Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Chapter 7: Samudra Kumari

That day Vandiya Devan spent half the time sleeping and the other half, he whiled away wondering about the strange behaviour of Poonguzhali. What an unusual girl, she is? Such a beautiful name but why is her character so different and difficult. To him, she seemed like a tart mixture of sweet and strange.

She carelessly mentions about killing a tiger, cries while looking at the marshy hot bubbles, sings a hauntingly beautiful song, yet she saved me from the murderous soldiers of Pazhuvetrayars. Why does she behave so strange at times? He surmised that there was some bitter incident in her past that made her behave thus. Or perhaps it could even be a sweet incident… women are strange by nature. Some women were strange right from their birth but her parents seemed like normal people, calm, collected and in peace with their lot in life.

Forget the behaviour, why is she so interested in saving my life? Why did she help me escape the Pazhuvur soldiers? Why did she bring me here to hide? She has also agreed to take me in her boat to Eelangai. Will she perhaps betray me in the end? No. No… That can’t be true. She wants some help from me. She said she would tell about it later. But what kind of ‘help’ would that be?

While he sat thinking about her, the forest came alive with myriad sounds just, as Poonguzhali had warned him. Neighing of horses, people, animal sounds, chirping of birds followed by ominous silence. He realized that the Pazhuvur soldiers were searching for his whereabouts in the woods. He was also astonished by the betrayal of his companion, the Physician’s son.

“Foolish boy! The idea of him falling in love with Poonguzhali was so laughable. Can a rat fall in love with a lioness? But this girl used his foolishness so well. With just a few words, she managed to raise a jealous storm in his heart so much so that he was willing to betray his companion. Women truly can be very dangerous.

But I will need to accept something truthfully and wholeheartedly! I have been under the illusion that there is no one in the world who could challenge me in intelligence and in being clever. But this boat girl from nowhere has proved me wrong.’

The way she had lured him away from the beach to these forests proved just how intelligent she really was.

‘It also proves that I should never let my guard down ever. Just imagine what could have happened if we were still at the beach. The Pazhuvur soldiers would have caught me and all my aspirations would have turned to dust!’

Sun set was a beautiful that evening in Kodi Karai. The southern sea bends towards the western direction in Kodi Karai and when you look towards the beach from a high point, one would see the sea in all three directions - east, west and south. But Vandiya Devan could not see the glorious sunset that evening as Poonguzhali had warned him not to come out of the hidden mandapam, for any reason.

With the sunset, darkness descended on the hidden mandapam. Vandiya Devan got to the top of the mandapam to have a lookout. He could see the lighthouse glowing at a distance. With millions of stars dotting the sky, he sat there for long waiting for Poonguzhali’s signal. At long last, a melodious “cooo…coooo” sound was heard. Vandiya Devan sprang alive from the mandapam roof and came out to the woods to meet Poonguzhali. She signalled him to be quiet and said, “Don’t make any noise. Come with me…”

They walked towards the beach silently, where her boat was ready for their journey with a sail and long sturdy rope. Moving fast, Vandiya Devan tried to help Poonguzhali to drag the boat into the sea but she said, “Please don’t,” and launched it into the sea, while she held the rope. When he tried to get into she said, “Shush! Wait! You can get in after sometime.”

After some distance when there were no more waves in the sea, they both got into the boat. The small boat shook a great deal when Vandiya Devan got into it. With his limbs trembling, he tried to control the innate fear of water that he always had.

“Can we talk now?” he asked

“Yes. If you have ceased trembling with fear, we can.”

“Who is trembling here? Definitely not me.”


“Don’t you have to put up the sail?”

“If we put the sail now, we will be seen from the beach. What if someone comes and catches us?”

“I will take care of everything, you don’t have to be frightened,” said Vandiya Devan and proceeded to tell her all about his brave deeds.

 “The wind is blowing from the opposite direction. If we open the sail now, we will end up back in Kodi Karai. After midnight the winds will change. We can put the sail up then.”

“O! Looks like you know a lot about these things. That’s why your father insisted that I take your help.”

“My father! Who is that?”

“What do you mean? Your father, Thyaga Vida Karayar!”

“He is my father only in the shore. When I am in the sea…”

“When you are in the sea, will your father change?”

“Yes. Here the glorious lord of Sea, Samudra Rajan is my father. Do you know what my other name is? Samudra Kumari! Didn’t anyone tell you?”

“No. Samudra Kumari is such a strange name.”

“Don’t people call Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar as ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ similarly I am called ‘Samudra Kumari’.”

When he heard the Prince’s name, Vadiya Devan’s hand automatically went to his waistcloth where he had kept the message given by Kundavai. Noticing his action, Poonguzhali asked, “Is it safe?”

“What is safe?”

“The thing you have kept in your waist cloth.”

Vandiya Devan was taken aback and a germ of suspicion grew in his mind. Poonguzhali in the meanwhile was mechanically plying the oars.

“When will we reach Eelangai?”

“If two people could ply the oars, we could reach there by dawn, if the winds are favourable.”

“Let me help you with the oars,” he said and took the oar that rested next to him and soon found out how difficult a task it was to move the boat. His cumbersome attempts at the oars stopped the boat in the middle of the sea.

“What is this? How come the boat moves only when you are plying the oars?”

“I am Samudra Kumari. That’s why. You don’t have to help me, I will make sure that you reach Eelangai safely.”

He sat quiet for a while and tried to look around. Kodi Karai beach was no longer seen. There was water everywhere. Looking around at the boat he noticed a plank in the middle of the boat.

“What’s this plank for?”

“It is to balance the boat in the water so that it does not shake too much.”

“Really! Somehow it doesn’t seem to be working. Look how badly the boat is shaking.”

“You call this shaking. You should see the sea during the monsoon and its swirling high winds.”

“What will happen if these high winds come? Will this boat survive it?”

“It depends on the force of the wind. In most cases, the boat will survive high winds but when a storm or a hurricane comes, the plank can be used to survive even if the boat is lost.”

Ayyo! Will the high wind drown the boat?”

“I have seen storms and whirlwinds devouring big ships. What chance does a small boat like this have?”

“What is a whirlwind?”

“You don’t know that.  When high winds from two different directions meet, a whirlwind is created. During the months of Thai, Masi, we have ‘Kondal Kattru’ in these seas. It is very safe to travel during those months. It is easy to go to Eelangai and come back within a day. But during the months of Vaigasi, ‘Chozha kattru’ (monsoon winds) blow around. When these winds clash around the sea, huge waves come about and they churn the waters like a butter churn. Mountain like waves rise above and deep chasms are created in the sea. If a boat like this gets trapped in a whirlwind, you will surely meet the God soon.”

Vandiya Devan suddenly lost all the bravado and started trembling in every limb. His suspicion about her intentions too became strong. “Ayyo! I am not coming with you. Please take the boat back to the shore.”

“What are you blabbering? Be quiet. If you are frightened, close your eyes and sleep.”

“No! You are a wicked woman. You have brought me all the way here only to drown me.”

“What is this madness?”

“I am not mad. Will you turn the boat or not? Or shall I jump into the sea?”

“Go ahead and jump. But before you do, you can hand over the oolai that you are taking to Ponniyin Selvan.”

“O! How did you know about that Oolai?”

“I learned about it this morning when I took your waistcloth. I learned who you were and why you were going to Eelangai. I wouldn’t have agreed to ferry you otherwise.”

“You are truly evil! I should never have trusted you. Will you turn the boat or not?”

“If I had been Elaya Pirrati, I would never have trusted such an important message with a fickle minded messenger like yourself.”

“Aha! So you also know who sent the message. I have no doubt about your intentions now. Will you turn the boat or shall I jump?”

“Go ahead! Jump!”

Crazed with panic and fear, Vandiya Devan jumped into the sea. Thinking that the water level would be same as it was at Kodi Karai beach, Vandiya Devan had braved the waters, only to realize that they were now sailing in the middle of the sea, where it was very deep. When he realized that, he started shouting and struggling in panic.

Though he knew how to swim in shallow waters, the boundless depth of the sea scared him and in his panic he forgot how to swim. While swimming in a lake or a river, he would take a look at banks to gain courage and swim ashore but he was in the middle of the sea with no sight of shore. The mild waves tossed him up and down and senseless with fear and fright, he lost the strength to shout out for help. He could see the boat sailing away and lost all hopes of survival. ‘This is it. I am going to die in this sea. And along with me this message for Ponniyin Selvan will be lost.’ Kundavai devi’s face rose before his mind’s eye and it seemed ask, ‘How could you do this?’

‘Aha! I had so many dreams. I wanted to win back my old kingdom and had dreamed of ruling it along with Elaya Pirati as my queen. And they have become mere dreams, all because of this wicked girl. She is a blood thirsting ghoul. She probably learned her tricks from that enchantress Nandini. She could even be a spy of the Pazhuvetrayars. If only I could get my hands around her neck, I would squeeze her… Chi! Chi! Why am I having such murderous thoughts before dying? Let me think about God. O! Lord Shiva! Mother Parvathi! Lord Muruga! O! Lord Vishnu who resides in the might ocean of this universe… Kundavai Devi, Please forgive me. I am leaving this world without completing my mission. I can see the boat now. If only I could get that girl in my hands….’

When Vandiya Devan jumped into the sea in fury, Poonguzhali was indifferent for a while. She thought that he would toss around for sometime and then come back swimming to the boat to save himself. She even put some distance between him and the boat to make him more desperate. But after a while, she realized that he was genuinely in trouble and that he didn’t know how to swim.

‘He doesn’t know how to swim properly. And even if he did, he must have forgotten how to, in his panic.’ His screams now seemed feebler and soon he would start swallowing salt water and drown. I am such a fool, she thought. I should have kept my mouth shut until we reached Eelangai. I shouldn’t have told him that I knew about his secret. But who thought that this reckless fool would jump into the sea thus?

Poonguzhali saves Vandiya Devan
Poonguzhali immediately brought the boat closer to him and said, ‘Come! Come! Get into the boat.’ But Vandiya Devan did not hear her. He was in the throes of drowning had lost the power of seeing and hearing anything but whenever the waves tossed him up, he tried to scream. Flaying his hands around, he tried desperately to keep his head above the water. Poonguzhali noted all this in a second and decided that it would be impossible for him to get into the boat on his own. When she looked at him in the moonlight, she could see the panic-stricken crazed face that failed to register the fact that someone was trying to help him. She knew that she had to somehow haul him out of the sea onto the boat. This is such a nice trouble of my own doing, she thought.

She immediately tied the rope that she had brought along to her waist and the other end of the plank in the boat and then she jumped. Swimming with powerful strokes, she neared Vandiya Devan. Vandiya Devan recognized her and his face became murderous. Poonguzhali was familiar with the actions of a drowning man. Before they drowned, they would almost possess inhuman elephantine strength and would try to hold onto to whatever they could come across. To save themselves, they would even try to hoist themselves up on the shoulders of their rescuer, thereby killing their rescuer too. She realized that Vandiya Devan was in the same last stage of drowning.

She approached him carefully from the back and made a strong fist with her hands and hit him squarely on his forehead. Her strong hands had a tensile strength about them and her punch was very hard on his head. His vision split into a million fragments and in each of them he could see Samudra Kumari laughing gaily, just before he lost consciousness.

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Volume 1 - New Flood