Chapter 15 – Vanathi’s Tricks
We request our readers to please recall that earlier moment in our story when Kundavai and Vanathi climbed onto the chariot and rode towards Kudanthai, leaving their friends on the banks of the River Arisil. We shall now listen to the conversation of those maids who were left behind.
“My dear Tarika, look at this good fortune that has blown the way of that Kodumbalur female! What is so fascinating about her for our Younger Pirati?”
“No fascination, no nothing! For the past four months that girl has been going around like one deranged; she is often falling down in one of her fainting fits. The Younger Pirati is worried because they have left that orphan girl in her care. She is taking Vanathi to the Astrologer to find out what ails her. Perhaps it is because of some ghost or spirit? If it is so, don’t they have to get rid of it with some magic or spell?”
“It is no ghost and no phantom. Which spirit will come and posses her? She is capable of driving away a hundred ghosts.” A girl known as Varini uttered these words with some venom.
“All those fainting fits of Vanathi are one big deception my dear. That snake thinks that she can capture the Prince in her coils if she does such things.”
“What Niravati says is true. And that is not the whole story. Remember that day when the Prince was leaving on his campaign she dropped the platter with the lighted lamp? Even that, she did mainly to attract the attention of the Prince. How can a platter carried in both hands slip like that? Or is our Prince some sort of fearsome tiger or bear for her to be frightened?” continued Varini.
“And she pretended to fall into a faint immediately; How clever.”
“More than all her tricks, the funny thing is that Kundavai Pirati and the Prince believed her!” added Sendiru.
Mandakini offered the comment, “These are times for those who deceive and tell lies and falsehoods.”
“The Prince who had already mounted his horse, leaving for the campaign; he came back into the palace to look at her! What else does one need? See how successful her tricks were?”
“What you say about the Prince is of course true. There is none in the fourteen known worlds to compare with him. There is none like him even in the imaginary tales and epics. But what I say is something else. This Vanathi, — who fainted — do you know what that fainting is really about? There is no need of going to an astrologer to find the cause! If anyone had asked me I would have explained.” Varini was sure of herself.
“What is that fainting? You can tell us, can’t you?” asked Sendiru. Varini then whispered something in her friend’s ears. Niravati intervened, “Hey! What’s the secret? Let us know it too!”
“I believe it is not an ordinary fainting fit! It is a lovelorn fit!” Upon hearing these words all the girls laughed merrily. Hearing this noise, the birds upon the trees flew out with noisy wing-beats.
“When our Prince comes back from Lanka she will again try her magic tricks on him. We should not give place for that.”
“If this Vanathi does not go mad by the time the Prince returns, I shall change my name from Tarika to Tataka (an ogress of the epic Ramayana).”
“OK! Let it go! Don’t we have to complete the task assigned to us before the Younger Pirati comes back? Come girls, enough of this,” said Mandakini.
After that, two of them removed one of the loose planks at the bottom of the barge. In a long alcove under it, they found a crocodile! That is, a dead crocodile preserved and stuffed with fibre and cotton! They took it out. The girls then paddled the barge a little way along the bank and pulled in near a clearing; a large mango tree grew along the bank with thick spreading roots. They pulled the stuffed crocodile amidst the tree roots. It lay among the roots, half in the water and half out. The girls bound a thin string to one of its legs and tied it to the root, preventing the stuffed reptile from floating away!
Tarika asked, “Why did the Younger Pirati want us to leave the crocodile here, like this?”
“Don’t you know? Vanathi is so timid and poor-spirited, frightened of each and everything. To get rid of her fear and make her brave.”
“If we consider all these things, it seems as if the Younger Pirati really intends to wed this foolish Vanathi to our Prince!” exclaimed Niravati.
“If anything like that happens, I shall poison this Vanathi and kill her,” said the jealous maid, Varini.
“All this jealousy of yours is not warranted. All the kings of the world, the monarch of Manyaketa in Rashtrakuta, the Emperor of Vengi, the King of Kalinga and even the Emperor of Kanouj are ready to give their daughters in marriage to our Prince. Who will care about this Vanathi from Kodumbalur?” said soft spoken Mandakini.
“All those kings may be ready, like you say; but what are the wishes of our Prince? I believe he always says `If I ever marry, I shall marry a girl from the Tamil lands.’ Don’t you all know this? asked Sendiru.
“Then, all is well. All of us should polish our charms and show our competence. What this Vanathi can do, we can also achieve!”
Let us now explain the reason for such talk amongst these women.