Book 3

Book 3 | Chapter 33 | Vanathi seeks help

Ayya, I am not sure why you are so angry with me?” asked Vanathi. 

Vandhiyathevan felt ashamed for a moment. There was no reason why he should be angry with Vanathi, because of Poonkuzhali. 

“Please forgive me, Devi. I have no anger against you. I meant, I could have waited outside for you to finish your consultation with the astrologer and then I could have come in. I am in no hurry.” 

“I am glad that you do not have any hurry. You can stay here if you want. In truth, I did not come to see the astrologer. I have very little belief in this man’s predictions.” 

Ammani, that is your opinion. One day, you will see that my predictions are true, and you will thank and praise this poor astrologer.” 

She looked at Vandhiyathevan. “Ayya, I came in here to meet you. I saw you cross me some time back. I thought you would get down and talk to me. I am, however not surprised. I am after all a nobody. Why would you do that?” 

Vandhiyathevan was moved. “Devi, you are the daughter of Kodumbalur Siriyavelaar and brought up by the great General Boodhi Vikramakesari. You are the closest friend of the Princess of this great land. How can you claim that you are a nobody? I felt it would not have been proper to stop and talk with you on the road. Please let me know if there is anything that I can do for you.” 

“Yes. I need something from you. That is why I stopped and came in here.” 

“If it is anything that I can do for you, I surely will.” 

She smiled. “Is there anything that you cannot do? I heard all about your Lankan journey.” 

She sighed and paused. “I have decided to renounce everything in life, and become a Buddhist monk.” 

Vandhiyathevan and the josiyar exclaimed loudly and excitedly waved their hands in denial. “No, never, it cannot happen,” they said.  

“I wonder why the two of you are exclaiming this way. I do not see anything wrong in this decision of mine. In Tamizhnadu, there have been so many women who have walked this path. It looks like God wants me to stay on this earth for some time longer. I wish to join a Buddhist monastery and serve my time on earth doing seva there. I want you to help me achieve this.” 

“This decision is something that I cannot interfere in. It is between you and your family’s elders. I have heard that General Vikramakesari is on his way back, and should be here very soon.” 

“I intend to wait for no one. I do not need wise counsel from any elders. I need a favour from you. I would like you to accompany me to the Nagapattinam Choodamani Viharam, which is where I intend to go.” 

Vandhiyathevan realised what she was getting at. She must have heard what he and Princess Kundavai were discussing when she was unconscious. He could never help her in this pursuit.  

Devi. Please forgive me. This is something that I cannot do at this time. The Chief Minister and the Princess have given me a scroll that I need to reach to Kanchipuram immediately.” 

She sighed. “There can be a million excuses, sir. Anyway, I had decided to go there without an escort. I saw a few fierce looking Kalamugars on the way. Since I saw you on the way, I thought I would ask you. Anyway, I have God to protect me.” 

She headed towards the exit. The josiyar followed her saying, “Ammani, it is getting dark, and it is the new moon night. Would you not stay here for the night and leave in the morning?” 

“No, sir. I need to leave. The plan is to reach Thiruvarur by nightfall. This man has refused to give me company. I will try and find someone in Thiruvarur to accompany me to Nagapattinam.” 

She got into the palanquin and was off.  

Vandhiyathevan and the josiyar stood watching the palanquin as it vanished from their sight. 

“The Kodumbalur Princess used to be so coy earlier. I remember the other aides of Princess Kundavai used to make fun of her. I wonder how she suddenly became so bold to take on this journey alone. I am even more surprised as to how Princess Kundavai let her go like this.” 

“Yes, I remember the last time she came here, she fainted. I still remember the faint voice in which she spoke thereafter. I wonder what has come over her.” 

Vandhiyathevan looked at the josiyar intently to see if he knew anything more, only to find the josiyar doing the same. He asked, “The Kodumbalur clan is a fiercely Shaivite clan. How come this girl chose Buddhism? And why is she headed to the Nagapattinam Choodamani Viharam?” 

“Hmm. That is what I cannot understand either.” 

“Can you not find this out using your astrology?” 

Thambi, this cannot be found out using the science of astrology, but rather through the art of espionage.” 

“I did not know there was an art called espionage.” 

“There are ancient texts and songs written on this art, Appane. They dictate that Kings and Royals should use spies to find out information about enemies, their courtiers and even their own families. There are also texts which dictate that emperors might even use spies to spy on their spies. Have you not heard these songs?” 

Vandhiyathevan was amazed. He decided to read the Thirukkural when he got some time. He walked towards the door.  

Thambi, why don’t you stay the night and leave in the morning?” 

“Sir, I will definitely take you up on this offer, the next time I come by.” 

Appane, the next time you come here, I am sure you will tell me about the extent to which my predictions came true.” 

He leapt onto his horse and galloped in the same direction that the palanquin had gone. After a little while, there was a fork in the path – one going north towards the Kollidam bank and the other south-east towards Thiruvarur. He saw the palanquin moving at a distance on the latter path. For a moment, he hesitated. Should he have gone with Vanathi and helped her? His instinct guided him against it this time. He remembered the strict orders of the Chief Minister and the Princess. He took the path towards the Kollidam.  

At that time, he thought he heard a lady scream. He looked towards the Thiruvarur path but could not see the palanquin. There was a turn in the path though. He decided on a whim to just check out the palanquin once. He kicked the horse and galloped on to the other path. As he turned, he saw a sight that horrified him. He saw Vanathi’s aide tied to a tree with a cloth around her mouth. It was her muffled cries that he had heard.  

He removed the cloth from her mouth and asked her what had happened.  

“Once we took this turn, about six to seven people rushed to our palanquin. They had skulls and bones in their hands. They hit me hard on my head and tied me to this tree. They threatened the palanquin bearers to take that small path on the other side.” She pointed to a small path on the other side of the road.  

“Girl, you go and rest at the Kudandai Josiyar’s house. I will pursue them.” He leapt onto his horse and rode down the smaller path.