Book 3

Book 3 | Chapter 39 | Gajendra Moksham

The palanquin was put down on the ground, and Vanathi climbed out. She stood staring at the procession approaching them. The Kalamugars stared at the approaching party as well. The only sounds were the crunching of dried twigs and the sounds of the animals approaching. The thought of running away did not cross her mind. She knew that would be futile. No one could escape the Chief Minister. He was one who was feared and respected. He was very close to the King. He knew about everyone and everything that happened in the kingdom. She also knew that Princess Kundavai was close to him as well. Vanathi had been confident that she would be able to seek help from him. The fact that the Kalamugars said otherwise had shattered her. She wondered why the minister had ordered to capture her. Were they lying? Was it the Pazhuvettarayar approaching? Could it be Madhuranthakar? 

She told herself that, whoever it was, she would not reveal the news about the Prince to anyone. This brought back her strength and courage.  

A palanquin split away from the procession and came towards Vanathi and stopped. The Chief Minister got down from it and walked towards Vanathi. He motioned for the Kalamugars and his palanquin bearers to move away. 

“Am I dreaming, or is this Vanathi, the daughter of the great general who sacrificed his life for this great kingdom, in the island of Lanka?” 

“Sire! Am I dreaming, or really standing in front of the Chief Minister Anbil Anirrudha Brahmarayar, who has the respect of this entire kingdom; the one who is closest to the Emperor?” 

Ammani, yes, it is me. And I am glad that you recognise me. I do not want to inconvenience you too much. I just haved a few questions for you dear.” 

“Nothing that you do will inconvenience me, sire. Being of service to great people like you is a privilege.” 

“I am very happy to hear these words. When I met your uncle Boodhi Vikramakesari in Lanka, he told me to take care of you, as my own daughter.” 

“I am grateful. Some time back, the Emperor also had given his word that he will act as my father. And now, I have one more father figure. Before you ask your questions, I do have a couple of questions for you sire.” 

“Of course, I will answer your questions, dear. Please do be quick though. Night is falling and it looks like it might also rain.” 

“I was just passing by in my palanquin. These kalamugars abducted me and brought me here without my consent. They even threatened that they will set fire to my arms and torture me. Upon asking, they said, it was your orders. Is that true? I did not believe them when they said so.” 

“Dear, yes. I did give them these orders. And if you think this was a wrong thing to have done, I will take full responsibility.” 

“Your words surprise me, Minister. You ask me if this was a mistake. How can you, of all people, ask me that? You are the most respected person in this kingdom. You have enacted and followed every law in this great kingdom. You are one of those people, who will even correct the Emperor if he makes any mistake. How can you not know, whether abducting a helpless girl, and threatening to torture her, was a crime or not? If you do not know the answer to this question, I wonder whom I can get the answer from?” 

“I had heard that traveling on the roads of the great kingdom of Sundara Chozhan was safe, even for women. It looks like my opinion was wrong, as the most respected man in this kingdom does not know the answer to this question.” 

The Chief Minister stumbled for a response, but regained his composure quickly and responded in a stern tone, “Girl, please stop. Whether or not what I ordered was a crime or not, depends on the answer that you give to my question.” 

“I had received information that a girl with knowledge of a very important information related to the state, was traveling on this stretch of road to Nagapattinam. She knows information about someone who is a great threat to the kingdom. I had given orders to my men to capture her and bring her here. Perhaps they might have gotten the wrong person.” 

“I will ask even more directly. Were you planning to return to Pazhayarai from Kudandhai, or are you traveling to Nagapattinam to visit the Prince Arulmozhi Varman?” 

It was Vanathi’s turn to stumble. She choked in anger without a response to his direct question.  

She tried diverting the question, “Aha. Did you just refer to the Prince Arulmozhi Varman as a great threat to the kingdom? Is that not going against the Royalty? I need to let Princess Kundavai know about this.” 

“You can tell your Princess this, dear. I have no problem. But after you answer my question. If you tell me that, you know nothing about what I just asked, then I will admit that these people have wronged you, and I have a part in that mistake too.” 

“What if I do not answer your question?” 

“That is not an option.” 

“You may do what you please, but you will not get any information regarding the Prince, out of me.” 

“Hah. I admire your courage. You have already mentioned a few things that I wanted to know about the Prince. I just need one more piece of information.” 

Vanathi was confused. Had she inadvertently blabbered anything about the Prince, in her anger. She was sure that she hadn’t. She also knew that the Minister was a very intelligent man in these situations. 

“How can a man who chants the Vedas, lie like this? When did I ever utter a word about the Prince?” 

Ammani, if you thought, one could give out information only by spoken words, you are mistaken. The information that can be found out by unspoken words is far more.” 

“Now, listen. I will tell you all the information that I have already collected from you. This entire kingdom is in deep sorrow about the Prince having drowned in the oceans. However, you did not mention anything about that. You rather mentioned that you will not mention anything about the Prince. You did not refute the fact that you were going to Nagapattinam. From this, I can deduce that the Prince is still alive. He is in Nagapattinam, and you are on your way to meet him.” 

The Minister smiled. “Now there are only two more things that I need to get from you – where is the Prince in Nagapattinam, and how did you get to know about this information? You give me this piece of information, and I will send you to wherever you want to go.” 

Vanathi felt dejected. She felt ashamed that she had given away this information.  

Ayya, you mentioned that you are my father’s friend. I need a favour. I do not want to go to Nagapattinam, nor do I want to go to Pazhayarai. I want your help to just go to heaven now.” 

“I can help you go anywhere, my child. That is your choice, but I need the answers to my two questions before that. Your uncle and I share a very close friendship of over 40 years, but in politics, one should never be biased by friendships or family.” 

“Look at the Emperor. He did not even consider the Prince as his own son, but had ordered him to be captured and brought back as a prisoner. Do you know why he did that? It is because the Prince did a treasonous act.” 

“Are you sure, you are talking about our Prince Arulmozhi? What treasonous act could he have performed?” 

“Oho. Looks like you do not know about that. The Prince went to Lanka to fight a war. Our forces are forging victory after victory there. And our Prince has tried to capture the throne of Lanka for himself. When he heard about the order of the Emperor, he pretended to board a craft towards our mainland. In the middle of the voyage, he has intentionally jumped into the water, and passed on a rumour of him perishing by drowning. We definitely think he is hiding somewhere in the mainland. If you know about where he is hiding, you need to tell us. Or you could be accomplice to treason as well.” 

Vanathi’s anger erupted now.  

“Everything that you mentioned about the Prince is false. Everyone knows that the Prince was the reason why we won the wars in Lanka. He was the one who gave our soldiers the confidence and energy to fight. He made sure that the Lankan people were not affected by the wars. He even helped rebuild the Viharas that were destroyed during the war. The people of Lanka and their Buddhist monks loved him, and offered him the throne, which the Prince refused. When he heard about the Emperor’s orders, he himself started on the voyage towards Thanjavur. And he did not jump into the water intentionally. He jumped to save his closest friend, Vandhiyathevan. I do not know what sins I have committed, to hear all these wrong things from you, sSire.” 

The Minister laughed out loud. “If someone hears all this, they would surely think the two of you are in love with each other.” 

“Sire, half of what you just said is true. I am definitely in love with the Prince, and I do not wish to hide that from you. I am not sure about the Prince though. It is not fair for me to expect the same from him.” 

“You seem to know a lot of things about the Prince, girl. I am sure you also know where he is now. Do tell me that, as well.” 

“Sire, all that I told you, is what you will hear from a lot of people. I do not have any further information that you require. You can either let me go my own way, or order your men to burn me and send me to heaven.” 

“If you do not tell me where the Prince is, I will have to sentence you to severe punishment that is reserved for conspirators against the state.” 

“If you want me to put my head down on the sacred altar there, in the Durga temple, I will gladly do so.” 

“Hah. No. For a girl from the Kodumbalur clan, the punishment is much more severe. Look at that elephant there.” 

He pointed to a dark grey figure in the shadows. The elephant looked like it had been chiselled from black granite. The elephant’s tusks glistened in the moonlight. 

“Have you heard about Gajendra moksham? The elephant will throw you so hard that you will reach heaven in a moment.” And the Minister laughed a sinister laugh. 

Vanathi thought that this man was just an asura incarnate.  

Ayya, would you like me to go to Gajendran, or will he be coming to me?” 

The minister waved his hands and said something in a language that she could not understand. The elephant came thundering towards her. It reached out its trunk and lifted Vanathi with it. She thought about how Princess Kundavai used to call her a fearful girl. She wondered how it would have been if the Princess had been here, and seen how brave she had been. She thought, some day, the Princess would hear about this incident, about how Vanathi gave up her life for the sake of the Prince.  

The elephant had now raised Vanathi above its head, and was ready to fling her. God was kind, and Vanathi lost consciousness.