Friday, 30 October 2015

Chapter 7: A Song in the Woods!



When Poonguzhali stopped running and turned around a song was heard in the woods, “Ponnaar Meniyaane! Puli Thol araikasithu….”

Startled Poonguzhali realized that the voice belonged to Senthan Amuthan and laughed out aloud at her unfounded fears. She also forgot that her pursuer was coming from a different direction.

Athaan! Is that you?”

“Yes. Poonguzhali!”

“Where are you? Come hither!”

“Here I am,” said Senthan Amuthan and came out of the woods to the clearing.

“You frightened me out of my wits! Why did you follow me?”

“Poonguzhali! I came all the way from Thanjavur just to hear you sing with that divine voice of yours. It’s been many days since I have been here but there was no sign of you, so I waited. Today I saw you in the woods and started following you but you kept running away. Why did you run? Now that you are here, sing a song…”

“You have a picked a nice place to sing a song and a perfect moment too!”

“If you do not sing then I would. I will sing a song that would rouse all the sleeping animals in these woods…”

“Pitha! Piraichudi…”

Athaan! Please stop…”

“Will you sing then?” he asked in a loud voice and then whispered, “Poonguzhali! It wasn’t ‘I’ but a stranger who was following you and I came behind you to warn you and that’s why I sang aloud. This stranger and your sister-in-law had some secret conversation in the evening. Do you perchance know who he is?”

Then in a loud voice he said, “What do you say? Will you sing at all or shall I sing? Lord Shiva danced in the graveyard of skulls and yet you hesitate to sing in the woods!”

“I will sing Athaan! Don’t be angry with me,” said Poonguzhali and sang a song.

Parakkum em killaikaal! Paadum em Puvaikaal!

After singing the song, Poonguzhali whispered to Senthan Amuthan, “Amuda! How did you know that I had come back?”

“I saw your boat from the top of the lighthouse and guessed that it might be you so I came to the woods hoping to meet you. I also saw a few Pazhuvur soldiers coming this way but thankfully they left and I met my old friend Vallavareyan Vandiya Devan and the Prince. I warned my friend about the Pazhuvur soldiers and then we both carried the Prince to the Hidden Mandapam,”

Ayyo! Why did you do that? What happened to my boat?”

“We didn’t want the soldiers to wonder whose it was, if they came back so we drowned it in the canal water.” And then in a loud voice he said, “Poonguzhali! Why have you stopped singing? Sing that song again!”

“I have forgotten the rest of the song, Athaan! But isn’t there a song about the woods of Kodikarai. Do you know that song?”

“Yes. I remember it,” he said and sang a song loudly…

Kadithai Kattru Vaduthetru Karaimel
Kudithanaile erunthal Kutramamo?

After Senthan Amuthan finished the song, Poonguzhali whispered to him, “Athaan! Did that stranger who was following me leave or is he hidden close by?”

“I haven’t heard any footsteps after we came here. I assume that he is hidden somewhere close by and is watching us. Do you know who he is?”

Poonguzhali loudly said, “Of course I do. You are asking about the song where Sundarar describes about the owls that live in Kodikarai woods,”

“Kaatin Migavaal edhu Karikaiyanchangu!

After the song she said, “Isn’t it strange Amuda? The owls of the Kodi Karai are still the same after so many years. But do you what is more strange? Sometimes human beings hoot like an owl in these woods. I heard it a little while ago. Would you perchance know who that might be?”

“Let us see if I can hoot like an owl!” said Poonguzhali and hooted thrice.

“I can’t believe this. That sound was just like an owl’s. Your honeyed voice was meant for beautiful divine songs of Appar, Sambandar… Where did you learn to hoot like this?”

“I learnt it from a ‘mandiravadi’ Amuda! He told me once that if a magic spell needs to work, one needs to hoot like an owl.”

“So you know how to work magic spells?”

“I know a few things. Would you care to test them?”

“How do I test it?”

“I will tell you. Thanks to my magical skills I now know that there is someone hiding in these woods and watching us. Why don’t you search around and you will know that I am telling the truth?”

Right after Poonguzhali said that, a man stood up from behind the thick bushes and came towards them laughing uproariously.

“Girl! I knew that you were very intelligent but never knew that you were good at magical arts,”

“You scoundrel! So it is you?”

“Girl! Do you truly know who I am?”

“It was ‘you’ who tried to kill the Prince in Elangai. When you failed at that you invoked a terrible storm in the middle of the sea and drowned my dear prince and his friend,”

“How do you know that they died? Did you see?”

“I saw their bodies washed ashore. I buried them in Boodha theevu and came back here. May a thunder fall upon your cursed magic!”

“Girl! Don’t try to fool me. Didn’t you save them from the raging sea with your counter magical spell?”

Ayyo! How did you know that?”

“This Ravidasan can scent a lie within hundred yards. I have eyes behind every little tree and shrub in this kingdom and I can sniff out a secret with the strength of my magic,”

As he spoke Ravidasan stepped forward towards them and his red-rimmed eyes was brimming with hate and anger.

“You Girl! Tell the truth or I will invoke evil spirits upon you. Om! Hreem! Hreem! Hasht!

Shivering with fear Poonguzhali tightly clutched Senthan Amuthan’s hands and whispered, “I am going to run now. Try to stop him from following me,” and then she said loudly, “I beg you, don’t do anything to me. I will show you where they are hiding,”

And then she started walking in a direction that would take them away from the hidden mandapam.

When the Mandiravadi tried to follow her Senthan Amuthan tried to stop him from behind. Poonguzhali started running and Mandiravadi pushed Senthan Amuthan down and ran after her. Poonguzhali ran fast enough and soon it became evident to the Mandiravadi that it would be impossible to catch her. Just when he was about to give up, she would wait for him to catch up and then start running again.

While Poonguzhali lured the mandiravadi away from the hidden mandapam thus, Senthan Amuthan ran after them stumbling all the way. He wanted to go to the hidden mandapam and warn his friend but he couldn’t leave Poonguzhali alone with the mandiravadi.

Soon Mandiravadi spotted Poonguzhali standing on a large rocky platform. As mandiravadi ran towards her she turned around and beckoned him near. Huffing and puffing with rasping breath the mandiravadi climbed on the rock with a rage that would only be satisfied if he got hold of her and delivered a few stinging slaps on her face.

Mandiravadi! Look at my lovers!”

Mandiravadi looked at her lovers and saw the same scene that Vandiya Devan once saw – the swirling fire bubbles that appeared out of nowhere! Ravidasan who had seen many terrible things in life felt uneasy and a chill ran through his spine.

Mandiravadi! You boast of knowing so all about magic. Why don’t try and drive away these fire bubbles with your spells?” Poonguzhali’s words roused Ravidasan’s anger uncontrollably.

“You girl! Are you trying to fool me?”

“Why should I fool you?”

“Then why are you running away instead of showing me where the Prince is?”

“I told you that they are dead but you wouldn’t believe me. What else could I do?”

“Is the Prince truly dead? Will you swear to it?”

“See there. Do you see the comet? Don’t you know that whenever a comet appears in the sky, it claims a royal life?”

“Girl! Give me that vessel. Is there any water in it? I have a thirst…”

Poonguzhali started running again and mandiravadi lost his head in his anger and pursued her madly. He was intent on catching her so that he could squeeze the life out of her. Poonguzhali who ran for a while looked back to see whether the mandiravadi was pursuing her and then she abruptly stopped and moved away four paces. Mandiravadi who was close behind her didn’t stop and came right ahead and then stopped. He tried to turn and run after her again but it was not possible. Something was wrong with his legs. He couldn’t move them!

He looked down to see what had happened to him and found himself in a muddy sinkhole and the mud was rising over his legs. No! No! He was sinking!

Realizing his precarious position, in his panic he tried to extricate himself from the mud but it resulted in him sinking in the quicksand more!

Poonguzhali laughed at his paltry efforts and that fueled his anger even more.

Mandiravadi! What are you looking at? Have you got stuck in the hands of the ghost that inhabits this quicksand? Why don’t try your magic spells and free yourself?”

Trembling in fear and anger Mandiravadi shouted at her, “You scoundrel! Wretched woman! This is your work!”

“You wanted to choke me to death, didn’t you? It’s too bad that my neck won’t be available any more,”

Ravidasan took a deep breath and controlled his anger and then tried to pacify her, “Girl! I swear on the God I will not hurt you. Please help me. Give me your hand,”

Poonguzhali laughed again and said, “I can’t give you a hand here. Why don’t you call those evil spirits that you wanted to unleash on me?”

The mud had reached Ravidasan’s thighs by now and he was fast sinking within the unfathomable depths of the quicksand. He tried to catch a shrub that grew near the edge of the quicksand and tried to hoist himself up but he couldn’t move his legs.

“Girl! I beg you. Please save me,”

Just then Senthan Amuthan reached the place and saw Ravidasan’s predicament.

Poonguzhali turned towards him and said, “Come, let’s go.”

Ayyo! What about him? Do we just leave him here?”

“Why? Do you wish to wait until he drowns in the quicksand?”

“No! No! If I leave him here, I will dream about this all my life. Let us save him and the be on our way,”

Aththan! He tried to kill me,”

“God will punish him for his sins but let us save him,”

“If you feel that way, give me your upper garment,”

Amudan removed his upper garment and Poonguzhali tied it to a shrub nearby and gave the other end to the mandiravadi.

 Mandiravadi! Hold the other end of this garment tightly but don’t try to pull yourself out. You will only uproot this shrub if you do that. Wait until some passes by this way and they will save you,”

Ayyo! You are leaving me here in this quicksand for the night. You might as well kill me instead,”

Poonguzhali turned around ignoring his pleas and took Senthan Amuthan’s hand and walked away dragging him. They could hear his cries and shouts until they reached the other end of the forest.

Aththan! You came here at the right time. How did you do it?”

“After the dungeon prison experience I didn’t want to stay in Thanjavur. Every other day Pazhuvur soldiers and spies came to my doorstep. I therefore went to Pazhaiarai and met Princess Kundavai and she sent me here. She wants the Prince to go to Nagapattinam Choodamani Viharam as there are many dangers lurking here. She sent me here with this message for Vandiya Devan and I too wished to see you and hear your beautiful voice so I offered to come here…”

“You couldn’t have found a better time to listen to my song. But Elaya Piratti is right. The Prince is surrounded by dangerous assassins and if that were not enough he is suffering from the shivering fever as well,”

“Yes. I saw. We found it very difficult to take him from the boat to the hidden mandapam. But you don’t worry about him. The Buddha Bikshus of Choodamani Viharam are known for their skills in medicine. They will soon cure the Prince,”

“How do we take him to Nagapattinam?”

“We can take him in the boat through the canal,”

“But you have drowned the boat in the canal,”

“We can take it out of the water,”

“Then it is better if we start right away but we all can’t travel in that small boat,”

“Not all of us will be going by boat. My friend and I have discussed this and Vandiya Devan will be going to Pazhaiarai from here while you and I can take the Prince to Nagapattinam on the boat,”

Poonguzhali was thrilled. She would be with the Prince until they reached Nagapattinam!

When they reached the hidden mandapam, Senthan Amuthan clapped his hands loudly.

“Who is it?” asked Vandiya Devan loudly.

“It’s me Senthan.”

“Who else?”

“And my uncle’s daughter,”

Vandiya Devan looked over the dilapidated wall and asked, “Are you sure you are alone?”

“No. Why do you ask?”

“Speak softly. The Prince is sleeping. There was someone here some time ago and I looked over the wall thinking that it was ‘you’. But it seemed like mandiravadi

“And then?”

“And then you both started singing in the woods and I thought that you had picked a great moment to sing! Thankfully mandiravadi too thought the same and left towards the woods. Did you see him?”

“Yes we did,”

“What did you do him?”

“I didn’t do anything but she sank him up to his thighs in the quicksand and came away,”

“I heard her song too,”

“Yes. Even Poonguzhali sang a song,”

“The Prince woke up to her song and asked, ‘Who is singing?’ and I said, “The boat girl’ and then he slept again listening to it,”

“She didn’t merely sing a song, she also hooted like an owl. Didn’t you hear?”

“I heard that too and I thought that something wonderful was happening. I thought that you lovebirds were celebrating the spring festival in the woods,”

“Why are we talking uselessly here?”

“What else to do? We have to somehow while away the hours until dawn,”

“No. Let us leave right away. If we stay here until dawn, we will not survive,”

Just they heard the howl of wolves and a lone owl hooting in the midst. Senthan Amuthan shivered with fear as the scene unfolded in his mind’s eyes. Mandiravadi buried up to his neck and the menacing wolves nearing him from all directions while he tried to drive them away with the owl’s hoot.

Vandiya Devan and Senthan Amuthan lifted the Prince carefully and took him out of the hidden mandapam while Poonguzhali followed them. When they reached the canal banks the moon had risen in the woods. They laid the Prince under a tree and Poonguzhali sat down near him while Vandiya Devan and Senthan Amuthan dived in the water to retrieve the sunken boat.
 
Senthan Amuthan and Vandiya Devan retrieving the boat

The Prince opened his eyes and said, “I am thirsty”

Poonguzhali opened the vessel that she had brought from the temple priest and fed the Prince some milk.
Poonguzhali feeding milk to the Prince

After drinking the milk the Prince said, “Poonguzhali! Is that really you? I thought that you were some apsara feeding me nectar in the heavens!” 

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