Men who get married to younger women often dwell in a world where suspicion reigns supreme. They often regard strangers with distaste. Pazhuvetarayar felt the same when he saw Parthibendran outside his tent and added to that he didn’t like the way Nandini had come forward to talk to the Pallava Lord but he couldn’t chide her too!
He therefore replied to Nandini with a frosty smile, “Devi! There are many in this world that we do not know and we have nothing to lose, if we don’t.”
Parthibendran who had by then recovered his speech said, “Ayya! While it is true that you have nothing to lose if you do not know me, the loss is truly mine. Allow me to introduce myself to your wife. Devi! People call me Parthibendra Pallavan.”
“Oh! I have heard about you,” said Nandini.
“Parthibendra! Why did you omit all those titles that decorate your name? Since when did you turn so humble! Nandini! He isn’t just Parthibendra Pallavan, he is the warrior who won Vengai and Kalligam! He is the warrior who beheaded Veera Pandian!” said Pazhuvetarayar with a derisive laugh.
Nandini’s face darkened for a few seconds just as sudden clouds crowd on a clear blue sky. She regained her composure soon enough and laughed.
“Ayya! These days so many people are claiming the honour of beheading Veera Pandian that it is difficult to count,”
“Devi! Dhanadigari added those titles to my name out of respect but in truth, the honour of slaying Veera Pandian rests with Prince Aditya Karikalar!”
“Now I wonder why you say that? Don’t you want, your share of honour in killing a dead snake?” asked Pazhuvetarayar sarcastically.
“No, My Lord! Aditya Karikalar did not kill a dead snake. When he slew Veera Pandian, he was a live snake. When he drew his sword, a beautiful woman came in front to beg for the King’s life. If it had been me, I would have thrown that sword away and Veera Pandian might have escaped with his life,” said Parthibendran in reply to Pazhuvetarayar though his eyes were directed towards his wife.
Nandini who realized the dangerous route the conversation was taking, immediately turned towards her husband.
“Natha! Why are we talking about these old stories? Kindly enquire about his business hereabouts!”
Pazhuvetarayar immediately acceded and asked, “She is right. Let’s not discuss the old stories. What are you doing here? When did you leave Kanchipuram? Where are you bound?”
Parthibendran who had forgotten the purpose of his visit, soon remembered it.
“Ayya! Forgive me. I have come with news that would drown the Chola Kingdom in sorrow. Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar came along with me in my ship and when we were stuck in the cyclone, he jumped into the sea and has gone missing. We searched for him in the sea fruitlessly for an entire day. I came here hoping that he might have ashore…”
Even before he could finish his account, Pazhuvetarayar wailed, “What? What did you say?” and fell down in a dead faint.
Parthibendran sprang forward to hold him but Nandini pushed his hands away and sat down near her husband. Cradling his head on her laps, she shouted, “Water! Water!”
A handmaiden came running from the tent bearing a pitcher of water while soldiers and onlookers crowded them around. Nandini with a glance bid them to move away and sprinkled some water on her husband’s face and crooned lovingly, “Natha! Natha!”
After a few minutes, Pazhuvetarayar opened his eyes and sat up immediately.
“Nandini! Did my ears deceive me? What did this Pallavan say? Did he say that Ponniyin Selvan was lost in the sea? I played with Arul Mozhi when he was but a wee child. I used to tell him tales while he rode on my shoulders! I held him in these very hands right from the time he was a babe! With these very hands, I put the seal on the royal decree to imprison him! Woe to me! What will the people of Chola Kingdom say about me and my clan?” wailed Pazhuvetarayar and beat his hands on his head. No one had seen the old man ever so distressed in their life, not even Nandini!
“Natha! Don’t distress yourself! The Pallava lord did not complete his message. Let us hear him out and decide what needs to be done,”
“Yes. You are right! Parthibendra! You said that the Prince drowned in the sea. Is that true? Or are you perhaps telling these tales out of some malicious intent? Do not play around with me!” growled the old man.
“Ayya! Forgive me! I did not say that the Prince drowned and died. I cannot accept the fact that a storm can steal this Kingdom of its most beloved Prince. When the cyclone was at its worst, the Prince jumped from my ship into the sea. He might have escaped, if God willed it! That’s why I came here hoping against hope that he might be alive and might have come ashore…”
“He jumped from the sea during the storm! Why? What possessed him to do such a thing? Why did he come in your ship in the first place? What were you doing when he did such an insane act?” questioned Pazhuvetarayar one after another.
Nandini interjected saying, “Ask him to explain as to why he went to Elangai in the first place?”
“Yes. Tell me the truth or else you will never leave this place alive,”
“My Lord! I am not in the habit of telling lies. If for some reason, lies are called for even then, my tongue betrays me by telling the truth. We have been hearing disturbing rumours about the King in Kanchipuram. We also heard that the noble lords have gathered under the Pazhuvur Lord to conspire against the Crown Prince Aditya Karikalan’s right to succession,”
“Lies! Absolute lies!”
“I too wish that they were but mere lies nonetheless this is what we heard! This prompted noble Malaimaan to send me to Elangai so that I could bring back Prince Arul Mozhi to the Kingdom….”
Starting thus, Parthibendran recollected all the events that had occurred ever since he boarded the ship to Elangai. After listening to him, Pazhuvetarayar wailed, “Oh God! A great calamity has come to Chola Kingdom! And it came because of me. It was ‘I’ who sent those ships to Elangai to imprison the Prince!”
“My Lord! None of this is your fault. Even if you hadn’t sent those ships, the Prince would have travelled in the Pallava Lord’s ship to Kanchi and would have become prey to the storm. Pray, do not blame yourself for something that God had destined!” said Nandini wisely and then suddenly leaned towards her husband and whispered something in his ears.
Pazhuvetarayar’s face gained some colour after he heard her words and said, “Yes! Yes you are right! It didn’t occur to me at all!”
Next he turned to Parthibendran and said, “Pallava! I am going to go to your ship and inspect it. You will remain here under my guard, until then. Don’t try to escape or else my soldiers will hunt you down. You belong to the brave clan of mighty Pallavas and it would tarnish their fame if you were found wounded in your back!”
“My Lord! I have no intention of escaping from here. If I do decide to escape, none of your soldiers can hope to wound me and certainly not even in the back.”
“My lord! Don’t worry. I will take care of him. If he tries to escape, this dagger of mine will find its mark. You go to his ship and inspect it carefully. Speak to his sailors to verify his story.” Said Nandini with her hand clutching the dagger that she had taken out of her waist.
“Devi! I don’t want to burden you with this responsibility. You go inside the tent and take rest or else go to Thyaga Vidagarayar’s house. Our soldiers can keep him under watch until I return or else I could take him alone with me to inspect the ship…”
“I have no intention of accompanying you, My Lord. If I come with you, will suspect me again of influencing my sailors. I will not budge from here until you come,”
“My Lord! I have no intention of going anywhere too. I will be here waiting for you…” said Nandini and then leaned towards him to whisper in his ears again, “This Pallava Lord might have come here to spy on you, who knows? I will stay here to prevent such mischief. Moreover no one hereabouts should know the truth about the Prince’s fate until you come back from the ship…”
Pazhuvetarayar nodded his head and then took a boat to inspect Parthibendran’s ship that was anchored at some distance. Nandini stood looking at the boat until it moved away from the range of her eyes. She was also aware of the fact that Parthibendran was unabashedly staring at her face. She turned towards him expecting him to look away with embarrassment but the honeybee that has smelt the nectar will seldom turn away!
Nandini took the dagger back from her waist and said, “Don’t try to escape! You have been warned!”
“Devi! Why are you trying to scare me off with that dagger? How could a fish that has been ensnared in the fisherwoman’s net escape? Where would it go? I am truly caught in the net that you had cast…”
“What are you saying? Are you comparing me with a fisherwoman? If my lord were to hear this…”
“I am not worried about what he would think. But I did not mean to call you a fisherwoman. I was referring to your beautiful eyes that casts an alluring seductive net…”
“Chi! Chi! How dare you? Even if you had called me a fisherwoman it was excusable but you dare to call me, a woman of loose morals!”
“Forgive me! That’s not what I meant when I spoke about your beautiful eyes. There is nary a guile in them. The spider painstakingly makes a beautiful web as its home. When the flies fly into it, one can hardly blame the spider for enticing it inside…”
“So you are comparing me to a nasty spider. Do I look so horrible to you?”
“No! No! I should have compared you to the lamp. We light a lamp so that it relieves us from the darkness but the house flies and other pests are attracted to its beauty and they sacrifice their life at its altar…”
“A small wind can take care of this lamp. We can even blow off the lamp and extinguish it! That’s all the power that the lamp holds.”
“The lamp might be extinguished but is there any power in this world to dim the full moon’s light! The moon rises over the sea because of the natural order of things in this world but why does the sea try to reach it with its endless waves. Why does it constantly try to touch the moon with those scary waves?”
“I have heard that the Pallava kings appreciated art and imagination very much, today I have learned it to be true!”
“I never believed it when I read about it in the Puranic tales and old stories but today I am willing to believe it,”
“What are you referring to?”
“I have heard about who posses such unearthly beauty that they are able to enslave all beings in the three worlds. Didn’t Mohini enchant the Auras, just when they were about to partake the nectar? Didn’t the Apsara Menaka entice Sage Vishwamitra away from his austerities? Didn’t Kovalan fall prey to the beauty of courtesan Madhavi? Didn’t King Dasaratha banish Rama to the forest just to please Kaikeyi? Didn’t the glorious Kingdom of Rome lose its fame and glory when it bowed its head before the beauty of Egypt’s queen…”
“Enough! May I ask, why you are giving such examples to me?
“Devi! Can’t you guess why I am giving these examples?”
“If you are quoting these as an example for me, then you are making a huge mistake,”
“I doubt that. The women that I quoted as an example had as much power as you have,”
“I can prove that it is a lie with the help of your own words!”
“I sent my lord husband to the ship deliberately, so that I could speak to you privately,”
“I guessed your intent. That’s why I didn’t go with him,”
“A little while ago, you said that a woman tried to save Veera Pandiyan and that Aditya Karikalar didn’t accede to her request,”
“Yes I did,”
“Do you know who that woman was?”
“Yes. She is right now the beloved wife of Periya Pazhuvetarayar!”
“If I indeed were so enticing, wouldn’t I have saved the life of Veera Pandiyan? Why did I fail there?”
“It is true that Prince Aditya Karikalar didn’t accede to your request. His fury in war is legendary. But it is also true that for the past three years, he has been regretting his actions and is torturing himself for not granting your wish,”
“How is it that you know about this? Did he speak to you about it?”
“For three years, he had locked this sorrow in the deepest recess of his heart. I knew that he was troubled by something and begged him to reveal it to me. He opened his heart ten days ago, before I journeyed to Elangai. Since then…”
“Since then, I have been wanting to meet the Pazhuvur Queen,”
“You said that if you had been in Aditya Karikalar’s position, you would have acceded to my request and granted Veera Pandiyan his life,”
“Yes I did,”
“Is that true?”
“Absolutely! You can test me if you want,”
“Ayya! I have a doubt. Can I tell you about it?”
“My ears are fortunate to hear anything that you care to say with your honeyed voice,”
“I think that you are testing me with your words. While you speak of the net that I am casting around, you are trying to trap me in your net! You are trying to gain my confidence so that you could learn all my secrets!”
Parthibendran was flabbergasted to hear Nandini’s words. He had indeed begun the conversation with intention of trapping her in a web of lies and to make her believe that he was smitten with her beauty. But what began with a deceitful intent soon became true for him and he became truly enamoured by her beauty. He was startled by the fact that Nandini was perceptive enough to gleam the truth out of his lies. Nonetheless, he tried to hide the fact from her and said, “Devi! If you truly believe that I have come here to spy on you, let the Gods unleash thunder and lightening upon my head!”
“Ayyo! Do not say that!” wailed Nandini.
“That messenger who came from your Prince, what was his name?”
“You mean Vandiya Devan?”
“Yes. He tried to spy on me very cleverly and if your account is true, it looks as if the lightening did indeed fall upon his head,”
“Alas Devi! The lightening fell upon the ship and not on his head and that finally led to the Prince leaving the ship in the heart of the storm!”
“Poor Kundavai! Two people who were most dear to her heart are lost to her forever. How unfortunate for her?”
“Devi! Who are these two people?”
“Didn’t you know that Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar was most dear to Kundavai?”
“Yes I do. But who is this other person who is dear to her?”
“Who but that messenger that your Prince sent along,”
“You mean Vandiya Devan?”
“Chi! Chi! How could Princess Kundavai, who is powerful enough to rule this kingdom spare a glance to that upstart and vainglorious Vandiya Devan?”
“Nonetheless, it is true. She was attracted to him and that’s why she sought to save him from my husband’s soldiers, by sending him away to Elangai to fetch her brother. My husband is berating himself for sending those ships to imprison the Prince but in reality it is Kundavai who is responsible for the brother’s death. If she had not sent Vandiya Devan to the Prince…”
“…then the Prince wouldn’t have jumped into the sea during the storm.”
“When my Lord husband comes back from the ship, I would be grateful if you could point this out to him,”
“Devi! Is there anything else that I could do for you, so as to earn your gratitude?”
“Ayya! I am but a helpless woman and there are hundred ways to earn my gratitude,”
“If you could tell me I would be much beholden to you. Aditya Karikalar got a golden opportunity to earn your gratitude and he let it slip away and regretted his actions for three years. I would never make such a mistake in my life,”
“Is that true, ayya? Would you go to any lengths to do the bidding of a woman?”
“No! Yesterday, if someone had told me this, I would have laughed. But today, after I saw you, I can’t help myself. Tell me something, anything! If I had hundred lives, I would sacrifice them for you, just to do your bidding. I would sacrifice a thousand kingdoms just to please you. Ask me to forgive my deadly enemy and I would do it for you. Ask me to behead my dearest friend, and it shall be done forthwith…”
As Parthibendran went on listing the things that he was prepared to gain Nandini’s gratitude, his body shook and his speech slurred, his lips trembled and his breathe became hot! Parthibendran transformation will be a source of great surprise for all the readers. But if someone had gone to him and said, “You will become thus!” he wouldn’t have believed it. Later, after many years, he would think back to this day and wonder how he could have acted thus!
This kind of transformation is not limited to a person like Parthibendran. It happens all the time, all around us. We haven’t unravelled the mysteries of the human body yet and it would take many years before we unravel the mysteries of the mind.
People who commit acts of unspeakable evil, one day become devout and renounce their old life. There are others who spend their life immersed in devotion but irrevocably slip into evil ways.