Saturday, 31 January 2015

Chapter 17: Can the Dead Haunt us?

King Sundara Chola who was so long narrating the story in third person now started telling it from his own perspective.

“My dear daughter! I am about to tell you things that a father wouldn’t normally tell his daughter.   Only my dear friend Anirudhan knows about it but even he, doesn’t know my present tormented condition. But I am determined to tell you everything. I think it is important that someone from our family know about this. I cannot talk about this to your mother. I have wanted to tell you about this for some time now. You will not laugh at my plight… instead you will try to heal my heart. I know that you will try your best to fulfil my wishes. With that hope I will tell you the rest of my story…

“I left that island and came back home to Thanjavur. My grandfather was in residence in this palace… he was in his death bed. He was heart broken. The great empire that he had built during the forty years of his reign was on the brink of collapse. His heir and crown prince Rajadhithar died in the Thakolam war. My father was gravely wounded in the same war and was dying. Kannara Devan’s forces were advancing on the Chola empire and the Pandya king was again up in arms against us. With our army crushed in Elangai, many prominent commanders of the Chola army and their men died. The news about the Kingdom’s defeat from all four corners had greatly affected my grandfather’s health. Despairing the loss of his men and army, he had lost his health and was frail and weak. But he gained strength when he saw me. Right from my childhood I had been his favourite grandson. He wouldn’t allow me to go anywhere away from him and I went to Elangai only because I pestered him to let me go. When we lost the war and I disappeared, he left no stone unturned to find me. He never lost hope. He sent ship after ship scouting the elangai borders to see whether I have survived the war or not.

Finally it was one of these scout ships that found me on that island. He found peace after I came back home by his side. Though his heart agonized over the loss of his children and his army, he truly believed that I would bring back the lost glory to the Chola Kingdom. Many astrologers were also responsible for this belief because they had predicted long back that despite having four sons, the reign of the kingdom would pass onto the grandson. Before he breathed his last, Chakravarthy said to me, “After my death, your uncle Gandarathidhar will ascend the throne and after him, you will get this kingdom. Only during your reign, this kingdom will attain its former glory. I am sure of it,” Saying thus, he asked me promise that I would not rest until I have restored the pride of the Chola Kingdom.

I had the utmost respect and love for my grandfather. The day he passed away, I had decided to fulfill my promise to him at any cost. Despite my resolution to be the prince that my grandfather wanted me to be, I was disturbed. I couldn’t forget the girl who had saved from being a prey to that bear in that island. What would happen to her? Can a deaf and mute woman of low-birth become the queen of the Chola Kingdom? Can she live in the palace? Won’t my people laugh at me for even considering this? I kept thinking about this and found no solution to my dilemma.

My uncle Gandarathidhar then got married to Sembiyan Madevi after my grandfather passed away. This was a new development that had the people pondering as to what would happen to me. My uncle was a widower for many years with no living heirs but now he was married. His second wife might give him sons of his own, who would ascend the throne after him. What would become of me, then? Many courtiers and officials were already discussing this openly and when my uncle came to know of this, he arranged for a grand celebration and along with his throne ascension he also crowned me as the crown prince.”

King Gandarathidhar and Sundara cholar

“My dear daughter! Just as your brother Arul Mozhi is the beloved of the Chola people today, I too was very popular during my younger days. When I was being anointed as the Crown Prince of the Chola Kingdom in the palace, thousands of people had gathered outside in the streets, waiting to see and welcome the new king and the prince. Everybody wished that my uncle and I greeted the crowds together, so we stood there on the terrace. The crowds went ecstatic. They clapped and shouted cheers of encouragement. Everywhere I saw, there were cheerful faces. When everyone around me was so happy about becoming a crown prince, how could I brood over the fate of a woman who lived in a secluded island? Is it fair to disappoint so many people just to fulfill the promise that I made to that girl?

Oomai Rani
Pondering over this question, I looked at the faces of the people of the people who were cheering me. There were many young men, women, old people, and children clapping their hands and cheering wildly whenever I looked in their direction. Suddenly amidst all these happy faces, I could see her sad and forlorn with her eyes brimming with tears. It was a wonder that I could see her face amidst so many thousand others. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her face and soon I could only see hers, while the rest disappeared.

“People told me that I had fainted and my uncle cancelled the rest of the festivities because he thought that I was exhausted and asked me to rest. Later I met my friend Anirudhan in private and asked him to search for the deaf and mute girl and bring her to me. Anirudhan searched all over Thanjavur but he couldn’t find her instead he doubted whether I had indeed seen her at all. He said that I might have imagined her presence.  I got angry with him and berated him for doubting me and for not finding her. ‘What sort of friend are you when you can’t even do such a small thing for me?’ I said. I asked him to search the roads that led to Kodiya Karai. He dispatched men on horses and they went all the way to Kodiya Karai in search of her. They found her living in the house of the caretaker of the lighthouse. To them she seemed like a ‘mad woman’. She couldn’t understand what they were trying to tell her and she refused to come along with them to Thanjavur. When I heard this news, I was distressed. I agonized over her for two days, unable to decide where my duty lay. I tried to forget her but couldn’t. Finally, I decided to meet her. So along with Anirudhan I travelled to Kodiya Karai on horseback. My dilemma increased as I neared my destination. ‘What should I do after I meet her? Should I bring her back with me to the palace as the ‘queen of the Chola kingdom’? How could I make a wild woman who lived in the forest as the queen of realm?

“My dear daughter! Those days, I was also very popular for my handsome mien. I never gave it much thought but people admired it so much so that they forgot my real name ‘Paranthakan’ and had begun to call me ‘Sundara Cholan’. That too became a cause for my confusion. How could I bring a woman knew not how to dress or behave socially in a palace? She wouldn’t know what to do. If I can’t bring her to the palace, what should I do with her? With these and hundred other questions raging through my mind, I reached Kodiya Karai and learned something truly horrific. The deaf and mute karaiyar girl had solved my dilemma by killing herself!

Right after the day when my soldiers had met her, she had climbed to the top of the lighthouse and thrown herself down headlong towards the raging sea. It was an amavasya night (dark moon) and tides were extremely high and the fishermen there couldn’t find her dead body.

When I learned about her fate I felt excruciating pain in my heart. But after some time I gained some measure of peace. I was free from the dilemma of ‘what to do with her?’ I came back to Thanjavur with a heart that was alternatively sad and yet peaceful. I found relief by aiding my uncle with royal affairs and went to war with our enemies and secured the borders of the kingdom. Then I got married to your mother and was fortunate to have you as my daughter.

My dear daughter! Even after so many years, I am unable to forget her. I dream about her. In my dreams, I see her standing on that lighthouse and the raging sea and then she falls headlong to end her life. While I never saw do it in the real life, my mind has imagined it over a hundred times and recreated it in my dreams. There were many nights when I woke up screaming and sweating. So many nights, your mother would wake up to my screams, asking, ‘What is it? What happened?’ And every time I would give her some tale of a deadly battle or imagine some story to pacify her. As years passed, this horrible dream too became a rare event and I stopped thinking about her. But my hopes were in vain. Truly it is the dead people who are crueller to us than the living. Kundavai! That woman’s spirit hovers around me all the time. She comes to me blaming me for her death. My dear daughter! Do you believe that spirits of the dead people can haunt us and take revenge on us?”

Sundara Cholar 
After asking this question, Sundara Cholar looked fixedly at some distance. Kundvai turned around and saw in the same direction but there was nothing there. But Sundara Chola’s terrified eyes and his body shivering with fear alarmed her to the point of tears. Burying her face on her father’s chest, she cried… After a while, his shivering subsided as he tried to console her. “Father! You have kept this horrible secret within the depth of your heart and suffered for so long! That’s why your health has declined. Now that you have told me everything, I am sure your health will improve…”

Sundara Chola laughed disbelievingly at her statement and said, “My child! You do not believe me. You do not believe me when I say that the spirit of that deaf and mute woman is haunting me. Yet, she stood there, eying me with venom right behind that kuthu villaku. I saw her standing there, just as I can see you sitting here with me. If what I saw was my hallucination, then how could your friend see it too? What did Vanathi tell you? I am sure she saw something too. That’s why she fainted. Kundavai! Bring her to me. I want to ask her…”

“Father! Vanathi is a faint-hearted girl. I can’t imagine how she came to be born in the brave Velir clan. She gets scared even if sees a pillar in the night and falls into a dead faint. There is no use asking her anything. I am sure, she has not seen anything.”

Oomai Rani Saves Arul Mozhi
“Is that so? Kundavai! Listen to me. I never thought I would believe in ghosts or spirits. I always dismissed the vision of that deaf and mute woman as my own imagination or hallucination. Do you remember that day when Arul Mozhi almost drowned in Ponni river? Don’t you remember how a woman suddenly appeared holding him? She disappeared without a trace after that. Do you remember how everybody in the palace wondered about it? Everybody decided that river goddess Ponni saved him that day. But do you know whom I saw that day? That deaf and mute woman holding Arul Mozhi. I fainted then too. While everyone thought that I was alarmed and worried about Arul Mozhi, the real reason was that woman. I saw the ghost of that woman holding our Arul Mozhi and that’s why I fainted.

“My dear daughter! Do you remember the day we anointed your brother as the Crown Prince of Chola Kingdom? That day after the ceremonies, I took him to the anthapuram to get blessings from your mother, grandmother and other womenfolk. I saw her ghost there again, standing there bedecked with jewels and staring at my son, murderously. I fainted once again. Later, when I thought about it, I wondered endlessly. Why should the ghost of that woman look at my son angrily? I dismissed it yet again as my hallucination. But ever since I have come to Thanjavur, I am convinced that I am seeing her ghost. There was a time once when she was alive, when I could understand every single unspoken word of hers, just by looking at her eyes. I am able to understand her very well now. Every time she appears in front of me, she gives me a warning.

“She says, ‘You killed me! Yet I forgive you for that. But don’t commit a sin yet again. Do not try to usurp the kingdom that should rightfully belong to somebody else.’ This is what she is trying to say. I am sure of it. My dear daughter! Only you can help me with this. I don’t want the throne of this accursed kingdom for my sons. Let us give it to Madhuranthakan!

Kundavai interrupted him and asked, “Appa! What are you saying? You anointed my brother as the Crown Prince after getting the approval of everyone. How can we change it now? Will the people agree?”

“Kundavai! We can’t be looking at the people'sapproval for everything. We need to follow our dharma and do the right thing. I did a big mistake by becoming the Chakravarthi of this kingdom. I have often felt that I had seized something that was not mine in the first place. Rightfully I should have crowned Madhuranthakan and made him the king. Assuming the kingship was a mistake and I am repenting for it now. Let this kingdom pass away from my sons. Let them not become prey to the curse that comes along with it. I wish to crown Madhuranthakan while I am alive and then I can peacefully to go to Golden Palace that Karikalan has built in Kanchi and die happily.

Appa! Periya Piratti must agree to this.”

“Kundavai! That’s where I need your help. Bring my periamma here to Thanjavur. Her knowledge and piety is boundless yet she refuses to do the right thing. It was she who forced me to ascend the throne. And I don’t know why she is so angry with her only son that she refuses to let him ascend after me. This act of hers is so unnatural in a mother. When Madhuranthakan himself was saying that he wished to be only a Shiva devotee, it was excusable. But now he has changed and wants to ascend the throne but she refuses.”

Appa!  It is not enough to have the desire to rule the kingdom. One needs to have the capability too.”

“How can you doubt the capability of the son born to my uncle, who was a just and noble king and the most noble and devout woman in the kingdom?”

“Fine. What about the people? Don’t you think we need the people’s acceptance?”

“If you ask the people of this kingdom, they will tell you to crown your brother Arul Mozhi as the next king. Would that be fair? Do you think your brother will agree to this? These arguments won’t work Kundavai! Get your Periya Patti to come here for any reason. If you want, you can even send her a message that I am at the death’s door.”

“That won’t be necessary appa! Patti wants to rebuild Thanjai Thallikullathar temple. I will cite that as a reason to request her presence. Until then, please do not strain yourself by thinking about the past.” Said Kundavai and left his presence.

On her way out she saw her mother, Vanamadevi and said, “Amma! Please do not leave my father even for a second. Let the others do the puja that needs to be done.”

The audience with her father had cleared many of her doubts. She was now convinced about the fact that somebody was plotting against the kingdom and her family. But she instinctively knew that her brothers and her father were under a grave danger and she was the only one who has realized this!    

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Volume 1 - New Flood