Friday, 15 July 2016

Chapter 30: Two Prisons


Kundavai went to the city’s prison directly after her conversation with Vanathi. She asked the guards to wait outside and entered the building where Vandiya Devan was kept in an isolated cell. When she entered the outer chamber she found him singing a love song with his back on the cell bars.

Kundavai waited until he finished the song and then coughed discreetly to gain his attention. Vandiya Devan turned around immediately and welcomed her, “Welcome! Princess! Do sit down!”

“Where do I sit?”

“This is your palace. The city is under your reign. You can sit on any of the thrones available here…”

“When the Vanar clan ruled over this Kingdom did your people build your palaces like this? Under our reign, we call this a prison.”

Devi! I do not know how a palace or prison looks like in our city because we have none. A hundred years ago, many kings brought their armies to our city and destroyed our prisons and palaces.”

“Why would they do that? Why did they hate your palaces and prisons?”

“They were destroyed thanks to a poet’s imagination.”

“Really! How did that happen?”

“When my forefathers ruled over this Kingdom they would imprison the kings and noblemen who didn’t pay their taxes on time. They would be held in cells that overlooked the palace and they would be made to wait for days together before the King would grant them an audience. These people would wait in the cells and watch the days roll by, hoping that one day the King would call them to the court where they could apologize and go back home. But unfortunately it was not easy to gain an audience with the King unless you happen to be a poet. These poets were fortunate beings who could gain the audience of the King at time of the day and when they left the King plied them with gifts, precious jewels and what not! The noblemen and petty kings who were imprisoned would watch these poets take away the gifts that they had once given the King. ‘Aha! See how lucky these poets are? See there isn’t he carrying the golden umbrella that I once gifted the King? Look at that! That poet is going away on my chariot! This one is taking my best horse! Ayyo! My royal elephant is bearing that god-forsaken poet! In the end, there came a poet who heard the lament of these kings and he composed a poem on it. This unknown poet spread the poem all over the Kingdom and the people would listen to it with love and pride. One day, this very poem became the bane of our life when many kings joined their forces together and attacked us, razing our palaces and prisons to dust…”

“Even if they razed your palaces to the ground, they couldn’t destroy this poem that describes the greatness of Vanar Kings. Your clan is indeed glorious…”

“It is however unfortunate that the glorious name of Vanar clan is getting tainted because of my actions.”

“Aha! So you will accept the truth no matter how bitter it is?”

“What else can I do? They say that of all the kinds of slavery in this world, the worst is to be a slave of a woman. In the name of fulfilling your wishes, I tainted the glorious name of my clan. I had to hide, lie, use dirty strategies and tricks just to keep myself alive. When I sought to release my anger and frustration on that physician’s son that satisfaction too was snatched away from me.”

Ayya! Why are you so angry with the Physician’s son Pinagapani?”

“I have valid reasons to get angry. Couldn’t you find somebody sane to send along with me to Kodi Karai? He almost sabotaged my mission to Elangai. And if that weren’t enough he tried to get me arrested as a spy and after I escaped from that he pursued me again and accused me of being Pazhuvur Elaya Rani’s spy in front of thousands of people…”

“Prince of Vallam! Isn’t that true?”

“Isn’t what true?”

“The charge that you are Nandini’s spy?”

Devi! I have taken a vow never to tell the truth.”

“That’s good vow to follow. Did you perchance take it after meeting Nandini at the Harichandra River?”

“No! I took this vow much before that. People kept believing my lies all the time and yet once when I told the truth that the ‘Prince was safe in Nagapattinam’ they laughed…”

“I am glad that they didn’t believe the truth that you uttered. Just imagine what could have happened if they had believed you?”

Devi! It was a blunder that I would never repeat…”

“I thank you for that promise.”

“Promise? What promise did I make?”

“You just now promised me that you would avoid making blunders and fulfil the mission that I give you…”

 “My God! When did I say that? Enough! Release me from this prison… I will be on my way…”

“If that is so then I will never release you from this prison. You will have to live the rest of your life here.”

Vandiya Devan laughed.

“Why are you laughing? Do you find me amusing?”

“No Devi! Do you really think that I depend upon ‘you’ to release me from this prison? Do you really think that this prison can hold me for long?”

The Princess looked at him silently for a while with a strange intensity.

Ayya! You are far too clever for prisons such as this. You are indeed skilled in escaping from them. For a man who escaped the treasure chamber of Pazhuvetarayar this can hardly pose a hurdle.”

“If you truly think so then open this cell and release me.”

“I might open the doors of this for you or even you might escape the confines of this prison on your own but know this, there is a prison that you will never escape from.”

“Are you perchance referring to the underground prison that is under the command of Chinna Pazhuvetarayar?”

“No! I have no doubts, you are clever enough to overcome the tigers and make your escape…”

“Then what prison are you referring to?”

“I was referring to my heart…”

Devi! I am an orphan. I have neither a home nor a roof. I have no one to call my own. The glories of my ancestors are merely stories and some dismiss it as a poet’s imagination. You are the Princess of this realm, the daughter of the Emperor who rules over many Kingdoms…”

“Who knows maybe one day even our glories might become old stories…”

“Be that as it may but you can’t dispute the fact that you are the daughter of the Emperor today. Noble Lords like Pazhuvetarayars and even the Prime Minister of this Kingdom are bound to obey your command.”

“If what you say is true then how can you defy my commands?”

“Wielding political power is different and moreover you are talking about ruling over your heart.”

“What’s so wrong about it?”

“What is wrong is our status in this world. You are a Princess and I am an ordinary soldier.”

“Have you heard of this proverb – ‘Is there a bar that can restrain love?’”

“Wouldn’t this proverb prove true in the case of Poonguzhali and Ponniyin Selvar?”

“Yes. You are right. I thought that my brother was destined to rule this world so I sought to bar his heart.”

“I had heard so much about him that I was very eager to meet him. I wished to travel by his side to far away kingdoms and win glories and victories…”

“I guess that you have lost that particular wish of yours?”

“Yes. Ponniyin Selvar doesn’t seek kingly glories. He is content with a peaceful life. He wishes to build temples that would astonish one and all rather than wage wars…”

“In the meanwhile, Madhuranthakan is single minded about ruling this kingdom. The goat has become the tiger indeed and the tiger is happy to be the goat.

“And thanks to you I became the night wolf. I had to hide, lie and cheat - just to save my skin and escape from my enemies. Princess! I am unsuited for this work! I beg you to release me…”

Ayyo! Why is everyone abandoning me at the time of my need? Vanathi who was my dear friend and companion wants to leave me. Will you leave me too alone in this world?”

Devi! I know not what transpired between the Kodumbalur Princess and yourself. There are Princes, Kings and Noblemen who would consider themselves fortunate if you would but spare a glance at them and they are ready to hold your hand to their hearts if you would give them a chance. On the other hand, I was sent here to serve you…”
 
Princess Kundavai and Vandiya Devan
Hearing this, Kundavai extended her hand towards him. Vandiya Devan looked at her astonished and then hesitantly grasped with both his hands. He bent his head and held her hand reverently to his eyes. Every nerve end of body tingled with desire, love and longing.

“Vandiya Devarey! I was born in a family that celebrates a woman’s virtue just as they would a man’s bravery. Many women born in our family considered it their duty to follow their husbands to the funeral pyre…”

“I have heard Devi…”

Sati
“Then know this… the hand that touched you today will never know the touch of any other man.”

They stared at each other silently… wordlessly. Vandiya Devan couldn’t look away from the tear filled eyes of Kundavai.

Ayya! You are too reckless for your own good. I fear for your life. If anything were to happen to you, what will become of me?”

Devi! I am fortunate to have gained a place in your heart but do not ask me to be a coward.”

“There is a vast difference between being cautious and being a coward. Even Prime Minister Anirudhar doesn’t doubt your bravery…”

“Then what does he doubt about…”

“He fears that you might be Nandini’s spy.”

“If that is so then allow me to give him the same answer that I gave that Physician’s son. Open the door of this cell and tell me where I can find him.”

“The Physician’s son at least knew a little bit of fist fight but our Prime Minister has always exercised his sharp mind instead of a sword.”

“Then I will let him how sharp my sword is…”

“Next to the Emperor it is Prime Minister Anirudhar who the people trust and respect. Even the Pazhuvur brothers steer clear of him…”

“Pazhuvetarayars have tainted their hearts when they rose against the Kingdom. They would steer clear of anybody who would tell the truth. I have nothing to hide…”

“Anirudhar is the cherished friend of my father since childhood. If you disrespect him, you would be disrespecting me and the Emperor.”

“If that is so then tell me how I can win his confidence.”

“He wishes to send someone trustworthy to Kanchi. I have assured him that you can undertake this mission…”

Devi! Do not send me to Kanchi. A voice within my heart keeps telling me, ‘Do not go to Kanchi’.

“Could that voice perchance belong to Nandini?”

“Never! I would never listen to that snake.”

Ayya! Please do not call her thus, I beg you.”

“What is this? Why this sudden change?”

“Yes. My heart has undergone a change indeed after I heard about that deaf and mute woman in Elangai.”

“If that is so then, you will be telling me next that I will have to behave respectfully towards her.”

“Yes.”

“And you might also tell me that if she should hand me the Sword that she has prays to everyday and ask me to kill someone, I should go ahead and do it?”

Kundavai shivered when she heard this.

“It is enough if you are respectful towards her, you don’t have to listen to her. I fear that she has no idea what she is involved in.”

“She too said the same thing. She said, ‘I know not why I am worshipping this sword’”

Hearing this Kundavai shivered once again and said shakily, “Only God can save the Chola race.”

“And I wish that the God would use me as a weapon to save it.”

“I wish the same too. Once you return from Kanchi, I want you to go back to Elangai and bring that deaf and mute woman to me…”

“’It is impossible to take her anywhere. It would be like bottling up a storm.’ Someone said this once… yes Azhwarkadiyan did. Maybe he tried to do it once.”

“No. He couldn’t do it. I think that only you can do it.”

“If you truly believe that then don’t send me to Kanchi.”

“Why?”

“My master is in Kanchi and if he asks me I will be honour bound to tell him everything. If he comes to know of the conspiracy that the noblemen are hatching he will be furious. If he knows that the Emperor is literally treated like a prisoner, then he would immediately start for the capital to release him. If he had heard the news about his brother, he might have left Kanchi even as we speak.”

“That’s exactly why we are sending you. You will need to stop him from leaving Kanchi.”

“What if he had already left?”

“If he has already left then join him on the way… you will need to do a very important thing”

“Tell me.”

“I have received word that Periya Pazhuvetarayar and Nandini have started from Thanjavur and are on their way to Kadambur.”

“Is he really going there with Nandini or is he taking someone else in her Palanquin?”

“No! It is Nandini who will be travelling with him. My uncle is here now. How could it be him?”

“Why are they going to Kadambur?”

“They have invited Aditya Karikalan to Kadambur. Outwardly they wish to discuss marriage and work out a compromise by splitting the Kingdom into two.”

“My master would never agree to that.”

“I am not worried about that at all.”

“Then what are you worried about?”

“A nameless dread has filled my heart. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding away. If I happen to sleep, I dream of darkness that comes swirling towards me. This darkness brings along with it many ominous dreams that I dare not describe.”

“In such a situation why do you want me to leave you and go away? I would give my life to save you from any danger…”

Ayya! I do not fear any danger to myself but for my brother. My fears are for my Nandini. I dread them meeting again. I want you to stop them from meeting alone.”

Devi! You know your brother. If he decides to do something it is impossible to stop him.”

“And yet I wish that you become his armour. If necessary I give you leave to tell Karikalan who Nandini really is?”

“Will he believe it?”

“You will need to make him believe it somehow. If you could but stop them from meeting many dangers can be averted.”

Devi! I will try to fulfill this mission but I doubt if it would be successful. Do not blame me if I fail.”

Ayya! Irrespective of whether you succeed or fail, you will remain imprisoned in my heart.”

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Volume 1 - New Flood