Saturday, 6 September 2014

Chapter 6: The Hidden Mandapam

Next morning, Vandiya Devan got up well after the dawn. Since he had not slept for much part of the night, he found it difficult to awaken properly and for a minute, he was not sure whether the light that was waking him up was from the sun or the lighthouse. Poonguzhali’s mother informed him that Thyaga Vidha Karayar had gone to the temple. Poonguzhali was not at home and he was hesitant to ask her about the daughter. He went to the temple to seek her but only found her father who was gathering flowers from the woods nearby for the temple rituals. When he enquired about Poonguzhali, her father said that she had not come there.

“She might be roaming in the woods chasing the deer herds or might be walking along the beach. Try to find her and ask her to help you.”

“Thambi! Just be careful with one thing. Do not say anything that can be misconstrued, then she will become dangerous.”

Vandiya Devan remembered the earlier night’s dream and acknowledged the old man’s warning. He entered the woods to search for her but within a few minutes got discouraged and came out to the beach. The pristine sands of the beach glowed gold in the morning sun but there was no sign of her through the long stretch.

‘She will come home to have her mid-morning meal, I will catch her then.’ He thought. The calm beach and the gentle waves beckoned him near and he found himself wanting to take a bath. ‘Didn’t Poonguzhali say that the beach here was very shallow? It is also important that I try to rid myself of this irrational fear of water? How can I go in a boat across the sea feeling scared of water? What’s the harm in taking bath, anyway?’

Thinking thus, Vandiya Devan removed his sword and his waistcloth that held the message he was carrying to Prince Arul Mozhi and left them in the sands and got into the water. Inching slowly towards the water, he moved in hesitantly and found that the water was only waist high, “What’s the use of this sea? One can’t even take bath properly here.”

Aha! We have come so far inside the water thinking that it is not deep. What if the sea suddenly throws huge waves? One can never be sure of anything where the sea is concerned. Thinking thus, he started walking back to the beach.

Aha! Here comes Poonguzhali! Let me get out of the water and catch her before she disappears again. I need to somehow convince her to take me to Eelangai today. Looks like she is coming towards me. What is she asking? he started wading through the beach waves hurriedly to reach her.

Poonguzhali 

What is she doing? Why is she picking up my waistcloth? “Hey girl! Put that down! That’s mine.” Why is she not listening?

“Listen! Hey girl! Stop right there. That’s mine. MINE!” Even as he started shouting, Poonguzhali turned around and said something that he couldn’t hear and then she started running towards the woods. Angered and incensed by her action, Vandiya Devan too started running towards her.

That wicked girl! No! Not just wicked. She is raving mad. How do I take the waistcloth and the important message that Elaya Pirati has given from her?

After tumbling twice in the water, he came out of the beach and ran towards the sand hurriedly. His wet clothes impeded his movements and he coughed out the water that he had inadvertently drunk when he fell in. Poonguzhali was running towards the woods almost as gracefully as the deer herd before her. Despite the situation, Vandiya Devan couldn’t stop himself from admiring her gait and compare her beauty with that of the beautiful deer. Women like her who live close to nature are more beautiful than those who live closeted away from it. But I can’t say all that to this girl. If I say this, this girl might misunderstand me and… her father too had warned about her. But why is she running so fast and that too with my belongings? If she enters the woods, there is no way that I could get that message back.

Even as he thought that, Poonguzhali entered the thick woods and disappeared and Vandiya Devan berated himself for his stupidity. Entering the woods hurriedly, he scratched himself in many thorny bushes. Looking all around, he shouted, “Poonguzhali! Poonguzhali! Where are you?” And soon, he started asking, “Tree! Have you seen Poonguzhali? Crow! Have you seen Poonguzhali?” What is happening to me? Looks like I am becoming mad too!

Panting breathless he rested under a tree, even as he looked around everywhere for any sign of the missing girl, something fell on him from the top. It was his waistcloth! He opened it eagerly and checked inside. The ooalai and the gold coins were intact.

“Is your money safe?” asked a voice from the top of the tree. Vandiya Devan looked up and saw her sitting high up the tree branches.

Angry and irritated he said, “I have never seen a more demented girl than you.”

“And I haven’t seen an owl like you before. Ammamma! That expression in your face is priceless!”

“Why are you doing this to me? Why did you take my belongings? If it was money that you wanted…”

“Chi chi! Who needs your money here?”

“Then why did you take it and come here?”

“If I had not done that you would not have come to the woods but would have gone to my house.”

“What if I had gone there?”

“Why don’t you get on this tree and look for yourself?”

“What will I see if I get on the tree?”

“You will see ten horses and soldiers and their shining arms that have come in search of you.”

Vandiya Devan looked at her wondering whether she was telling the truth. He immediately tied the waistcloth tightly around his midriff and climbed the tree nimbly. He was not convinced with her explanation for stealing his belongings. Who knows? Maybe she dropped the gold coins and the oolai by mistake and might want to take it back by force. With such misgivings, he climbed to the top of the tree branch and stood next to Poonguzhali and looked at the direction she had pointed to. She was right. There were indeed soldiers and horses standing outside her house.

Who could they be? They must be Pazhuvur soldiers who have come all the way here to capture me? Poonguzhali has indeed saved me from a grave danger. But why?

They both got down from the tree. “Poonguzhali! You have saved me from a big danger.  Thank you from the bottom of the heart.”

“What a big liar you are? All men are liars.” She pouted

“I am not like all other men. I am different.”

“Hmm. Maybe you are different.”

“Poonguzhali! Can I ask you a question?”

“Ask. But it is up to me whether I want to answer or not.”

“Why did you save me? Why this sudden pity towards me?”

It was evident that his question had surprised her. She thought for a while and said, “I am partial towards idiots like you.”

“Then I am glad that I turned out to be one. How did you know that these soldiers have come after me?”

“It was easy to guess and moreover your friend confirmed my suspicions today morning.”

“What did he blabber?”

“Early in the morning, he said that he wanted to search for medicinal herbs in the woods. So I brought him here. And these enchanting woods made him fall in love with me. He declared his undying love for me here with many eloquent words. I told him that, ‘Your friend too is in love with me….’

“What? What?”

“Wait! Listen to the rest. I told him that you were in love with me. And that’s when he revealed his suspicions about you. He said that you were fleeing from some royal punishment and that you had come all the way here to escape from soldiers who are looking to capture you. He said, ‘Don’t spoil your life by trusting such a man. He will surely ruin you. Instead you should marry me.’

I told him, ‘You are in such a tearing hurry to get married. Shouldn’t we ask the permission of our elders?’

And for this he said, ‘Let us elope and marry just as Lord Murugan eloped with Valli.’

‘And you call this man your friend! Very good friend indeed!’

“That gutless rogue!” shouted Vandiya Devan.

“By then, we heard the sound of galloping horses and I bid him to climb the tree to see who had come. He got up the tree, you should have seen him doing it, his legs were shaking! I felt like laughing out aloud.” Said Poonguzhali and laughed remembering the scene.

“Enough of that. Tell me what happened next.”

“He came down from the tree and said, ‘See what I told you was so true! These soldiers have come here to capture him.’ I told him that they might capture him too, as he had come along with you and asked him to hide in the woods until they went away. He agreed and then did just what I had anticipated…”

“What did he do?”

“He went straight to those soldiers and got captured by them…”

Ayyo! Poor boy!”

“Don’t pity him too much. Save some for yourself.”

“Why? Why do you say that?”

“He went to the soldiers and asked, ‘Who are you people and why are you here?’ They said, ‘We are hunters. We are here to hunt for deer meat.’

‘I know for whom you have come here.’

They looked at each other with surprise and asked him more questions and he finally asked them, ‘I know that you have come in search of Vandiya Devan. I can show you where he is hiding. But you will have to promise me to leave me alone.’ They agreed and he immediately took them to my house.”

“That scoundrel!”

“After they left, I came searching for you and found you bathing in the sea.”

“Why didn’t you tell me all this there? Why did you run so fast taking my waistcloth?”

“If I had not done that I doubt if you would have come after me so fast. You might not have believed my words or worse you might even have decided to tackle those soldiers them alone. There was no time to convince you there.”

Aha! How could we think this girl to be mad? At every point, she has merely proved herself to be not merely clever but also exceedingly intelligent. It would be impossible for me to escape from this danger without trusting her.

“Poonguzhali! You have no inkling of how big a help you have rendered me today. I wish you could help me again…”

“What do you want?”

“You know my friend’s true colours now. There is no point in trusting him now. I can only look to you for help. I need you to take me in your boat to Eelangai.”

“You must believe me when I say that I have done nothing wrong. I have a very important mission to complete in Eelangai. You will need to do this for me somehow…

“If I do so, what will you give me?” asked Poonguzhali. Her eyes looked bashful and shy and her beautiful smile was spellbinding. Vandiya Devan remembered the dream that he had previous night and was astonished by the fact that she had asked him the same question in his dream too. He almost gave her the same answer, but with great effort he bit his words down and said, “Poonguzhali! If you help me now, you will have my undying gratitude. I don’t know if there is anything that I can do for you in return for this favour. If there is anything, you only need to tell me about it.”

Poonguzhali was looking at him with thoughtful eyes.

“If there is anything that you need from me, any help… please tell me. I will do it for you,” he said

“Are you truly saying this or just for the sake of getting your…”

“I promise. I am saying this truly…”

“Then in that case, I will tell you when the right time comes. I hope you will not refuse me.”

“I will never forget. I will consider myself to be in your debt until you tell me what you want.”

“Alright. Then come with me. I will take you to a place in these woods. You can stay there safely, until the evening. I am afraid you will need to stay there without any food…”

“You don’t worry about that. I had a hearty meal this morning. Your anni served me rice quite grudgingly and I ate more than my usual portion just to spite her. I will not need anymore food until evening…”

“I am not sure whether I can get any food by this evening. I will try to get some for you. But you will have to stay in this place until it is dark. After the sun sets, I will come there and signal you with cuckoo sound. Only when you hear this signal, should you come out of the place. Understood?

“Yes. I will wait for your signal.”

“We will leave in my boat after it gets dark.”

She took him to a small mound of hill in the middle of the forest. Hidden amidst thick groove of trees, he found that it was an old mandapam that had become dilapidated and was completely hidden amidst the green foliage of the forest.


“Once there was a tiger, living in this mandapam. After it died, this became a private refuge for me... almost a home. I come here whenever I want to be alone. In that pot you will find water to drink. Stay here until it gets dark. No matter what you hear around you, people, horses or animal sounds, do not come out of this mandapam.”

“What if any wild animal comes here… like tiger or a bear?”

“There are no tigers in these woods, only wild pigs and wolves roam around here. I hope you are not frightened of them.”

“I am not frightened. It’s just that I left my spear at your home.”

“Here. Take this and use it as a weapon,” Said Poonguzhali handed him a strange spear shaped weapon. With sharp edges at both ends, it had many pointed thorns too. It reminded him of Indra’s divine weapon, the Vajrayudham.

“What sort of weapon is this? I have never seen this before,” He asked


“This is the bone of a fish’s tail. I used this to kill the tiger that was staying here.”

Glossary

Vajrayudham - Divine weapon of Lord Indra
Mandapam - An open air enclosure with four pillars

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Volume 1 - New Flood