The old man looked at the spot that his grandson has pointed. It was an old mandapam dilapidated and careworn built many years ago by some kind-hearted nobleman to aid those who travelled the roads in these parts. Though the structure was old, it was ornamentally superior with much beautiful sculptural work.
“Did you see thatha?”
“Child! You are pointing towards that mandapam but I see nothing there. There is no one inside the mandapam too.”
“Thatha, only now I can truly say that you have indeed grown old. Your eyesight is definitely not what it used to be. Look there! There is an eagle, see how large and ferocious it looks. Look at its wings, so vast and powerful. But what is this? Oh! How terrible? The eagle is holding a pigeon as its prisoner with its sharp claws. Can’t you see it? It is shedding the blood of that poor pigeon! There I can see another bird! It is hovering around that eagle trying to rescue its mate. Will it beg the eagle to leave her mate alone? No. The way it is trying to soar over the eagle, it looks like it will fight for its lover. My God! That ladybird has more courage than all the men in this world. It is trying to fight for its mate’s life. Will the eagle relent? No… never. The eagle has preyed many such pigeons, why would it leave its prey? That wretched bird! You deserve to be slain!” growled Aditya Karikalan and then picked up a pebble from the ground and threw it at the mandapam.
The pebble hit the inner wall of the mandapam and fell down seeing which Karikalan laughed out thunderously.
Malaimaan who had long been worried about the sanity of his grandson looked at him with concern.
“Thatha! Why are you staring at me thus? Go to that mandapam and see it closely.”
Malaimaan got up and walked towards the mandapam and found that within its inner walls a beautiful statue depicting the scene that Karikalan had just described.
Malaimaan came back and said, “Child! You were right. I have indeed grown so old that my eyes have become weak. I could see that statue only after I neared it. It is an extraordinary statue by all means.”
“Extraordinary? It is surely something more than that. I am sure it was sculpted by someone who possessed incredible talent and vision… probably during the time of Mahendra Pallava. When I saw it first, I thought it was real!”
“Aditya! It is an amazing statue no doubt about it but beauty such as this can be spotted only by those who have a discerning eye. Imagine how many people must have passed by road. Most of them would not even notice the statue, leave alone admire its beauty. Very few people like yourself will find it extraordinary… worthy of admiration.”
“I have no admiration for it thatha, instead I am angry. I am incensed enough to pound that statue to dust. How could someone portray so much cruelty through his art?”
“Karikala! What is wrong with you? When did your heart relent so much that you couldn’t stand cruelty in art? An eagle kills a pigeon because it is his prey, nothing more and nothing less. It’s in his nature to grab its prey. If the lion starts showing compassion to the goat, then it can’t be the ‘King of the forest’ anymore. Those who wish to rule the land must eliminate all their adversaries and those who spy for them. If that eagle didn’t prey on that pigeon then will you ever call it the ‘king of the birds’? Why would you get so upset about something this simple?”
“Thatha! I agree with what you said but don’t you think that Eagle should have pitied that ladybird and have spared the life of its mate? Tell me something! If you were about to kill your enemy what would you do if his wife or lover fell at your feet begging you to spare his life? Won’t you feel pity for her and release your enemy?”
“If I were in this situation, I wouldn’t hesitate to kick her aside and kill my enemy. Karikala! Have no doubts about it. Do you know what Valluvar said about one’s enemies? He said, your enemy might have a sword in his hand to attack you, but it’s a woman’s tears that you need to be careful about because they are as lethal as a sword. They have the power to melt your hardened heart. And those who fall prey to their tears will remain enslaved by them and can never achieve any greatness in this world.”
“Thatha, How could you have such a low opinion of women? That means the same opinion holds good for mine own mother and your daughter, isn’t it?”
“Child! The affection that I bear for your mother can’t be compared to anything else in this world. I once had six warrior sons, each one as mighty as Bhima or Arjuna. I sacrificed them on the altar of war and when I heard that they were slain by our enemies, I didn’t grieve their death. But when I gave away my daughter’s hand in marriage to your father my sorrow knew no bounds. Even the knowledge that she would be the Empress of this Kingdom, didn’t grant me any happiness. Did I show my sorrow to anyone? No! And nor did she know the sorrow that I bore in my heart. I spoke to her at length, a day before she was to wed your father. Do you know what I told her? I said, ‘Dear Daughter! You are to wed the Emperor of this Kingdom. Don’t become arrogant or entertain unwanted pride for this fact within your heart. You will only suffer unhappiness because of that. The fact that your husband is so loved and popular will only add to your grief. Even the handmaiden of your palace would lead a happy domestic life than yourself… so prepare your heart to be disappointed. If you fail to bear children for your husband, he would marry another woman for the same. Don’t grieve if such a situation arises. If you do bear sons to him, it is onto you to bring them up as good warriors. If they die on the battlefield, grieve in your heart but do not allow tears to escape your eyes. If your husband is happy, you too be happy with him. If he grieves, try to make him happy. If he lies on the sick bed, take care of him with dedication. If he dies, become a Sati and follow him to the world beyond. No matter what happens, no matter how hurt you are, do not let those tears escape your eyes. Thus I asked her to uphold the values of our clan and she has been following my advice since then. She brought up her sons, as peerless warriors and when your father became sick, she took care of him day and night. As a father, I am so proud of the fact that she is my daughter.”
“Thatha! You are right. I am proud of my mother too but I do have a doubt. What would my mother do, if a deadly enemy should raise his sword to strike at my father? Would she shed tears and beg for her husband’s life? What if this enemy was someone who she has known since childhood?”
“Child! Your mother would never beg for your father’s life and bring shame upon the clan that she was born and bred and nor will she shame the clan that she has married into. If such a situation arises, her husband’s enemy would become her enemy. She would never beg for his life. If he dies, she would die along with him right there or else she might harden her heart and seek vengeance and seek to stay alive until she takes her revenge upon the enemy.”
Aditya Karikalan let out a long sigh when he heard this and then said, “Thatha! Shall I take your leave now?”
“Do you really have to go?”
“Why do you still have doubts about it? We have come half way through the king’s road.”
“Yes. We have come halfway through the journey. I first advised you not to go and then I asked you to go. After hearing the news about your brother, I felt that it would be best if you went there. I don’t believe that he is lost to the sea…”
“Neither do I”
“When your father was young, he too went missing for a while in Elangai. I think Arul Mozhi too would return to us one day but the entire kingdom is in turmoil because of this news. Your parents are worried and troubled and it is your duty to stay next to them and ease their burden and offer support. I thought that it would be best that you go to Thanjavur as the friend of Pazhuvur brothers, rather than as their enemy. That’s why I asked you to accept the invitation of Sambuverayar. He didn’t invite me deliberately if he had, I would have accepted it and come along with you.”
“Thatha! You are so scared? Do you really think that I am so helpless?”
“No Child! You aren’t helpless. You are a peerless warrior and I would never hesitate to send you out to the war front. I wouldn’t even be worried if you went to the battlefield alone to face your enemies. But I do worry when you go to meet a woman who would melt your heart with her tears.”
“I doubt if Sambuverayar’s daughter knows such tricks. From what I have heard from Kandan Maran, she is painfully shy who hides from the gaze of menfolk. And I really wouldn’t seek a marriage alliance without my parent’s consent. I also know that two of your own clans women are unmarried…”
“Aditha! I have no such thoughts. My oldest son’s daughters are ready to be wedded but I have no intention of saddling you with them. Right from the time, my daughter wed the reigning Emperor many who wished to seek an alliance with him became my enemies and has since envied my position. If I tried to marry off more women from my clan, then you will have no friends in this kingdom. It is for the best that you marry Samburverayar’s daughter. You need new friends and new alliances. I am old and frail… and sometimes I feel myself drowning in sorrow and fear. Sometimes I worry that this might be last time that I would see you alive! I don’t think I can be of use to you anymore. You need friends who would support your claim to the throne and for that reason alone, if you marry Sambuverayan’s daughter, I would be very happy.”
“Thatha! I can’t marry someone just to make you happy and nor do I seek Sambuverayar’s friendship to support my claim.”
“Then why are you going there? Won’t you tell me the truth? I have heard your friends talking about it. Are you really going there because of the summons that Pazhuvur Lord’s wife has sent you? Is it really true?”
“Yes Thatha! That’s true.”
“My God! I can’t believe it. Karikala! Listen to me. Your dynasty has been ruling this kingdom for over two thousand years now. Some were kings of smaller areas while many were Emperors of the entire southern region. Some married once and remained faithful to their wife, while some married multiple times and had a hoard of sons through them. Many were devout and spiritual while some turned out to be atheists and insisted that there are no Gods but none of them so far have a blemish to their character. They would never look at a woman who was wed to another. Child! Marry whomsoever you want, so long as they are single. Your great grandfather Paranthakan I married seven women from different clans. Do the same…but do not cast your eyes on another man’s wife especially the one who has seduced the senses of a warrior like Periya Pazhuvetarayar.”
“Forgive me, Thatha! I have no such intention and nor will I ever taint the name of my clan or yours with such actions.”
“If that is so… then why do you answer her summons?”
“I will tell you the truth before I leave thatha. I once did a grave injustice to her and wish to seek her forgiveness. That’s why I am going to meet her.”
“What are you saying? You will bow down and seek forgiveness… that too to a woman! I can’t believe my ears!”
Aditya Karikalan remained silent for a while and then rallied his heart to share the truth with his grandsire. He narrated the story of how he had hunted for Veera Pandyan and how he found Nandini in the hut along with the wounded king. He told him how he had beheaded the Pandya King after kicking aside Nandini who was begging for the life of her lover. He also told him of the torment that he has been experiencing ever since he rejected her plea.
“I am tormented by the memory of my brutal act and unless I seek her forgiveness, I will have no peace in my heart. Her message to me also indicates the fact that she wishes to forget the past. She doesn’t want any confusion or chaos in the kingdom. That’s why she sent the message. I will meet her there and return almost immediately to Kanchi. After that, I plan to take a ship to Elangai and hunt for my lost brother.”
Malaimaan let out a long sigh and said, “I am able to understand many things that had eluded me earlier. I now know that it is impossible to win over one’s fate and destiny.”