything else. However I still can’t help you with a boat.”

“Ayya! You said you had two boats.”

“Yes. Boat is there but there is no one to ferry you to Eelangai. If you and your friend know how to use it, you are free to take it.”

“But we do not know how to ferry the boat and that too in the middle of the sea. Moreover, I do not know how to swim properly in the first place. And I am a bit scared of water too…”

“Even if you knew how to swim, ferrying a boat in the sea needs a lot of skill and those without any experience cannot go alone.”

“And I am not taking the physician’s son along with me to Eelangai. He will be staying here, collecting medicinal herbs. Ayya! You will have to help me somehow.”

“Only one person can help you. But I am not sure if it would be possible. It will be very difficult to convince…however if you happen to be lucky it might even work. Who knows?”

“Ayya! Please tell me who it is? I will try and talk to this person.”

“In Kodi Karai, you will not find anybody as skilled as Poonguzhali. She is very experienced in the sea and has gone to Eelangai many times. I will ask her if she is willing to take you. You also try and ask her when you get the chance.”

“Ayya! Please call her now. We can ask her.”

“No. She is a very wilful girl. If she says ‘no’ right now then nothing in this world can change her decision. Tomorrow, I will speak with her at the right moment. You can also try your luck.” Said Thyaga Vidakaraiyar and went towards the lighthouse.

That night, Vandiya Devan lay down to sleep at the verandah of Poonguzhali’s house. His companion, the physician’s son was already asleep. Saddle sore and bone weary, Vandiya Devan too drifted off to sleep but he woke up with a start when he heard the front door of the house opening. Someone came out of the house and walked out briskly and from the light of the lighthouse Vandiya Devan was able to discern that it was Poonguzhali.

‘Where is she going at this hour?’ Thought Vandiya Devan. When she had playfully invited him to come along with her in the middle of the night, he had thought that she was joking. But no she was really leaving the house in the middle of the night. ‘I will show you my lovers.’ She had said. Could that be true? Could she really have more than one lover? There is some mystery in all this. Let me follow her and find the truth. I will need her help to go to Eelangai and tomorrow I will need to convince her to take me in her boat. Who knows? Maybe she will get into some danger in these woods and I could save her from it. That might make her more amenable to help me.

Vandiya Devan rose silently and followed her carefully. He couldn’t forget the dread that he had felt when he had stepped into the quicksand so he followed her swiftly without losing sight of her.

The area around the lighthouse and the beach was alight with light and it was easy to follow her here but when she entered the woods, Vandiya Devan struggled to keep up after her as she started walking very fast. Through the wild terrain of the forest, the ground was uneven in many places, Poonguzhali who was familiar with the place, walked through it confidently while Vandiya Devan found it difficult to keep her within his line of sight. He climbed a large mound of sand and found her walking below but she suddenly vanished!

Surprised and shocked to have lost her thus, Vandiya Devan got down from the mound. How could she vanish like that? Is this some kind of magic? Could she perhaps have fallen into a pit? He reached the place where she had vanished and looked around. Looking carefully, he found out that there was a small path that wound its way down towards a thick grove of trees. But it was so dark that he couldn’t see his way in the darkness. The windy woods assumed a terrible form and he found himself comparing its trees to formless ghosts and wraiths. The dark shadows of the trees looked menacingly at him even as he contemplated his next move. Vandiya Devan lost his nerve and decided to go back home. Who knows what dangers these woods may hide? Vicious beasts, poisonous snakes might be lurking behind these shadows to attack me. Cheetah or a leopard might pounce from one of these trees too! What foolishness is this? Why didn’t I bring my spear along?

What’s that noise? Who could that be? Who is that standing on that tree? Vandiya Devan’s legs started trembling even as he started recollecting all the ghost stories that he had heard from his childhood. Why are we still here? Let us get back to the house.

Even as he thought of turning back he heard a voice. It was a beautiful voice that sang a hauntingly poignant song.

Vandiya Devan went ahead through the path and followed the direction of Poonguzhali’s song. As the path meandered towards the peak of the mound, he could see her standing on the top, singing even as she looked at the stars. One of the stars that dotted the sky was the long dhoomketu (comet). Her mesmerizing voice and still woods nestled under the stars seemed surrealistic to Vandiya Devan.

He stood right behind her and from the top of the mound, the distant glow of the lighthouse and the dark rolling beach waves were also seen.
 
Vandiya Devan and Poonguzhali
“Oh! You have come after all. When I last saw, you were sleeping like Kumbakarnan.” She asked.

“I woke up when I heard the door open and then I saw you. You walked so fast and didn’t even look back. It is so difficult to follow you.”

“Why did you follow me?”

“Good question! Don’t you remember, it was you who asked me to come along?”

“Did I? Do you remember why?”

“Of course. You said that you would show me your lovers. So where are they?”

“Look behind you. They are there.” She said.

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Volume 1 - New Flood