Chapter 18 – Idumban Kari
We left Azlvar-adiyan, also known as Thirumalai, at the ferry landing near Kollidam. Let us consider that Vaishnava zealot once again.
When Vandiya Devan sat upon his horse and rode away towards Kudanthai, Mr. Thirumalai started mumbling these words to himself: “This youth is very sharp. If I enter through the sieve he squeezes in through the floor decoration. I have not been able to find the truth about whose man he is, or why and where he is going. I don’t know if he was part of the treasonable meeting at Kadamboor Fort. Luckily, I mentioned the Astrologer of Kudanthai to him! Let us see if that old man can find out what I could not …”
“Hello Sir! Are you talking to that ficus tree — or, are you talking to yourself?” Hearing a voice behind him, Mr. Thirumalai turned around. The servant who had come from Kadamboor and procured the horse for Vandiya Devan, was standing there.
“My good man! Are you asking me? I wasn’t talking to myself; neither was I talking to the tree. I had a little discussion with a vampire sitting upon this tree,” said Mr. Thirumalai.
“Oh! Is that so, Sir! Is the vampire of the Saiva sect or of the Vaishnava sect?” asked that good man.
“That’s what I was trying to find out. You interrupted and now the vampire has disappeared. … Let him go! … What is your name, my good man?”
“Why do you ask, Sir?”
“You saved us in the middle of the Kollidam by preventing the ferry-boat from overturning. Shouldn’t I remember a commendable fellow like you?
“My name … My name … is Idumban Kari, Sir.” He said it with some hesitation.
“Oh! Idumban Kari? I have heard it somewhere …
At that time Idumban Kari did something very peculiar! He placed the spreading palms of both his hands one upon the other, and wriggled his thumbs. As he did this, he looked at Azlvar-adiyan’s face.
“My dear man! What is this sign? I don’t understand …?”
Idumban Kari’s dark face darkened further. His eyebrows drew close in exasperation. “I? I didn’t make any sign,” he said.
“You did. You did do so. I saw it. Exponents of the classical dance Bharata Natyam, hold a certain posture when they represent the first incarnation of God Vishnu; you did something like that.”
“The first incarnation of Vishnu? What is that, Sir? I don’t know?”
“Don’t you know of Thirumal’s first incarnation? The Pisces!”
“Are you talking about fish?”
“Yes. My dear man! yes!”
“Very good Sir! Your eyes are something special! On an ordinary tree you can see a vampire and empty hands look like the fish incarnation. Perhaps, Sir, you have an extra fondness for fish!”
“No. No. No such thing my dear man! Don’t sidetrack me. If you wish, let us drop the matter. But tell me this: do you remember that radical Saiva fellow who came with us in the boat? Do you know where he went?”
“Do I know? Oh yes. I saw him; he came along the same road when I went to buy the horse. He kept cursing you all along the way …”
“What did he say?”
“He said that if he sees you again he would cut off your topknot and shave your head and …”
“Ah! Does he know the barber’s trade?”
“He said that he would wipe out all the namam marks of your sect from your body and cover you with ashes!”
“Is that so? Then, I must surely meet him. Do you know the name of his home-town?”
“He said that it was Pullirukum Vellur, Sir.”
“Everything else must wait till I meet that zealot! My good man, where are you going now? Will you be coming in that direction?”
“No. No. Why should I go there? I have to cross the Kollidam and go back to Kadamboor. Won’t the master pluck my eyes out, if I don’t show up?”
“If that is so, go quickly my man! See, the ferry-boat is about to leave.”
Idumban Kari looked back; what Azlvar-adiyan said was true. The ferry-boat was about to leave.
“That’s fine Sir. I shall leave immediately.” After uttering these words he started walking quickly down the embankment, towards the ferry landing. He looked back once, when he was half way down. By then Azlvar-adiyan had done a strange thing: he quickly climbed the ficus tree on the shore and reached the topmost branches of that huge tree. Idumban Kari could not see him.
Idumban reached the ferry landing and stopped. “Are you coming back to the other shore?” asked a boatman.
“No. I shall come in the next ferry. You can go,” said Idumban Kari.
“Ah! Is that all? The way you came running down, I thought you wanted to catch this boat!” The boatman pushed his long pole into the water; the ferry slid into the deeps currents.
By now Azlvar-adiyan had climbed into the thickest branches of the tree and completely concealed himself.
Aha! I thought correctly! This fellow did not go in that boat. He is going to come back. I must see where he goes and what he does next. I clearly saw his hands make the sign of the fish. What does it mean? Fish! Fish! Fish …! What is represented by the sign of the fish? Ah! isn’t the fish a symbol on the Pandiya flag? Perhaps, ha! … Could it be so? Let us wait … Let me wait with some patience. The patient ones shall inherit the fields; the hasty will get the forest! But these days it seems better to inherit the forest than the field. Anyway let me be patient… Azlvar-adiyan shared these thoughts with the invisible vampire in the tree.
Soon, his expectations came true. The ferry-boat left without Idumban Kari. Idumban looked up at the ficus tree from where he stood. His eyes searched in all directions. After making sure that Azlvar-adiyan was nowhere in sight he came back to the same spot under the tree. His eyes searched around once again before he sat down. His eyes kept looking hither and thither as if searching for someone or something. But, he did not look up into the branches of the tree. Even if he had looked up he would not have spotted Azlvar-adiyan easily for Thirumalai had hidden himself well.
About an hour passed in this fashion. Azlvar-adiyan’s legs began turning numb. He could not remain hidden amidst the tree branches much longer. Idumban Kari did not appear as if he was about to leave soon. How to escape? However carefully he descended on the other side of the tree, he was sure to make some noise. Idumban Kari would surely see him. He had a sharp knife thrust in his waistband. What guarantee that he would not use it?
What can I do? Shall I make horrible noises like a ghost or demon and jump down on him? If I jump like that he may think that the vampire is attacking him and fall down in a faint or run away. I can then run away and escape! …
When Thirumalai Nambi Azlvar-adiyan was considering these options, it seemed as if his patience would be rewarded.
A man could be seen walking up from the south west i.e., the Kudanthai road. Thirumalai’s intuition warned that Idumban Kari was waiting for that man. Soon, his intuition proved to be right.
Upon seeing the new man, Idumban Kari stood up. The newcomer made a sign like the one Idumban had made before. That is, he placed the palm of one hand upon the other and wriggled his thumbs, making the sign of the fish. On seeing it, Idumban made a similar sign with his hands.
“What is your name?” asked the newcomer.
“My name is Idumban Kari. What is yours, Sir?”
“I was expecting you, Sir!”
“I too came in search of you.”
“Where should we go?”
“To the enemy memorial.”
“Near Thiru-puram-biyam … “
“Don’t talk so loudly. If someone hears it?”
“There is no one here. I looked.” “If someone is hiding near-abouts?”
“OK. Let us leave. I don’t know the way very well. You go first. I shall follow you at a little distance. Stop and make sure that I am following you as you go on.”
“Fine. It is not a good road. The path is full of stones and thorns. We have to walk through forest and thicket. Watch and walk carefully.”
“That’s alright. You leave now. Even if it is a forest path, hide if you see anyone. Understand?”
“Yes. I know.”
Idumban Kari started walking westward along the banks of the Kollidam. Soman Samban followed him a little later. Azlvar-adiyan waited on the tree till both were hidden from his sight. He had watched and heard everything!
“Ah ha! These are bad times! All sorts of unexpected things are happening. I think I am going to find out about some mysterious activity. God’s grace has given me the opportunity to find out. Now, getting details depends on my resource-fulness. I could not get all the details at Kadamboor. I should not be thwarted like that again. Thiru-puram-biyam Memorial means they are talking about the memorial temple for the Ganga King Prithvi-pathi. It is more than a hundred years since that memorial was built. It is now dilapidated! The forest has encroached and surrounded that area. The village is quite away from the memorial.
“Why are these men going there? If the matter is to be discussed between these two, they would have talked about it here itself. There is no need to walk a league along a forest path. I am sure some others are likely to come to that spot. Why? Why did one of them refer to the memorial of King Prithvi-pathi as `The enemy memorial’? Whose enemy was Ganga Prithvi-pathi? Yes! My surmise is likely to be true. Anyway let me find out. They have walked along the banks of the Kollidam. I shall walk along the
River Manni. It doesn’t matter if the forest is thicker along the banks of the Manni. Why should I bother about the forest and hills or the stones and thorns. I am used to them — They have to be afraid of me!”
Muttering these words and thinking such thoughts, Azlvar-adiyan descended the ficus tree and went a little southward. He came to the banks of the River Manni and started walking west. He walked through forests meeting no one on the way and by about sunset he reached the memorial temple near Thiru-puram-biyam.