Commander Kodumbalur Vellar stood at the banks Thondaimaan watching the Prince even as he moved towards Parthibendran’s ship. He was pleased by the turn of events and spoke to himself thus, “This just proves that the Gods are favouring us. The auspicious marks on the Prince’s hand and his horoscope prove that he is destined for greatness. Parthibendran will take the Prince back to Kanchi safely and it is time that I took my troops to Thanjai and oust those who have usurped the power,” When he realized that he had spoken his innermost thoughts aloud, he looked around warily and spotted Azhwarkadiyan standing next to him.
“Vaishnavaney! You are still here? Not that I am worried that you overheard me, after all there is no secret in this world that the Prime Minister Anirudhar doesn’t know. Alright, what do you intend to do now? Will you come with me to Maanthodham?”
“No Ayya! There is one more thing that my master had tasked me with…”
“And what would that be?”
Azhwarkadiyan looked towards Oomai Rani and stood silent. Oomai Rani was then speaking to Poonguzhali through sign language.
“Is it about that woman?”
“Yes. My master once told me to try and bring that deaf and mute woman to Thanjavur if it is possible,”
“That’s a good task that he has given you. Taking her to Thanjavur would be as easy as taking a cyclone along with you. I don’t know who she is but it looks like she has a lot of love and affection for our Prince and he is very respectful towards her. What else do you know about her?”
“I know that she is deaf and mute and I also know that it would be impossible to take her to Thanjavur or make her do anything that is against her will, yet I can’t resist myself and try to make an attempt…”
“Looks like that boat girl also knows her… see how they are conversing using signs. Call that girl here, I need to warn her about something,”
Azhwarkadiyan asked Poonguzhali to meet the Commander and then moved towards Oomai Rani. Poonguzhali approached the Commander diffidently and stood at a respectful distance.
“Now, look here girl! You are very clever, that much is evident. You came at the right time to give us news about those Pazhuvur ships. The entire Chola Kingdom is indebted to you for saving its Prince. I will never forget your help. I will reward you for this, at the right time,”
Poonguzhali respectfully bowed her head and said, “Ayya! I don’t need a reward for helping the Prince,”
“Ah! I will not accept that. Let our affairs get settled first and I will… yes I will search for the bravest soldier in our army and get him married to you. I will ensure that you get a groom who is as valorous as Bheemasena and anything lesser than that would be unacceptable as you can make anyone dance to your tune,” said the Commander jocularly and smiled at her.
Poonguzhali was silent. The Commander’s idea of a reward had infuriated her but there was no point in showing her anger to the old man. She controlled her anger with difficulty.
“However remember one thing. Just because you have rendered a service for the Prince, do not imagine that you can lure him with your tricks. There is a wide-open sea for you to catch any fish that you fancy but don’t try the same trick on the Prince. I am warning you now. I will not tolerate your presence around the Prince anymore,”
As the Commander’s harsh voice droned on Poonguzhali fought against rising anger. She almost retorted a fitting reply to him but she couldn’t speak. Her voice had clammed up and her anger manifested as tears in her eyes as they flashed at him.
With her head down, Poonguzhali walked away. Her pace kept increasing as she kept walking. She looked Oomai Rani but found Azhwarkadiyan attempting a conversation with her. Craving loneliness and solitude she started walking in the direction of Yaanai Earavu where she had left her boat. She wanted to row away to a place where there was no one around.
Men are such beasts! Why do they talk so harshly to me? Why do they say such things to me? Why can’t the God strike at them and turn them mute?
With thoughts racing through her mind, she soon reached the place where she had tied her boat. She couldn’t wait to get into her boat and row until she could sit back and enjoy the silent sea with nary a voice to bother her. Only there, she would find a balm to calm her anguished heart.
That wily old man! What did he say?
“There is a wide-open sea for you to catch any fish that you fancy but don’t try the same trick on the Prince.”
How dare he insinuate that I am trying to catch the Prince for my own desires? Chi Chi! How could that old man think about me thus? His words have proved that animals and beasts are far better companions than men. In truth, wouldn’t it be better if we were just fishes swimming through the sea all day long. They have no worries, no dreams nor do they experience distress like this. If only she and the Prince were two fishes then there wouldn’t be people like the Commander trying to pry them apart. They would be free to pursue their heart’s desire… no… that can’t be. Even in the deep sea, a fisherman could cast his net and catch them one of them leaving the other alone with despair and loneliness for company.
While her heart was bleeding with anguish she untied her boat and dragged it into the water and soon she was rowing towards the sea. The boat had been her refuge and a safe haven that comforted her through many a storm.
I don’t really care. The world can end today for all the difference it would make. Let that Commander protect the Prince from all the young women in the Kingdom and he could give his own niece in marriage to him. How can it affect me? I have my boat and there is the sea. Samudra Raja! Even if the whole world turns against me, you will give refuge to your daughter, won’t you? The Prince did name me your daughter after all!
Poonguzhali plied the oars mechanically and soon she was nearing the sea. When she reached the sea, she knew that a storm was brewing nearby. She was familiar with the signs that portent a storm’s arrival and the previous night she had seen the moon surrounded by clouds that clearly indicated a cyclonic storm. She knew that soon huge waves would rise up tossing everything in its wake. She decided to go to Boodha theevu and wait the storm there for the night and after the storm has passed, she decided to make her way to Kodi Karai. There was no reason to hurry her way back home.
The Prince is on his way to Mamallapuram by now but why am I thinking about that now?
Poonguzhali was not familiar with the navigation of big ships and didn’t realize that ships too would be immobilized when the winds drop down before the storm. The commander’s words had hurt her beyond anything and therefore she decided that it would be better not to meet the Prince again. She rowed towards Boodha theevu and was also soon looking forward to enjoying the storm’s terrible beauty from the safety of the island.
The island was very near to where she was rowing and within an hour’s time, she reached there. She tied the securely in the coast and then climbed the tallest stupa of the island to watch the storm. The winds tore through the trees making them shake like blades of grasses and the fierce beauty of nature reflected the storm that was playing through her own heart. The lightening and thunder that accompanied the storm didn’t deter the boat girl’s strong heart. Her long curly hair fell unwound rose through the wind with a life of its own. She stood for a long time watching the storm play through the sea and the island. She felt as though the storm had come there on her command just so that she could enjoy its terrible beauty!
That night she stood alone on the stupa enjoying the fury of nature and slept in a cave. She didn’t find peace in her sleep and dreamt many unconnected dreams about herself and the Prince. When she woke in the morrow, the storm had abated. She walked towards the beach and found many trees uprooted by the wind’s brute force. Near the beach, she saw a small raft floating by and the waves brought it ashore. A man was clinging to the raft. Poonguzhali helped him up and brought him some water to drink. He was a fisherman from Elangai who had gone to fish the previous day. Describing the storm’s fury the fisherman told her that his companion and friend died in the sea. He also had other important news.
“Last night, when the storm abated a bit, a lightening struck us in the sea and by its light we saw two ships and one of them was burning. The people in the other ship were trying to rescue someone from the burning ship that sank after sometime,”
After hearing this Poonguzhali felt a germ of worry growing in her heart.
What if this ship was the one that bore the Prince? No. That’s not possible. There are many ships traversing by this route. It could it any of those ships.
She then decided to take her boat into the sea. There might be other survivors from the ship that drowned. She felt that it would be worthwhile to help people rather than bear a life that was bereft of her Prince.
She immediately walked towards her boat and took into the sea. For some reason an unexplained enthusiasm and happiness took over her heart and she started singing the song that she normally sang while rowing her boat.
The Prince and Vandiya Devan were floating endlessly, their hands clutching the sail mast that had wrecked their boat. Though they were in the sea for a few hours since that night, to Vandiya Devan it seemed as though he had ben floating for years. He soon lost all hopes of reaching ashore and was sure that he would die. Whenever the waves rose high, he was sure that he would die and when he didn’t, he was surprised. He often looked at the Prince and said, “My thoughtless actions has brought this danger upon you,” But the Prince tried to console him with encouraging words. “I know people who have survived in the sea after floating in it for three or four days,”
“How many days have we been floating?”
“We have been here for just a few hours, my friend,”
“Lie! That’s a lie. We have been here for many days,”
Very soon another torment was soon upon him. His throat dried up and he felt extremely thirsty. He found it ironical that he was floating in water of fathomless depths and yet there was nary a drop for him to drink. When he told the Prince about this, he said, “Be patient, the sun will rise soon and we will be ashore,”
But Vandiya Devan couldn’t bear the torture any more, “Ayya! I can’t bear this anymore, please untie me from this sail mast and survive this ordeal. Allow me to die in peace,”
When the Prince tired to encourage him, he wouldn’t listen and instead tried to untie himself by force. The Prince then hit him on the head and rendered him unconscious. When he woke up again, the sun had risen from a nameless direction and the Prince looked at him kindly and said, “My friend! Don’t despair. I am sure we are near the coast. I spotted a coconut tree at a long distance. Be patient for a while, we will reach the shore soon,”
“No, my Prince. These are but mere words. Allow me to die,”
“Don’t lose hope so soon. I will never allow you to die. Aha! Do you hear that? Someone is singing!”
That’s when they heard Poonguzhali’s beautiful song. For Vandiya Devan it signified hope and life, after the deluge that almost took his life.
“That’s Poonguzhali’s voice. She must be coming this way on her boat. Thank the Gods, we are saved.”
Soon they were able to see the boat at a distance. Poonguzhali looked at them with an astonishment that was indescribable. The Prince untied Vandiya Devan and got into the boat and then he helped him to get in while Poonguzhali sat transfixed, unable to believe her eyes.
|Volume 2 of Ponni's Beloved Ends with this Chapter|