Chapter 49 – Surprise of Surprises

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Chapter 49 – Surprise of Surprises

Kundavai Pirati accepted the letter given by Vandiya Devan and read it. Her face which had worn a slight frown until then, now brightened. She looked up at Vandiya Devan and asked, “Sir, you have delivered the letter. What do you plan to do now?”

“I have delivered the letter to you and my commission is discharged. I must now return home.”

“Your assignment is not over; it is just about to begin.”

“I do not understand, My Lady!”

“The Prince has written that I can entrust any confidential matter to you. Are you not going to follow his orders?”

“Yes, I did agree to serve you as a confidential assistant. But, I beg you My Lady, please do not delegate any important responsibility to me.”

“I don’t understand you Sir! Is it the tradition of the Vaanar clan to break their promises?”

“The Vaanar clan does not sing its own praises; neither is it their tradition to break a pledge.”

“Then why the hesitation? Is it a hatred for womenfolk or is it that you dislike me?” asked the Princess with a smile.

Aha! What a question? How can the deep ocean dislike the moon? Does it not reach out for the full moon with thousand fingered waves? Who can say that the blue skies dislike this divine earth? Doesn’t the inky sky gaze all night long at beloved earth with thousands of twinkling star-eyes? How can the cloudburst dislike a flash of lightning? Does it not hug the piercing flashes to its heart? Can anyone say that bees dislike flowers? Do they not constantly buzz around them and drown in their enticing honey? Can anyone believe if one says that a moth dislikes the flame? Does it not fall into that very flame and give up its very life? What a question My Lady! If I dislike you why would your glance reduce me to such speechless fervor? Why does the smile playing on your lips drive me crazy? — all these thoughts raced through Vandiya Devan’s mind. But, not a sound did he utter.

“Sir! Why do you not answer me? Do you hesitate because you think it demeaning for a gallant of the Vaanar clan to serve a mere female? Didn’t the Prince tell you all the details when he wrote this letter to me?” asked Kundavai once again.

“My Lady! I knew about the contents of that letter and had accepted the assignment wholeheartedly before I left. But, I think I had not begun my journey in an auspicious moment. I have acquired foes all along the way. I have made an enemy of my dearest friend. My adversaries are looking for me in all directions. In such a situation how can I promise to complete any task you assign to me? I hesitate because your business should not be thwarted because of me.”

“Who are these enemies? Can you tell me?” asked Kundavai in a worried voice.

“The Lords of Pazluvoor have sent men in all directions to arrest me. My dear friend Kandamaran thinks that I tried to stab him in the back and kill him. An imposter called Azlvar-adiyan Nambi masquerading as a fanatic Vaishnava devotee has been following me everywhere. Nandini, the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor has sent a sorcerer to kill me. I do not know when and by whom I will be captured …”

Vandiya Devan recalled his encounter with the Sorcerer on the night he had escaped drowning. Realizing the danger of traveling during the day he hid himself in bamboo groves and plantain orchards. In the night he walked swiftly along the river bank. He was tired after walking for a long distance; in the early hours before daybreak he reached a dilapidated old building on the wayside. Moonlight threw some light on the structure and brightened the entryway. Vandiya Devan walked in, past the bright spot, and lay down to rest in the dark corner. Just as he was about to fall asleep he heard the hideous screech of an owl somewhere nearby. He remembered hearing a similar sound while he had been talking the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor in her garden and was startled awake. Two spots of sharp light peered at him from the dark interior of the ruin. He took a few steps intending to walk out, when heard footsteps coming inside. He held on to a broken pillar and hid behind the tumbled stones.

A moonbeam threw some light on the newcomer’s face. Vandiya Devan recognized him as the Sorcerer who had visited the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor. The man kept walking towards the pillar. Vandiya Devan hoped that the fellow would not know that he was hiding behind the pillar and that he would walk inside. But, the fellow walked with soft cat-like steps till he neared the pillar and then pounced upon him with a horrifying shout. The Sorcerer squeezed Vandiya Devan’s throat with one large palm and said, “Give it! Give me the palmtree signet ring! If you don’t, I’ll strangle you to death!”

Vandiya Devan felt that his neck was about to break; his eyes were ready to pop out; his breathing was choked. He steadied himself by tightly holding the broken pillar. He lifted one leg and kicked back with all his strength. The Sorcerer fell down with a roar of pain. At the same instant the old pillar collapsed. Stones began tumbling down from the roof. A bat flapped its wings and flew out. Vandiya Devan followed swiftly. He neither stopped nor turned to look back for quite some time. He stopped running only after he was sure that no one followed him. He shivered with fright when he recalled this incident.

In the midst of these thoughts Kundavai’s voice steadied him. She was asking, “Sir! How long is it since you left Kanchi?”

“A week and a day.”

“It is quite astonishing, a surprise among surprises, that you have acquired so many foes in such a short period! How did you accomplish this feat?”

“That is a long story, My Lady.”

“Doesn’t matter! Tell me. Only after I hear your story will I be able to disclose your next assignment.”

After saying this, the Princess beckoned to Mr. Esanya Bhattar and asked him, “How about the boat-man?”

“He is totally deaf; even a thunderstorm will not disturb him.”

“Very good. Come, let us go in this boat for some time. I wish to listen to this gentleman’s complete story.”

Vandiya Devan was enthralled. Was it a common fortune to ride in the same boat with the Chozla Princess? I must have done penance in seven births to obtain this opportunity. Once I am in the boat I must prolong my story as much as possible. What is the hurry to finish quickly? Why should I miss this chance?’

Vandiya Devan was not in a hurry; but, as the boat floated down the lake and he began his narration of the incidents in Kadamboor Sambuvaraya’s mansion, Kundavai became more and more agitated and restless. She hastened him with questions such as, “Then what happened?” “What next?” He prolonged his tale as much as he could. But the longest story must come to and end! By then the boat had returned to the wharf. As they walked back to the garden they heard ankle bells and dance beats indicating that the dance practice was still going on in the palace.

The following song from The Silappadikaram could also be heard:-

What eyes are they that do not gaze upon the Great Lord,

The dark-hued Lord whose navel bears the mystic lotus

Which encompasses all universe, What eyes are they that do not unblinkingly gaze upon His lotus feet, His long arms and divine coral-lips?

What tongue is it that does not sing the praises of the dear Lord,Of Him who took revenge on the foolish Demon, Evil-hearted Kamsa,Of Him the praiseworthy messenger to the evil-hundred from the five-brothers,What tongue is it that does not sing the praises of Narayana, Narayana!

Upon hearing this song, Vandiya Devan said, “Kamsa may have been an evil-hearted demon, but, he helped me a great deal yesterday.” He then retold the following story.

Vandiya Devan suspected that Lord Pazluvoor’s men would have come to Pazlayarai even before he reached the city. He knew that they would be waiting at all the entrances. They were sure to arrest him on suspicion. “How am I to enter the city without being arrested by them?” with this worry he stood on the banks of the River Arisil, a little away from the city. He saw a band of street-play actors walking down the road. They were variously costumed as Balarama, Krishna, Kamsa, Devaki etc. Kamsa alone was wearing a wooden mask. Vandiya Devan had an idea. He mingled with their group and struck up a conversation with the actors. He then declared that the actor playing the part of Kamsa did not look very convincing. Upon hearing his words the Kamsa-actor became enraged. Vandiya Devan enraged him further by saying “Even I can act the part much better than you; you look drunk and incompetent.” He grabbed the wooden mask and bound it to his own face as he began dancing. Some of the youngsters in the group began supporting him saying his steps were more lively than that of their villager. The old actor became angry and refused to go on with them. Vandiya Devan was waiting for this. “Let him go; I will come with your group to the city and dance for you and win the prize” he declared. The group gladly accepted him and led him into the city.

After all the street plays were over, Vandiya Devan parted from his group and as per the instructions of Prince Karikala, went to the Northwest Shiva Temple to meet Mr. Esanya Bhattar. That gentleman hid him in one of the Jain caves and after informing Kundavai about his arrival took him to the palace by way of the lake.

After hearing all these details, Kundavai looked at Vandiya Devan with eyes full of surprise, “The good wishes of Kottravai, the Goddess of Victory must be completely in the favor of Chozlas! That is why you have been sent to me in these difficult times!” she said.

“My Lady! You have not given me any orders. There has been no opportunity so far to use all my capabilities.”

“Don’t worry about that! I am going to send you on a mission that is so dangerous, compared to which, your past experiences are nothing.”

Vandiya Devan Vallavarayan stood with a brimming heart and ardent enthusiasm. He was ready to accomplish any task assigned by her; if needed he was ready to swim across the seven seas, battle a thousand lions without any weapons, climb the tallest mountain to pluck the heavenly stars from the skies.

There was a tiny marble pavilion in the midst of the garden. Kundavai walked towards this structure. Mr. Bhattar and Vandiya Devan followed her. From inside an alcove Kundavai took a palmleaf and a writing instrument made of gold. She wrote the following sentence on the palmleaf:

” Ponniyin Selva! Come immediately upon seeing this letter. The gentleman bringing this will give you all details. You can trust him completely.”

At the end she drew a tiny symbol of a fig-leaf. Giving the letter to Vandiya Devan she said, “Take this letter and go to Lanka without any delay. Give it to Prince Arulmozli Varma and bring him back here with you.”

Vandiya Devan was engulfed in waves of happiness. One of his life-long ambitions was already fulfilled. He had met the famous Chozla Princess, the Younger Pirati. Through her, his second ambition also was about to be fulfilled. He was soon going to meet Prince Arulmozli!

“My Lady! You are assigning a pleasing task. I shall depart immediately with this letter.” He extended his right arm to receive the letter. When Kundavai placed the letter in his palm, her flower-soft fingers touched his lucky hand. He was over-whelmed with happiness. Thousands and millions of colorful butterflies fluttered around him! A million nightingales sang for him! Mountains of fragrant flowers showered on him! He looked up into Kundavai’s eyes. His heart brimmed with an eagerness to say all sorts of words. But, mere words had no strength to express his feelings.

His eyes spoke all that was meant to be said. There was no comparison to the poetry that his eyes composed in that moment. Even Kalidasa the Great had not written such romantic verse; even the ancient Tamil bards who composed the poems of Mu-ttholl-ayiram had nothing comparable!

Somewhere outside the pavilion, the wind whistled trough some dry leaves. Mr. Esanya Bhattar cleared his throat. Vandiya Devan came back to this world.

Chapter 50 - Paranthaka Infirmary
Chapter 48 - Swirling Pools And Flashing Eyes