Chapter 9 – Wayside Chitchat
Vandiya Devan had spent all his life until that day, in the dry lands north of the River Palar. Consequently, he did not know how to swim in a flowing river. Once, when he was in the army on border patrol along the banks of the North Pennar, he waded into the river for a bath. He was caught in a swollen whirlpool. That sinister and devilish whirlpool made him go round and round. At the same time it dragged him downwards. Very soon the whirlpool had drained all his strength. I cannot escape now; I have to drown in this whirlpool and die! — just as he lost hope he was thrown out, by God’s grace. The waves threw him on the shores and saved him.
When he went back to bed that night in Kadamboor, he experienced the same feeling he had while caught in the whirlpool. He felt that with no choosing of his own, he
had fallen into the huge whirlpool of a political conspiracy. Could he escape from this swirling treachery just as he had escaped from that whirlpool?
The information he had gleaned from the midnight meeting at Kadamboor baffled him. The dangers from external enemies to the Chozla Empire had been overcome only a few years ago. Prince Aditya Karikala — brave, expert in warfare, a veritable Chanakya in politics; with his intelligence and optimum use of the capable Chozla armies, he routed the powers of the Rashtrakuta monarch, King Krishna, from the Thondai lands. In a way the external enemies were destroyed. Now, internal disruption and intrigue were raising their head. What would be the consequence of this internal discord which is more dangerous than external strife?
Are not the important officials, ministers, chieftains and famous warriors of the Chozla nation involved in this frightening endeavor? What kind of persons are the Lord of Pazluvoor and his brother? What is their power? How much prestige do they have? What about the others who met here today? They are all powerful, distinguished and eminent personalities. Is this the first meeting of this kind? I wonder; to how many other places has the Prince been taken in a closed palanquin by Lord Pazluvoor? Aha! The fact of being married to a young girl in his old age has served him so usefully in this conspiracy!
Until that day, no doubt about Prince Karikala’s eligibility to the Chozla throne had risen in Vandiya Devan’s mind. He had not even dreamed that a challenge would arise. Of course, he had heard of Madurandaka, the son of King Gandara Aditya. He had heard that, like the father the son was an ardent worshipper of God Shiva. But he had never heard anything about his rights to the succession or that he would demand his rights. In fact Vandiya Devan had never thought about such things.
What is the legality, the justice? Who is truly eligible to succeed to the throne? Karikala? Madurandaka? The more he thought about it, he felt that both sides had equal justification. If it really comes to a confrontation, who will come out victorious? What is my duty in this situation? Aha! I started on this journey from Kanchi while building all sorts of dream fortresses. I desired to attain eminent positions in the Chozla Empire by pleasing the Crown Prince Karikala! I even hoped that in due course I would regain the ancestral territories of my Vaanar clan. The very limb that I caught hold of, to achieve all these dreams, seems ready to drop! … Thinking of all such things when he came to bed the second time that night, Vandiya Devan suffered with sleeplessness for a long time. In the end, towards the late hours of the night just as the eastern skies were turning light, he somehow went to sleep.
The next morning, Vandiya Devan did not get up even when the golden-red rays of the rising sun fell piercingly upon him. He was jolted awake when Kandamaran came and shook his shoulders. With the courtesy shown to any
guest, Kandamaran asked, “Did you sleep well?” And then he added, “After all my other guests had gone to sleep, I came up here and checked; you excelled in service like Kumbakarna (a mythical hero who slept half his lifetime)!”
Stifling everything that he remembered, Vandiya Devan said, “All that I recall is coming up to bed after the gypsy dance. I am just getting up! Oh, ho! It is already so late: it must be several hours past sunrise. I have to start immediately. Kandamara, tell your servants to get my horse ready.”
“This is really fine! How can you leave so soon? What is the hurry? You must stay here for at least ten days before you go on,” said Kandamaran.
“No, my dear fellow! I had news that my uncle in Tanjore was in a bad shape; his survival itself is doubtful. I have to go quickly to see him before he is gone. I must leave immediately.” Vandiya Devan said this with total conviction, without any hesitation.
“You must then stay here for a while, at least when you go back.”
“Why not? We shall think of it at that time. Permit me to leave now.”
“Don’t be in such a hurry. We can start after the morning meal. I shall accompany you till the banks of River Kollidam.”
“How can you do that? You have all sorts of important guests. How can you leave them and …”
“I have no guest more important than you …” saying this Kandamaran stopped suddenly. “Yes the guests are important people. But my father can take care of them. The other officials of this palace can do that. I could not chat with you even last night. I can rest in peace only if I chitchat with you for a little while, along the road. I shall certainly come with you till the Kollidam.”
“I have no objection. Your wish. Your convenience,” said Vandiya Devan.
After more than two hours, both friends mounted on two horses started from Lord Sambuvaraya’s palace. The horses cantered quite slowly. The ride was rather pleasant. The friends did not seem to mind even the road dust sprayed upon them by the swift northern wind. They had lost themselves in old remembrances. After some time Vandiya Devan said: “Kandamara! Even though I spent just one night in your house, it was very useful to me. Just one disappointment. You used to recount all sorts of things about your sister, while we were on the banks of the North Pennar. I could not even see her properly! When she peeped from hiding behind your mother, I could glimpse about one-eighth of her face! Your sister seems to possess a shyness and modesty that is more than any one girl’s share.”
Kandamaran’s lips twitched as if to say something. But no words came out.
“Still, no regrets. You have invited me to stay with you for a few days on my way back. I can make her acquaintance at that time. By that time your younger sister may be able to overcome her shyness about me. Kandamara, what is your sister’s name?”
“Oh! What a delightful name! If her character and beauty are like the name…”
Kandamaran intervened and said in a forlorn voice, “My friend! I beg this one thing of you. Please forget my sister. Please forget all that I mentioned about her to you. Do not even utter her name.”
“What is this Kandamara? Every thing seems topsy-turvy? Even last night you hinted that I may become a son-in-law to your clan!”
“It is true that I said it. Since then the situation has changed. My parents have arranged to wed my young sister elsewhere. Manimekala has also agreed.”
Vandiya Devan cheered within his heart: “Long live Manimekala.” He did not have any trouble guessing who was selected to wed Manimekala. They must have pledged her to Madurandaka who stepped out of the closed palanquin. They are perhaps arranging such marriage alliances in order to gain strength for the Prince’s cause. Lord Pazluvoor is a dangerous and capable politician.
“Oh! You have contracted one of your rich guests who came last night as the bridegroom. Kandamara, I have no surprise about this; nor am I really disappointed. In a way it was expected.”
“Expected? How is that?”
“Who would give their daughter to a destitute-orphan like me? Which maid will agree to marry a poor fellow who has neither house nor land. What is the use now if my ancestors had ruled kingdoms long ago?”
“My dear friend! Enough of this, stop! Don’t think so shoddily of me or my family. What you think, is not the reason. There is something much more important. You will agree if you know of it. But I cannot reveal the reason now. When the time comes you will know.”
“Kandamara, what is this? You have been talking quite mysteriously today.”
“Forgive me for that. It is a big secret that I cannot reveal even to you. Whatever happens, trust me that nothing will come between our friendship. When it is time to reveal plans, I will run to you and disclose all the details. Trust me until then.”
“Thanks for the pledge! But what is the situation wherein you may have to forsake me? And, I am not one to live upon my faith in somebody else. I trust my own sword and spear.”
“There may be an opportunity to use that sword and that spear soon. At that time I hope we will fight side by side. Your dreams also may then be fulfilled.”
“What is this? Are you soon expecting some war? Or, are you planning to enter the battlefields of Lanka?”
“To Lanka? You will be surprised if you hear the details of the ridiculous campaign in Lanka. I believe we have to supply the rice and other foodstuffs from Chozla country for the soldiers fighting in Lanka. Shameful! I am talking about something else. Be patient for a while. I will tell you at the right time. Don’t kindle my mouth now.”
“Alright. If you don’t wish, don’t tell me anything. Don’t even open your mouth. I think I can see the river ahead of us.”
They could really see the torrents of the immense River Kollidam at the end of the road. Within a few minutes the friends reached the river bank.
The fresh floods of the spring month filled that great river. The far side seemed very distant. Trees on the other shore seemed like small bushes. Reddish silt laden waters, filled with rapids and whirlpools drawing fantastic pictures, thundering joyously, celebrating with a loud roaring sound, trying to break through the high banks on both sides, rolling and tumbling towards the eastern sea, rushing onwards — Vandiya Devan looked upon this sight and stood there in amazement.
A ferry boat waited near the landing wharf. Two boatmen with long poles in their hands waited readily. One gentleman was already seated in the boat. He appeared to be of the Saiva sect. Catching sight of the two men coming upon the bank, a boatman asked, “Sirs! Are you both coming in this boat?”
“Yes. He will come. Wait for a while.”
Both friends jumped off their horses. “I came without thinking. What can I do with this horse of mine? Can it go in the boat?” asked Vandiya Devan.
“No need. There! Look! Two of my footmen are following us. One of them will lead your horse back to Kadamboor. The other fellow will come with you in this boat. He will procure another horse for you on the other shore,” said Kandamaran.
“Aha! How thoughtful. You are my true friend.”
“You must have thought of the Kollidam as comparable to the Palar and Pennar rivers. You wouldn’t have known that you cannot cross this river with a horse.”
“Yes. Forgive me for under-estimating the rivers of your Chozla lands. Gosh! What a river! What floods? It seems to roar like the ocean.”
The two friends took leave of each other with a hearty embrace. Vandiya Devan walked down the river bank and got into the boat. One of Kandamaran’s footmen also climbed into the boat. The boat was ready to leave. The boatmen thrust their long poles deep into the water.
Suddenly, from a distance they could hear shouts: “Stop! Stop the boat!” said a voice. The boatmen hesitated without pushing their poles. The fellow who shouted came running up the bank. With one glance, Vandiya Devan recognized him. He was Azlvar-adiyan Nambi. Recognizing the newcomer as a follower of the Vaishnava sect, the gentleman in the boat said “Go! Let the boat go! I will not come in the same boat as that imposter. Let him come in the next ferry.”
But Vandiya Devan looked at the boatmen and said, “Wait a bit. Let him also come. There is plenty of room in this ferry boat. Let us take him.” Vandiya Devan wished to question Azlvar-adiyan and learn more about the happenings of last night.