Saturday, 4 July 2015

Chapter 46: Heart Aflame

The Prince bid the elephant to stop and they both got down from its back urgently wanting to have a closer look at the ship that had run aground. The ship was indeed in a pitiable condition with its sails torn and mast broken. They clapped and called out hoping that someone might respond but the sailors who had come along with the ship must have abandoned it. The ship looked deserted.

They both got down into the water and climbed onto the ship. The base of the ship was damaged and the lower level of the ship was filled with water and mud. The Prince who had thought that he might be able to helm the damaged ship was disappointed because it would be impossible. It would take an army of people to repair it.

Saddened by the fate of the ship, the Prince bent down and retrieved the tiger flag of Cholas that lay pinned among the sails. His face mirrored the desperation and sorrow that he felt in his heart.

“Poonguzhali! Is this one of the ships that you saw?”

“It looks like it. The other ship that came along with this must have drowned as well,” she said gaily.

“Why are you so enthusiastic about these ships drowning?”

“Why should I not be enthusiastic and happy when the ships that have come to imprison you are gone for good?”

“This is wrong Pooguzhali. Your happiness is misplaced. Something sudden and unfortunate befell this ship. I am distraught by the thought that our warships could suffer so. The sailors of Chola navy are very experienced in sea warfare I cannot believe that they wilfully lifted the anchor and allowed this ship to run into the ground. Why did they abandon this ship and leave? Where did they go? Let us go to the beach and see if the other ship is anchored there,”

“But it is getting dark. Where do we search?”

“Samudra Kumari! Where did you leave your boat?”

“My boat is almost midway through this canal. We passed by it because we came on the elephant,”

“Alright. Let us walk to the beach then, before it darkens even further.”

They left the elephant to guard the half sunken ship and walked all the way to the beach but there was no ship or boat in sight. After surveying the sea for sometime, the Prince turned towards Poonguzhali and said, “Poonguzhali! I will never forget the help that you rendered me. I think that we should part now,”

Poonguzhali stood silent.

“Did you hear what I just said? I have decided to wait in this half sunken ship. The commander and my companions will soon reach here. I will decide the next course of action after consulting with them. You have no other work here. Find your boat and go home. Just remember what I told about my father,”

Poonguzhali hesitated and then clutched a tree branch for support.

“Poonguzhali! What is it?”

“Nothing. I will take leave of you here, Prince. May the Gods keep you safe!”

“Are you angry Poonguzhali?”

“I have not grown so headstrong My Prince that I dare to be angry with you,”

“Then what is it? Why are you standing here?”

“I am not angry. I am tired. It’s been two days since I slept. I will sleep under this tree tonight and then leave in the morrow,”

It was the night after full moon and a glorious moon had risen in the sky. The Prince looked at Poonguzhali’s face in the light of the soft moon beams and noted the exhaustion that marred her beautiful features. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen due to lack of sleep.

“You say that it’s been two days since you slept. When was the last time you ate?”

“I think it’s been more than two days. I didn’t feel hungry when I was with you,”

“We had a feast this morning and like a fool I ate with my friends. It didn’t occur to me to ask you whether you ate. Come with me Poonguzhali. Let us go back to the sunken ship. I noticed a bag of rice and grains along with utensils to cook. We can clean and cook a meal. After eating, you can leave to find your boat,”

Ayya! If I eat, I might just sleep off there. Even now, my head is swirling,”

“That’s fine then. You can sleep in the ship undisturbed while the elephant and I will keep guard. In the morrow, you can go in search of your boat,”

Saying thus, the Prince took Poonguzhali’s hand in his and supported her while they walked back to the ship. His heart was brimming with love towards this poor boat girl who had come to rescue him out of nowhere. He felt that even all the riches of the seven worlds couldn’t repay the love and kindness that she had showered on him.
Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar and Poonguzhali
As they neared the half sunken ship, they could see a smoke rising from behind the ship. Did the sailors who had once manned the ship come back to it? How would they react if we come in their presence suddenly? They walked slowly and stealthily and reached the ship but no sound was heard from it but a delectable smell of sweet potatoes roasting over fire stirred the hunger pangs of the Prince and Poonguzhali. The Prince who had by then realized the state of exhaustion that Poonguzhali was in, decided to throw caution to the winds and walked boldly to the other side of the sunken ship. There he found a woman preparing food on one of the urns found in the ship. It was Kaveri Amman!

She didn’t seem surprised to see him and welcomed him with a smile.  After the food was ready, she served the Prince and the hungry Poonguzhali with tasty rice and sweet potatoes roasted in fire. To the Prince, her simple fare of rice and vegetables seemed more delicious than the elaborate feast that was fed in his palace.

After eating, they came to the upper level of the ship. The sea was placid and calm and the air was still. The air around them was sultry and hot with nary a breeze to carry a leaf around. Sweating with the humid air, when the Prince commented about this to Poonguzhali, the mute and deaf woman whom we will henceforth refer as Oomai Rani pointed to the moon. There was a fog around the rim of the moon.

“When the clouds form a ring around the moon, they say that storm and rain will soon follow,”

“Let the storm come whenever it comes. I would settle for some breeze right now,”

Next he wondered about how Oomai Rani could possibly have come after them so fast.

“I am not surprised. My aunt can travel very fast and she has great affection and regard for you. There are many things that one can achieve through the power of love,”

Oomai Rani who must have intuitively understood this conversation pointed a finger and they saw a white horse standing next to the elephant that they had travelled. The Prince was surprised to see that the horse in question was a steed of a rare breed.

“Did she come here on this horse? Does she know to ride horses?”

“Nothing is impossible for my aunt. She knows the language of horses and elephants. She also knows to ply the boat on the sea. Sometimes, I feel that she knows to travel by air too, as she can travel so fast from one place to another,”

“This is no ordinary horse. This steed belongs to a high breed of family that is reared in the Desert Kingdoms of Arabia. How did this horse come here? Where did she get it?”

When Poonguzhali asked Oomai Rani about it in sign language, she said that the horse came ashore near Yaanai Eravvu and was galloping madly through the woods. Oomai Rani then calmed it down and mounted it to come after them. The Prince was even more surprised to learn that an Arab horse was found roaming around in the woods of Yaanai Earvvu.

Even as he spoke, the Prince didn’t fail to notice the yawn that she fought to stifle. “You said that you were very tired and sleepy. Why don’t you go and sleep?”

Poonguzhali lay on the upper deck of the ship and took one of the sails to cover herself and was soon fast asleep. The Prince watched her fondly as she slept but soon her lips were mouthing her favourite song…

Alai Kadal Oindirukka
Agakadal than Ponguvadathen

Aha! Vandiya Devan was murmuring the same song in his sleep last night. He probably learnt it from her. Later, when she is awake, I must ask her to sing it for me.

Soon his attention turned towards the Oomai Rani. Everybody’s heart is aflame with desires and passion but when they turn to dust, we cry about its loss to others and hear consoling kind words from our friends but for the Oomai Rani that was not possible. How many desires, wishes and yearnings did she lock in that heart of hers and for how many years?

Oomai Rani sat near the Prince ruffling his long hair lovingly and touched his cheeks tenderly. The Prince didn’t know what to do for a moment and then bowed towards her with his hands folded but she held his hands to her face and soon they were wet with her tears. Tears that she had held back for years filled the hands of the Prince.

After a while, Oomai Rani composed herself and asked the Prince to sleep while she stood guard. The Prince didn’t feel sleepy but he nonetheless lay down. For many long hours, his heart and mind were surging with memories of long past. At a late hour, the sea breeze set in and he slept only to wake in his dreams.

He had many strange dreams. He was mounted on the white Arabian steed and was galloping away towards the skies. Soon he reaches the heavens and the abode of devas. Indra the Lord of the Devas, welcomes him in Amravati and takes him on his white elephant mount, Iravatham. Next he is in the court of Indra and the Lord of the Devas offers his throne to him.
Prince Arul Mozhi Dreams

“O! I don’t need this throne. Instead, I would be very happy if you could offer it to my mother, Oomai Rani,”

“When she arrives here, she will ascend this throne,”

Next he gave him a vessel full of amritham. The Prince partakes it and says, “O! This is not as sweet as the water of River Cauvery,”

Next Indra takes the Prince inside the anthapuram and Indrani (Indra’s wife) asks him to choose a beautiful damsel as his consort.

“None of these beautiful maidens can compete with the beauty of Poonguzhali.

Suddenly Indrani vanishes and in her place Princess Kundavai appears, “Arul Mozhi! Have you forgotten my Vanathi?”
Princess Kundavai
“Akka! How long can I stay bound by your love? How long do I live like a slave? Your love has become prison for me so much so that I would prefer to live in Pazhuvetrayar’s dungeon prison. Release me! If you don’t I might as well become another Uttarra kumar (A scared prince in Mahabharata).”

Kundavai who is shocked by his speech keep a finger on her lips and says, “Arul Mozhi! Why have you changed so much? Who was responsible for it? Thambi! Love is a prison and will always be. You can’t bow down to the dictates of your heart,”

“No akka! I have seen love that does not bind you in any way. Shall I show it to you? Poonguzhali! Poonguzhali! Come here,”

When the dawn broke amidst the cheerful chirping of birds, Poonguzhali’s rouse from her sleep to the sound of horse hoofs. Her aunt, Oomai Rani had mounted the horse and was galloping away. Though she was intrigued by her aunt’s sudden departure, her heart was full of enthusiasm. She got down from the half sunken ship and walked ashore. The woods were full of birds chirping around. On one of the trees a huge parrot was perched almost royally and it looked at Poonguzhali with its beady eyes as though it was asking, ‘Where have you come?’

“Dear Parrot! In a little while, the Prince will leave me alone here. Will you keep me company?” spoke Poonguzhali to the Parrot.

“Poonguzhali! Poonguzhali!”

Someone was calling her name and at first she thought that it was the Parrot that was speaking to her. But she soon realized that the voice was coming from the ship and that the Prince was calling her. When she went aboard the ship, she found the Prince asleep and that he was calling onto her, in his sleep. She tenderly touched the Prince’s forehead and woke him up.

The Prince woke up amidst confusing dreams and reality mixed up in his head. It was dawn and the sun had risen gloriously while Poonguzhali’s beautiful face was lotus hued and free of the fatigue that he saw yesterday.

“You called me, why?” asked Poonguzhali.

“Did I? I must have spoken in my sleep then. You sang a song while sleeping last night, then why can’t I speak?”

Then he got down from the ship, “I have been asleep for so long. Where is your aunt? Where is Oomai Rani?”

When Poongzuhali told him about her aunt’s disappearance, he didn’t seem surprised.

“I expected that. Samudra Kumari! Looks like you are refreshed now. You can take your leave. I shall wait here for the Commander and my friends. Until then I wish to inspect this ship properly,”
“Look there!” shouted Poonguzhali suddenly and the Prince looked in that direction to see a large ship cruising along the sea, while a boat full of people was headed towards them.

“Aha! Now we will know what happened here,” said the Prince and came to the banks of the canal. Poonguzhali and the elephant too followed them there. The Prince smiled at her and then turned his attention towards the ship that was leaving. For some unknown reason, he felt that he ought to be on that ship. Yet another reason for his worry was that someone was missing in the boat that was coming towards him. There was the Commander, the soldiers who had come along, the boatman, the Vaishnavan but where is Vandiya Devan? That brave man who ingeniously escaped the Pazhuvetarayar’s soldiers only to bring him a message from his sister, where did he go? Though he had known Vandiya Devan for very few days, the Prince felt as if he had lost his childhood friend. His absence from the boat made the Prince feel as if he had lost a treasure!

When the boat came ashore, the Commander and the others got down from it and splashed their way to the banks of the canal. The Commander Budhi Vikrama Kesari came towards the Prince and hugged him saying, “Ayya! How could you do such a thing to an old man like me? We were so worried for your safety. How did you tame this elephant? I can’t believe this is the same elephant that tore through the woods with you on its back! When did you reach this place? Where are the warships that Pazhuvetarayar had sent?”
Commander hugging Prince Arul Mozhi

“Senathipathy! I will tell you what happened to us later. Where is Vandiya Devan?”

“That boy is on his way to wherever that ship is going. He is aboard that ship,” said the Commander and pointed his hand on the ship that was fast fading from their line of horizon.

“What? Whose ship is that? Why is he aboard that ship?” asked the Prince

“Ayya! I am very disturbed. I don’t think I can answer your questions. Ask this Vaishnavan. He knows all about you and about that boy as well,”

The Prince turned to the Vaishnavan with an impatient gesture and asked him, “Thirumalai! Why is Vandiya Devan on that ship? Tell me immediately!”

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