Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Chapter 5: In the Middle of the Sea

Vandiya Devan looked behind and a silent scream escaped his mouth. With his heart beating wildly he could feel goosepimples racing through all over his body. What he saw terrified him beyond any worst nightmare that he had seen.

Through the vast expanse of beach and the forest, he could see firelights. These were not ordinary fire cause by the burning of a wood or a log. These were naturally occurring fire bubbles that are normally seen near marshy lands. At some places, the fire bubbles danced around wildly and vanished while in others they spread around terrifying the hearts of the onlookers.

To Vandiya Devan’s eyes, they looked like the headless body of an Asura who had countless fiery mouths trying to devour anything and anyone that comes in the way. No wonder they were called kolli vaai pisasu.

Vandiya Devan couldn’t get his eyes off the Kolli Vaai Pisasu even though all his senses were screaming for him to get away from the scene. Even Periya Pazhuvetrayar’s dark palace seemed to be a tame place when compared with this terror. Someone laughed out aloud behind. Who else? It was Poonguzhali.

At any other occasion, such laughter might have evoked terror enough to flee the scene but it had the opposite effect on Vandiya Devan. It told that there was a real woman standing next to him and it helped to dispel the blind terror that had seized him minutes ago. “Did you see my lovers?” she asked. “These Kolli Vaai Pisasu are my lovers. I come here every night to woo them.”

This girl is mad, Vandiya Devan decided. How can I trust her to take me to Eelangai? He looked back at the Kolli Vaai Pisasu and tried to remember a half-buried memory of what he had heard about them.

“Do you think, your friend Senthan Amuthan can compete with these lovers for my attention?” asked Poonguzhali but he did not answer her immediately as he had just remembered somebody’s explanation about the terrifying wonder he was seeing. “These are naturally occurring wonders just as a mountain explodes and waves of fire come out of its mouth.” Terrifying tales about Kolli Vaai Pisasu were told to discourage children from going near the sea, he told himself and his fear dissipated. He turned his mind to the problem at hand. How to convince this girl to leave the woods and go home?

“Poonguzhali! Your lovers will not go anywhere. They will remain here all the time. Shall we go back home?” he asked, but she did not reply. Instead she started crying. “What is this? Why do we get ourselves into such trouble?” sighed Vandiya Devan mentally and tried again. “Poonguzhali! Shall we leave?” but she didn’t stop crying. Vandiya Devan had had enough.

“Fine. Do as you will. I am feeling sleepy. I am leaving.” He said and got down from mound and started towards the lighthouse. Poonguzhali stopped crying and came after him soon. Walking along with her, Vandiya Devan thought, How can I trust this mad girl to take me to Eelangai? But there is no other way I have to somehow use sweet words to convince her to help me.

“There is a vaal natchithiram (comet) seen in the sky. What do you think about it?” asked Poonguzhali

“Yes. A vaal natchithiram is seen. That’s all. I have no opinion about it.”

“But many say that whenever vaal natchithiram appears, something untoward will happen in our lives.”

“Yes. I have heard that too.”

“What do you think?”

“I have no knowledge of astrology but I do know that many in the kingdom are talking about it.”

They walked along silently for some time and then Poonguzhali asked, “Is it true that Chakravarthi is seriously ill?”

“Yes. He is very ill. He is paralyzed in his legs and can’t move from his bed.  That’s why Pazhaiarai physician has sent me here to get medicinal herbs. Poonguzhali! Will you help me?”

Instead of answering his question, she asked, ”Many people are talking about how the Chakravarthy will die soon. Is that true?”

“If you refuse to help me now, it might even come true. There are many rare medicinal herbs in Eelangai it seems and the physician needs it make a new medicine for the Chakravarthi. Will take me in your boat to Eelangai?”

“If the Chakravarthi dies suddenly who do you think will get the throne?”

“What do we care who comes to the throne? What is it to us? Why should we worry about it?”

“Why shouldn’t we worry? Aren’t we the citizens of this kingdom? Whoever comes to the throne will rule over us. We have all the right to worry about it.”

Her answer intrigued Vandiya Devan. He thought, ‘This girl is definitely not mad. I should be careful with her. There must be yet another reason for her strange behaviour.’

“Why are you silent? Who do you think will become the next king?” asked Poonguzhali again.

“Crown Prince Aditya is the next heir apparent. He should become the next king.”

“What about Prince Madhuranthakar? Doesn’t he have any rights?”

“He has refused to accept the throne.”

“He refused earlier but it seems like he wants to become the king now.”

“It doesn’t really matter what he wants. People don’t support his claim.”

“I have heard that many nobles and chieftains are supporting him.”

“Yes. That’s true. I am surprised that even you have heard about these rumours.”

“What would happen if the Chakravarthi dies suddenly?”

“The kingdom will be plunge into confusion and anarchy. I need your help to avoid such unfortunate events.”

“How can I help you?”

“I need to go to Eelangai very urgently. I have been asked to get rare medicinal herbs from there for the Chakravarthi. Will you take me in your boat?”

“Why are you asking me? Aren’t you ashamed of begging for a woman’s help to cross the sea?”

“Your father said that there is no body else here to take me across. Even your brother has gone away.”

“What if he is not there? Don’t you have two hands? Doesn’t your friend have two hands?”

“But we don’t know how to row a boat in the middle of the sea…”

“Rowing a boat is not a magic trick. You just need to use those muscles…”

“But how will we know the direction once we are in the middle of the sea. What if we get lost…”

“Then get lost for all that I care…”

They had reached the lighthouse by then. Vandiya Devan didn’t want to pursue the argument as it might end up in blatant refusal from Poonguzhali’s end. Even though she had refused to help him, her questions had given a sliver of hope.

When he lay down outside the house, sleep did not come easily. His mind was clouded and his heart was confused and during the last leg of the night he fell asleep only to awaken in his dreams.

Poonguzhali and Vandiya Devan

They were in her boat sailing away through the dark sea. Sitting across him, Poonguzhali was plying the oars with a beautiful smile. Vandiya Devan looked around him and found that they were in the middle of the sea. Kodi Karai beach had vanished and he could see only water in all directions. A gentle breeze wafted through the boat and played around with Poonguzhali’s lovely curly hair. His heart was brimming with hope and happiness and he forgot where he was going and why? He felt as if he had braved so many dangers for so long only to reach Poonguzhali. But something was missing? What was it? Ah! Yes. Poonguzhali’s song. “Poonguzhali! Won’t you sing for me?”

“What will you give me if I sing for you?”

“I will come near you and give your lovely cheeks…”

Poonguzhali immediately took out a short curved dagger from her lap and said, “Look here you! If you ever cross across that sail and come near me, I will stab your heart and throw you in the sea. The sharks are quite hungry for human meat.”


Kolli Vaai Pisasu - Hot bubbles that occur naturally near marshlands
vaal natchithiram - Comet

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Volume 1 - New Flood