By the time Vandiya Devan woke up again, it was dawn and a glorious sight awaited him at the shores. The sun shone through the waters making it seem almost golden. At the horizon, there awaited an isle in emerald hues. Fresh and green, his first sight of Eelangai was indeed breath-taking. To the right, there was another island beckoning them with a seductive grace. All through the shore, he could see many such beautiful islands enticing them with their pristine beauty. The beauty of the land awed Vandiya Devan so much that he felt that they were created by God only to show the world how beautiful a place can be.
Spellbound Vandiya Devan lay silent for a few moments, when Poonguzhali remarked, as if she was reading his thoughts, “This is not heaven. This is Elangai.”
“Yes. You are right. But for a moment I thought I was in heaven.”
“This is not heaven but a place that could be heaven, if only soldiers and war-mongers like you would leave it alone.”
“Are you calling me a war-monger now?”
“Why shouldn’t I? People like you who are interested only in conquering lands and enslaving people are the reason why places like Eelangai are turning into hell.”
“Would you call Ponniyin Selvar too a war-monger now?”
“Why are you talking about the Prince now?”
“You said that you would find out where the Prince is now.”
“Yes. I told you that I would find out where he is and not what he is.”
As the boat neared the shores, Vandiya Devan looked around with interest. “What do you say? The island you see in the front is boodha theevu (Ghost Island). To your right is Naga Theevu. Shall I go to Naga Theevu? Will you find your way to the Chola army camp?”
“No. Let us go to Boodha theevu. It doesn’t matter if my journey is delayed by a few hours. I would rather know where the Prince is exactly, before I start.”
“Alright. But remember the promise you made to me.”
Soon the boat neared the shores of Boodha theevu. Poonguzhali bid Vandiya Devan to watch over the boat and then walked into the island disappearing amidst its foliage.
He thought about the name of the island and wondered idly about the ghost who would be giving Poonguzhali the information about the Prince. Within an hour, the girl who had occupied his thoughts was back with information.
She walked briskly towards the boat and bid Vandiya Devan to get in.
“What did you find out?”
“Prime Minister Anirudha Bhrahmarayar has come to Maanthotham to meet the Prince. It is believed that the Prince must have come there to meet him but I am not sure how long he will stay there.”
“How far is Maanthotham from here?”
“Quite far. You will need to make your way through the forest. Don’t imagine that it would be anything like the forest you saw in Kodi Karai. Here it is very easy to get lost among the trees that almost touch the sky. You will also encounter many elephant herds through the forest and not to mention other beasts that inhabit the place. You will need to travel very carefully.”
“Hmmm. If only I could get a guide like you to show me the way through this strange land, it would be wonderful…”
“If you need help at every step of the way, you can hand that oolai to me and I might as well deliver it for you. ….No. I can’t do it. You were sent specifically by Elaya Piratti. Only you will have to give it to him.”
“That’s fine Poonguzhali. I will complete my mission, no matter what. You helped me to get here, that in itself is a big help.”
The boat now approached Naga Theevu (Snake Island) and Poonguzhali plied the oars steadily but it was evident from her face that her thoughts were elsewhere.
“You told me that you would ask me for some help later. Now is the time. Soon I will get down from this boat and go in search of the Prince. Tell me what you want?”
Poonguzhali looked thoughtful and remained silent for a while. Vandiya Devan continued, “The help that you have rendered to me is very important. In a way, you have helped the entire Chola kingdom by ferrying me here. In return, if there is anything that I can do for you, please tell me…”
“Do you honestly want to do something for me, in return?”
“I solemnly promise in your father’s name, Samudra Rajan.”
“…which means you are writing all this in water.”
“No. I really want to do something for you in return. I solemnly call upon the Gods and the five elements to bear witness to my sincerity.”
“Alright. I am not saying this because I believe this oath of yours. Scoundrels and liars take oaths about all things but they do not keep it but when I saw you for the first time, I intuitively knew that you were a good man…”
“They say that first impression that a person has about another is often the right one…”
“After meeting Ponniyin Selvar, when he is alone and free, ask him just one question. ‘Prince! Do you remember Samudra Kumari?’ If he says ‘yes’ then tell him that it was I, who had brought you to Eelangai.”
Aha! Poonguzhali! Is this your secret? So a little sparrow like you, wishes to reach the heights of an eagle? This can’t be good for you… thought Vandiya Devan but thankfully did not voice it.
“Is that all? You were hesitating so much, for this. I thought you were going to ask for something really big. I will definitely tell the Prince about you. Even if he does not remember you, I will tell him about you…”
“Ayyo! Don’t say anything to him if he does not remember…”
“No. I will tell him…”
“What will you tell?”
“I will tell him whatever happened. ‘Ponniyin Selva! Do you remember Samudra Kumari? If you don’t, then please try to remember her now. It was she who helped me to escape the murderous soldiers of Pazhuvetrayars. It was she who brought me to Eelangai in her boat. It was she who saved me from drowning in the sea, when I jumped into it like a fool. Without her help, I couldn’t have come all the way here and given you this Oolai.’ What do you think?”
“So far so good… but don’t add anything more to this and don’t tell him that I asked you to tell him all this.”
“Che! Do you think I don’t even know that?”
“If the Prince says something to you, make sure that you come back to me and tell me everything word by word…”
“Of course I will. But where will I find you?”
“That’s not difficult. I will be either in Kodi Karai or in Bootha theevu or somewhere in between.”
“While going back home, shall I stop at Bootha theevu to check whether you are there?”
“You are not to enter the island under any circumstances. If you do, there will be danger. See if this boat is there at the shores. Yesterday, I cooed like a cuckoo. Can you make a sound just like that?”
“No. But I can scream like a peacock. Want to hear?” saying thus, Vandiya Devan tried to imitate the high pitched scream of a peacock only to elicit a delightful laughter from his beautiful companion.
Soon the boat was at the shores of Naga theevu and Vandiya Devan embarked on the beach for yet another adventure but not before throwing one last glance at the strange boat girl who had brought him there. He had a vain last hope that she might just change her mind and accompany him into the strange land but Poonguzhali had already forgotten all about him and was back in the dreamland that she lived in.
Maanthotham - Known today as Manthai (Mannar district in Sri Lanka)
Maanthotham - Known today as Manthai (Mannar district in Sri Lanka)