Thursday, 29 December 2016

Chapter 45 – Vanathi in Danger!

Akka! Do you remember how I almost drowned when I was five years of age? Do you remember how Kaveri Amman rescued me and took me back to the boat?”

“How can you ask me this question thambi? How can I forget that? Don’t we call you ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ because of that incident?”
“I met the ‘Kaveri Amman’ who saved my life in ElangaiAkka why are you silent? Aren’t you surprised?”

“I am not surprised nor am I shocked but I do have an ardent interest to learn more about her. Tell me everything you know.”

“It is difficult. There is so much tell… a day wouldn’t be enough for sure. She saved my life all those years ago and that’s not all, in Elangai she has saved my life countless times. Akka! I am not beholden to her just for saving my life… it’s the great affection that she bears for me that has me enslaved. There is no substitute for that kind of love… why even the love that you bear for me would be secondary.”

“You don’t have to hesitate to tell me that. I would be the first to admit that my love for you isn’t pure. It comes along with many strings, desires, ambitions and dreams that I hope to fulfil through you. Let me be frank with you. My life is tied to this Kingdom and anyone who would be instrumental in making this land ‘great’ will find a place in my heart. I love you all the more because I believe that under your rule, this beautiful kingdom would flourish. But if you or anyone would strive to crush this dream of mine, I might turn against them too. But the love of this deaf and mute woman has no such selfish motives. She showers on you the love that she bore for our father, twenty years ago. There cannot be any comparison for love such as that.”

“When did you learn this?”

“What are you referring to?”

“That she is our step mother?”

“I guessed it from what father told me and later from Vandiya Devar too. Does she think you are her own son or another woman’s son?”

“Neither she and nor I have entertained such thoughts ever. Why do you differentiate thus?”

“Our mother became the queen of this kingdom in her stead and despite knowing that she showers you with love and affection… you who is the son of her rival. Isn’t that special?”

“I am sure she knows that I am not her son. If not anything else, the difference in our ages is quite obvious. She can’t talk... can’t express anything. She draws pictures and whatever we can understand from that is what we can learn from her. Apart from the love that she bears me… if you but knew that extent of love that she bears for our father, it breaks my heart to pieces. Akka! Did father look exactly like me when he was my age?”

“No! Father was as handsome of Manmathan when he was your age. Our clan was well known for bravery and glorious deeds in war but not for beauty. Our grandfather, Aringhzha Chola married Kalyani Devi who belonged to the Vaithumbaraya clan after being enamoured by her beauty. I have heard that when they married, her complexion was that of gold and her beauty could only be compared to that of a full moon. Even today, after so many years, she still looks beautiful and that’s how our father ended up being the most handsome king in the Chola dynasty, so much so that his own given name ‘Paranthakan’ is rarely used. Our brother, you and I have taken after our mother in appearance. The Thirukovalur clan hates beauty in any form and they believe that bravery and beauty can’t go hand in hand.”

“I know not whether bravery and beauty can go hand in hand but I do know one thing for sure, there is no connection between affection and beauty. Otherwise…”

“Otherwise why is this girl Vanathi looking at you without blinking her eyes? Why are Senthan Amuthan and Poonguzhali looking at you from over the boat?”

The Prince smiled at her and said, “Akka! You have strayed away from the subject of our conversation. I was talking about the love that Kaveri Amman bore for me. Leave that aside… do you think it’s possible for one person to look exactly like another?”

“Why not? If they are twins by birth, it is very much possible. Mother and daughter can look the same when they are of the same age. That apart there has been many instances where two people who are not related by birth to look the same. It is one of the mysteries of nature.”

“I am wondering whether Pazhuvur queen and our stepmother can resemble each other as Vandiya Devar claims. I have seen Nandini when she was very young. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet her properly after she became Pazhuvetrayar’s wife. What do you think?”

“I have met Nandini but I haven’t seen our stepmother but I believe Vandiya Devar because what he told me also matches with what our father related about his past.”

“Father spoke to you? When?”


“Few days ago, Vanathi and I went to Thanjavur and that’s when he narrated many of the past events that had happened when he was of your age. He told me how he was marooned at an island near Elangai and how he met a deaf and mute girl and their love for each other. He was found and brought back to the Kingdom by one of the searching party that his grandfather had sent out for him. The day he was anointed as the crown prince of the Kingdom, he saw her in the crowd that was standing outside the palace. She vanished soon after that and he sent Prime Minister Anirudhar to find her but he learned that she had fallen to her death from the lighthouse of Kodi Karai. Her death had a dreadful impact on him and ever since, the guilt is eating through him. He is reliving her death with every breath that he takes and it has taken a serious toll on his health. He believes that she has died because of him. Leave aside our dreams, ambitions and aspiration for our clan and dynasty… our first duty is to our father. We should find relief for the torment he suffers everyday. You will need to somehow bring Kaveri Amman here and we need to prove to our father that she is well and alive and by no means dead. Unless we do this, he will not know peace neither in this life or the next.”

Akka! Off late, I have been at the death’s door many times and each time I had only one regret about my life… that I am dying without uniting Kaveri Amman with my father. Whenever I think about her, my heart bursts with sorrow. Those with the gift of speech can speak and express themselves and those who can hear can at least listen to words of solace that others will give you but she can do neither. Just imagine her plight! All these years, she has buried, love, affection, sorrows and regrets deep within her heart… I am not surprised that she is roaming through the jungles of Elangai like a mad woman. I do wish to reunite her with our father, but do you think he would want that?”

“Whether he wishes it or not, I believe it is our duty to bring her to him. Do you know that for the past 20 years he believes that he is seeing the ghost of this woman, wanting to avenge for him for her death. It is this guilt, fear and shame that torment him day and night. That’s why his health is not improving by any measure.”

“How did you know this? Did father tell you?”

“Yes father told me… and so did Vanathi.”

Vanathi… What’s this got to do with her? Did you tell about this?”

“No I didn’t. I will let her tell you everything that happened one night when we were in Thanjavur. I think you are being very rude and ungracious. You haven’t spoken a word to the Kodumbalur Princess and nor have you enquired after her health? Is this the way you would greet the daughter of noble Siriya Vellar who gave up his life for the glory of Cholas?”

Akka! Why should I enquire after her specially when you are looking after her?”

“Is that so? Now keep that mouth of yours shut and be gracious. Vanathi! Come here my sweet… the Prince wishes to greet you properly.”

Vanathi came near them but didn’t look at the Prince. Instead, she looked at Kundavai and said, “Akka, why do you speak such lies? Your brother doesn’t wish to meet me his gaze is on the boat at all times. It is obvious that he wishes to go back .” Obviously, she meant Poonguzhali when she spoke about the boat!

The Prince laughed out aloud and said, “Akka! Your friend can speak! And here I was wondering whether she too is deaf and mute among the others in our family.”

Akka! I do become mute when I am in his presence. Sometimes I wonder whether I have really been struck mute.”

“That’s good I say! In Kodi Karai there is this man, Poonguzhali’s brother. With others, he manages to speak somewhat but when he is in the presence of his wife, he becomes mute. Therefore his family calls him ‘mute’ despite the contrary.”

“This Princess too is like that. When she first came to us, she used to chatter constantly but ever since you went to Elangai the first time, she has changed completely. She doesn’t talk to anyone and strays away alone to daydream. Vanathi! I want you to tell the Prince about what happened that night at the Thanjavur palace.”

“Let the Kodumbalur Princess sit and narrate her story. If her uncle sees her standing for so long, he would get worried for her health. When I was in Elangai, he used to enquire about her health whenever he happened to meet me. You never used to send me any message about her and I used to wonder what I could tell him.”

“I had sent a message with Vandiya Devar, didn’t he give it to you?”

“He would have given the message, akka but your brother might not paid any heed to it. He must have been too busy thinking about other things.”

“That’s very true. After seeing your Olai, I have been very preoccupied indeed. I feel as if this fever has affected my ears as well, ask your friend to speak a bit louder.”

Then with Kundavai’s skilful coaxing, Vanathi narrated all that had happened that night when she had tried to find her way to the palace terrace and the King’s wails. She also described whom she saw at the King’s chambers that night when she overlooked the room from the balcony. Many a time, she would glance up and meet the Prince’s eyes and would forget what she had been saying. Kundavai would then prompt and remind her to finish her tale much to the enjoyment of the Prince.

The Prince listened to her with avid interest and then finally said, “Akka! Your friend has forgotten one important thing. After seeing and hearing all these things, I am sure she must have swooned!”

 Vanathi bent her head shyly while Kundavai and the Prince laughed out aloud.

Kundavai then told her, “Vanathi! Why don’t you roam around the banks of the canal? Or if you want, you can go and wait with our entourage in the palanquin. Arul Varman will be here for a few days, we will meet again.”

“Alright akka! I will roam around the banks and wait for you.” Said Vanathi and left with an enthusiastic gait.

Arul Varman waited until she left and then turned towards his sister, “Akka, I can understand the reason behind father’s wails but what do you think about what he saw in his room? If whatever he saw was his own vision born of guilt then how could your friend see it?”

“Our father didn’t see a vision and nor did Vanathi imagine things. Whatever happened that night was a midnight drama enacted by Pazhuvur Queen Nandini Devi. I guessed the truth even then and now I know for sure why she must have done, thanks to you and Vandiya Devar.”

“What was the purpose of this drama? What did she hope to learn?”

Nandini has always been suspicious about the secret of her birth. She also knows that the Emperor had swooned the first time he time he saw her. After that incident, she never graced his presence publicly but she must have been curious and wanted to glean as much truth of as possible from him. By enacting this sort of drama, she hoped to learn the truth from him.”

“Do you think she has learned the truth?”

“I know not, Arul Varma. Not even the Lord Brahma can hope to understand what lies beneath her heart. When I think about Periya Pazhuvetarayar’s plight in her hands, I feel sorry for him. We spoke about beauty, a few moments ago. If you were to ask who is the most beautiful woman among all, then I would name Nandini. We can’t compete nor compare with her beauty. Hers is a kind of beauty that enslaves men and makes them her devoted slaves for life. Pazhuvetarayar, Thirumalaiappan, Kandanmaran and now Parthibendran… Our Prime Minister is scared to go near her, lest she enslaves him. Aditya Karikalan doesn’t come to Thanjavur for the same reason. There was only one man who has braved her mesmerizing beauty and is not affected by it…”

“You are talking about Vandiya Devan, aren’t you?”

“Yes. Him. That’s why I have sent him to Kanchi, to guard Aditya Karikalan.”

“Why?”

Pazhuvur Queen has issued an invitation to Karikalan, asking him to meet her at Kadambur Palace. I sent him there to stop him from going there and if that’s not possible then I have asked him not to allow them to meet alone. Karikalan doesn’t know that Nandini is our sister and I do not know whether she knows this truth or not.”

“Are you sure about this, that she is our sister?”

“I have no doubt about it. And ever since, I learnt it my heart has undergone a transformation. When we were young I hated her, I was jealous of her beauty. I planned and schemed to humiliate her, I tried my utmost for you and Kariklan to hate her too. Even after she left to Pandya Kingdom, my hate and envy for her remained the same. When she came to Thanjavur as the bride of the old man, I mocked her many times and have insulted her to the face. I have decided to atone for these sins…”

“How?”

“The next time I meet her, I am going to fall at her feet and beg her forgiveness and I will happily accept any punishment that she deems appropriate for my sins.”

“If you are planning to do any such thing, I will not allow you in her presence ever. There is no need for you to beg anybody’s forgiveness and there is no one in this world with power enough to punish you. You didn’t envy Nandini’s beauty; it was she who was jealous of you. It was she who hated you with every breath that she took.”

“You told me that your heart is filled with sorrow for our stepmother who is roaming through the jungles of Elangai but have you ever thought about Nandini and what she has undergone in her life. When I think about her, my heart bleeds. She became the ultimate victim of other people’s blunders. My sister, who was born before me is now the wife of an old man…”

Akka… Do you know anything about how all this happened? Why did our father think that Kaveri Amman is dead? How did Nandini end up in some priest’s house, brought up by strangers?”

“I have been thinking about this for a long time but I am able to guess very few details for sure. There are only two people who can shed some light on these secrets. Our grandmother Sembiyanmadevi must know these secrets and the second is Anirudhar, who probably knows everything. I don’t think we can learn anything from these two people not unless they choose to reveal. Anirudhar’s disciple Thirumalai must know everything as well, but he is more close-mouthed than his guru and will never reveal anything. But I don’t think it is important to know these secrets now. What we need to do right now is to ensure that Nandini does not endanger her own family and clan with her schemes. Vandiya Devar told me that she has a sword in her possession that is engraved with the royal emblem of Pandyas  - a fish. He told me that she worships that sword every day and is planning to use it to fulfil her oath. Ever since I heard that, fear and anxiety has filled my heart. I am terrified that she would seek vengeance on her own blood…”

“What if we tell the truth to Nandini?”

“I doubt if that would help. Her anger and wrath would surely increase but we need to do what is right and appropriate.”

“You have sent Vandiya Devan to guard our brother. That’s the right move but what about our father? Why should he drown in guilt? Shouldn’t we tell him everything? Shall we start for Thanjavur right away?”

“No. I will leave for Thanjavur in two days but you need to stay at Choodamani Viharam for some more time.”

“Why do you say that? Do you want me to hide myself away just to escape from our father’s orders?”

“Yes. If you come to Thanjavur, the entire kingdom will be in turmoil. People are already furious with the Pazhuvur brothers and with Madhuranthakan. Some people are also angry with the Emperor for trying to imprison you. If the people come to know that you are well and alive, the tide of their emotions will turn and the outcome of it would be catastrophic for the Kingdom. They might demand that the Emperor abdicate the throne and crown you as the King immediately. They will lay siege to the palace and to the capital and make demands that can’t be fulfilled. I called you home from Elangai to avert the many dangers that we are facing but now I wish you could go back there for the same reason.”

“I am not going anywhere, without meeting our father. If revealing myself to the public will cause problems, then I will go to Thanjavur in disguise and meet him. I need to meet him somehow and tell him all about Kaveri Amman.”

“I can tell all this to our father… do you really have to come just for this?”

“I have seen her in flesh and if I tell him about her, he will believe me. I am sure. And when I meet him, I can seek his permission to bring her here.”

Arul Varma, I will not dissuade you if you feel that you need to meet him but stay at the Viharam for another week. I will go to Thanjavur and tell him that you are alive and well and then send word to you. I came here to meet you for one more purpose. I want you to grant me a boon. If you would but grant me this boon, I would never seek anything else from you, ever. You have courted great danger to your life in these few days and there is aught that I can do to help you. I want you to grant this request of mine before any other danger befalls you.”

“Why so formal akka? When have I refused any request from you?”

“No you have never refused me that’s why I am asking this of you. Aditya Karikalan didn’t marry and nor does it seem like he would. Our father’s line can continue only through you. That is my request to you.”

“If I agree to your request, will you allow me to wed a woman of my choice?”

“Why do you ask thus? For twenty years, our likes and dislikes have been the same. Why would it change now?”

Akka! The woman that I marry must stand by me and help me fulfil the dreams that I have.”

Thambi! Truly! You wish to fulfil your dreams with the help of a woman?”

At the same moment, they heard Vanathi shout, “Ayyo! Ayyo! Akka! Help me.”



 
 





  

Ponni's Beloved on Facebook

Ponni's Beloved on Facebook
Like us on Facebook

Volume 1 - New Flood