Book 2 | Chapter 9 | Boodha Theevu

“After you meet the Prince, and you deliver this scroll, when the Prince is in a relaxed mood, can you please ask him, if he remembers Samudra-Kumari? If he does say that he remembers, tell him that she was the one who brought you here to Lanka in her boat.”

When Vandhiyathevan woke up the next morning, the sun was just beginning to rise. The sea on the east seemed to be made of molten gold. He looked to the other side to see emerald-coloured waters. There were several small forested islands. The greenery was reflected in the water and Vandhiyathevan could not count the number of shades of green he was seeing. The whole scene that he saw was enchanting.

“This is not heaven. This is Lanka.”

Vandhiyathevan shook himself out of his reverie, and smiled at Poonkuzhali.

“Yes. I did mistake it for heaven.”

The craft was approaching an island.

“This is Boodha Theevu. Do you remember your promise?”

Vandhiyathevan nodded his acknowledgement.

Once she shored the boat onto the small island, she asked him to guard the boat, and nimbly walked towards the centre of the island. She seemed to know the direction in which she was heading.

She came back in less than half an hour. She got into the boat and motioned him to get into it as well. Then she started rowing towards Naaga Theevu.

“Poonkuzhali, were you able to find out where the Prince is?”

“Hmm. Yes. Yesterday the Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar had come to Maathottam to meet the Prince, which means Ponniyin Selvan would have also come there by now. But, I am not sure how long he will be staying at Maathottam.”

“How far is Maathottam from here?”

“It is around five miles from here. The way is through thick forests. These forests are not like the forests of Kodikkarai. The trees here reach for the skies. In some places, even the rays of the sun do not reach the ground. There are also elephants and other wild animals. You need to be careful.”

They were nearing Naaga Theevu. While Poonkuzhali’s hands were rhythmically paddling, she seemed to be lost in thought. When Vandhiyathevan called out her name, she seemed to come back to the present with a jerk.

“Samudra-Kumari, you said you would ask me a return favour. If you do not ask me now, you will never be able to. The shore is nearing. I will never forget the help you have rendered me. In fact, you have done the whole Chozha kingdom a service.”

“Do you really mean these words, or are you like the other men-folk that I have seen, whose words are just hollow?”

“I swear by the ocean, the skies, the Earth, and all the Gods that I believe in. I mean those words.”

“I was just teasing you. The first time I saw you, I could sense that you were a good person. Let me tell you what I want in return.”

“After you meet the Prince, and you deliver this scroll, when the Prince is in a relaxed mood, can you please ask him, if he remembers Samudra-Kumari? If he does say that he remembers, tell him that she was the one who brought you here to Lanka in her boat.”

“Is this all? I will definitely tell him about you. I will tell him all that you have done for me. I will tell him that, without your help, I would not be alive to deliver the scroll to him.”

“I want you to also come and tell me how he responds to what you say about me. I want you to tell me exactly what he says, nothing more, nothing less.”

“But how can I find you, Poonkuzhali?”

“Finding me is very easy. I will either be at Kodikkarai, or at Boodha Theevu, or rowing my boat in the ocean between these two places.”

“When I go back, can I come and check if you are there at Boodha Theevu?”

“No. Please do not ever go into that island. It can be dangerous. Just check if my boat is on the beach. If you find the boat, you should give me a signal. Do you know to make any animal sounds?”

“Yes. I can make the sound of a peacock.”

Vandhiyathevan made the sound of a peacock, and the two of them shared a hearty laugh, as the craft shored along the beach of Naaga Theevu.

Vandhiyathevan got off the craft and waded towards the island. He turned around, only to see that Poonkuzhali had already turned the craft and was paddling towards the ocean. He realised that she was deep in thought again.

Book 2 | Chapter 8 | Back in the boat

“You can untie yourself if you want. The knot is very loose. But, you do not need to help me. Just keeping out of my way would be helpful.”

When Vandhiyathevan regained consciousness, he found himself staring at a beautiful starry sky. He realised that he was tied at the waist by a strong rope. A chill ocean breeze blew over him. Amidst the light ocean sounds, he heard a beautiful voice singing a soulful melody. It was Poonkuzhali.

He remembered what had happened. But, only until the point when he had seen her jump into the water and swim towards him. He did not remember anything after that.

It looked like she had rescued him from the ocean. She had tied him to the boat, so that he would not fall off again. She had also taken care to tie the rope on top of his clothes, so that the rope would not chaff at his skin. He thought about how difficult it would have been for her to lift him up from the water, all by herself. She was indeed a very strong girl. Once again, he felt ashamed that he had doubted the intentions of this girl.

He noticed her getting up. She walked over towards the sail. “Samudra-Kumari, please untie me. I will help you raise the sail.”

“You can untie yourself if you want. The knot is very loose. But, you do not need to help me. Just keeping out of my way would be helpful.”

She unfurled the sail. The craft surged forward with the wind.

“Poonkuzhali, can I please have some water? I am feeling very thirsty.”

“You drank a lot of salt water. No wonder, you are thirsty.”

She took a wooden cask of water and gave it to him.

He drank a mouthful and cleared his throat.

“Please forgive me. I mistook your good intentions.”

“That is fine. Come dawn, we are going to go our own ways.”

He saw the North Star shining bright in the night sky. He was reminded of the Kudandhai Josiyar’s words. He had compared Prince Arulmozhi to the North Star.

“We will reach the Naaga Theevu towards dawn. From there, you can get to Mainland Lanka without having to cross any straits.”

“Poonkuzhali, what would you do after you drop me?”

“Why do you care about me?”

“You are doing me such a big favour. Should I not thank you? You were mentioning that you would ask me for a favour, but at the right time. Can you tell me what I can do for you?”

“I have changed my mind. I am not going to ask you anything. You are a thankless person.”

Vandhiyathevan was silent for a moment.

“I am feeling ashamed of myself, thinking about how I behaved earlier. Please forgive me.”

“Ok. Let bygones be bygones. Once in Lanka, how do you plan to find out where the Prince is?”

“The same God who helped me so far in crossing this ocean would help me.”

“Oho. You have so much faith in God?”

“Well, I have not done any philosophical research on it. When I face an ordeal, I usually pray to God and he helps me. If not for God, why do you think you would have agreed to help me?”

“That is my personal business. You need not know about it.”

He decided to extract some more information from her.

“I hear that Lanka is full of thick forests and high mountains. I wonder how the people are. Are they also brutish people?”

“Of course not. The people are very nice. But yes, the land is a very rough terrain.”

“I wonder how I will go and find the Prince among these people.”

“The Prince will shine bright among anyone. There should not be any problem in finding him.”

He noticed the pride in her face and voice, when she said this.

Like most people of the Chozha Kingdom, she too treated the Prince almost as a God. He wondered what was so special about the Prince. He felt so lucky to be on a mission to go and meet him.

“Go and seek out the Chozha forces. They will lead you to him.”

“But I hear the Chozha forces are occupying almost half of the island of Lanka. I need to reach this scroll to him as quickly as possible. I only wish I knew where exactly the Prince was. If I did, I could reach this to him quickly.”

She seemed lost in thought for a little while.

“I think I can help. Before I drop you off at the Naga Island, we will visit the Boodha Theevu (Island of Ghosts).”

“Just hearing the island’s name frightens me.”

“It was originally named Buddha Theevu (Island of the Buddha). This was where, it is believed, Buddha preached his teachings under a large banyan tree. Over time, it has begun to be called Boodha Theevu. And by virtue of its name, no one visits the place anymore.”

“And why would we be stopping in this island?”

“I know of a boodham – a ghost – who can perhaps tell me the exact location of the Prince.”

“Would you also introduce me to this ghost?”

“No. We will go there only if you promise to stay with the craft on the beach. I will go into the island and get the information you need.”

He agreed. The chill wind was comforting. The sound of the wind lulled him to sleep very quickly.

Book 2 | Chapter 7 | Samudrakumari

She knew about the perils of rescuing people who were hysterical and on the cusp of drowning. She had heard about how they would clasp the rescuer so tightly that it would make it very hard for the rescuer to swim. She thought quickly. There was only one way. She went close to him and landed a powerful blow between his nose and temple.

Vandhiyathevan spent the day lazing in the mandapam. For most part of the day, he was thinking about Poonkuzhali. He thought about how intelligent she was. He was also very impressed with her humility – how she had casually mentioned slaying a leopard. There were times when she behaved very obstinately and adamantly. Yet, there were times when he saw extreme sorrow in her eyes. He wondered what brought that out in her – perhaps a very sad incident earlier in her life. He thought about her helpful nature. He remembered how she had saved him from the guards. And now, she had even accepted to take him to Lanka.

There were times in the day when he heard a lot of commotion – sounds of horses, men and frightened animals. He realised that he was the one they were searching for. He was reminded of the turncoat – the son of the Vaidhiyar. He would never be able to forgive him.

The sun began to set. Vandhiyathevan longed to see the beautiful sunset from Kodikkarai. The peninsular formation of land near Kodikkarai made it a brilliant place to watch the sun set over the oceans. Vandhiyathevan controlled his desire. It would not be safe. Darkness fell quickly. Vandhiyathevan could not hold himself back any further within the mandapam. He gingerly stepped out. The nocturnal sounds of the forest sent a chill down his spine.

He heard the sound of a cuckoo. Vandhiyathevan took a few steps towards the sound. He saw Poonkuzhali at a distance. She motioned for him to follow her without making a noise. He noticed that the shore was not too far away. He saw a craft anchored close by, with its sail rolled down. She started pushing the craft away from the shore. Vandhiyathevan waded in the water alongside the craft for a little distance. Then she got into the craft and asked him to board as well. The craft swayed like a pendulum. Vandhiyathevan’s heart raced in fear.

“Should we be raising the sail now?”

“No. The wind is blowing in the opposite direction now. If we raise the sail, we will go towards land again. We will have to wait until the wind turns.”

“You seem to be very well-versed in sailing, just like your father mentioned.”

“He is my father only when I am on land. When I am in the ocean, the Ocean King, Samudra-Rajan is my father. I have another name too – Samudra-Kumari. Hasn’t anyone told you that yet?”

“Interesting name.”

“If the Emperor’s younger son can be addressed as Ponniyin Selvan, can I also not be addressed as Samudra-Kumari?”

“When can we reach Lanka?”

“If two people row, we can make it by dawn. The winds would also have to aid us.”

“Let me also help you row, then.”

“No need. This requires skill and I will take care of the journey.”

The boat rode the rough waves. Vandhiyathevan was feeling extremely queasy and giddy.

“These are some rough winds.”

She laughed loudly. “This is nothing compared to the winds of the stormy season. The whirlwinds that blow at those times can easily sink boats this size.”

She explained the various types of sea winds and how it can affect crafts of various sizes. She seemed to be extremely knowledgeable about the sea.

Suddenly a wave of distrust swept over him. “Was she intent on drowning him?” he thought.

“Turn around the craft and take me to land.”

“Shut up. What are you saying? We are out in the middle of the sea. If you are so afraid, close your eyes and sleep.”

“Take me back. My doubts are getting clarified. You want to drown and kill me. If I sleep, your job will become easier. If you do not turn around, I will jump into the sea.”

“Please do so. But, give me the scroll that you are to deliver to the Prince.”

“Ah. How do you know about the scroll?”

“I saw it yesterday. Do you think I would have agreed to take you to Lanka, without knowing who you are? If I were Princess Kundavai, I would never have given such an important task to a fickle-minded person like you.”

“Oho. You also know who gave me the scroll. You are definitely a conspirator. Are you going to turn around, or should I jump into the water?”

“Go ahead and jump,” she screamed.

He took a deep breath and jumped into the water. They had come into deep water by then. He had not anticipated that it would be so deep. Panic gripped him. The waves tossed him up and down. One moment, he could see the boat, the other, the darkness of the water enveloped him.

He was certain that he was going to drown and die. All his dreams of meeting the Prince, befriending him, and bringing him back to the mainland, were quashed. All of these aspirations were now being destroyed by this girl – this mad girl.

He thought that she must be from the Pazhuvettarayar camp. Then he thought she must have probably been sent by the Pazhuvoor queen Nandini. He apologised in his mind to Princess Kundavai for failing in his duty. He then decided to start praying to God, at the time of his death.

At that very time, he rode a high wave, and he saw the boat again.

For a few moments after Vandhiyathevan had jumped off the boat, Poonkuzhali had been adamant and stood her ground. She thought he would somehow struggle and come back to the boat.

After a little while, she realised that she was wrong. He did not know how to swim so well, and he was clearly petrified. He was screaming loudly. If she did not save him now, he would start swallowing water and drown. She started to row towards him.

She motioned for him to get on to the boat. He did not seem to understand. He was hysterically screaming. He had lost his sense of reason.

She tied one end of the sail rope to the boat and tied the other end to her waist. She jumped into the water and swiftly swam towards him. She saw the terror in his eyes.

She knew about the perils of rescuing people who were hysterical and on the cusp of drowning. She had heard about how they would clasp the rescuer so tightly that it would make it very hard for the rescuer to swim. She thought quickly. There was only one way. She went close to him and landed a powerful blow between his nose and temple.

Years of rowing these rough seas had made her very powerful. He was knocked out in one blow. Darkness enveloped him into an endless sleep.

Book 2 | Chapter 6 | Secluded Mandapam

“A cheetah used to live here. I killed it and made this mandapam my home. Whenever I want to spend some time alone, I come here.”

When Vandhiyathevan woke up, only the lighthouse keeper’s wife and daughter-in-law were at home. The old man had gone to the temple. He could not see Poonkuzhali anywhere. He ate his morning meal and set out to search for her. He searched all around the lighthouse, but could not find her. He headed to the temple, where the old lighthouse keeper was collecting flowers to offer to the Lord.

“If you are searching for Poonkuzhali, she is not here. She must be roaming somewhere in the forest, chasing deer.”

He roamed around the forest for a while, but could not find her. He roamed around the beach shore, but of no avail.

He suddenly had an urge to bathe in the sea. He also thought it would be a good idea to lose the fear of water, if he was to cross this large expanse of sea. He placed his waist cloth on the beach and stepped into the water. He then walked some distance into the sea. Poonkuzhali was right. The depth was not more than his waist level. He kept walking, when he suddenly realised that he had come too far from the coast. He panicked. He turned around and slowly started walking back to the shore, when he saw Poonkuzhali on the beach.

He saw her looking through his clothes. She had found his waist cloth and the scroll. “Ey! Poonkuzhali. Those are my things. Please do not touch them.”

He was not sure if she could hear him, over the sound of the crashing waves. He started running towards her. She saw him running towards her and started running herself. She started running away from the lighthouse and towards the forests.

“Poonkuzhali! Stop!”

He fell down a couple of times in the water, but somehow got to the shore. He started running towards her. Just like the previous day, he found it really hard to keep up with her. She ran past a herd of deer, which panicked and ran helter-skelter. He had to catch her before she entered the forest. He would never be able to find her in the forest. But he could not. She entered the forest and Vandhiyathevan followed. And just as he had expected, he lost sight of her. He searched for her in vain. He had bruises all over his body by now. He kept returning back to the same place again and again. He was hopelessly lost.

He stopped beneath a tree. His pouch fell from above. He looked up and saw Poonkuzhali. “Check if your scroll and your money are all there.”

“I have never seen a mad girl like you.”

She laughed.

“I had to do this. Else, you would not have come to the forest. You would have gone to the lighthouse. Climb this tree and see what is happening at the lighthouse.”

He climbed the tree and saw in the direction that she was pointing. There were about ten horses and several soldiers. They must be Pazhuvettarayar’s soldiers searching for him.

“Poonkuzhali, thank you for saving me. You have done me a great service. I will never forget this.”

“Oho. I see that you have a sense of gratitude too.”

“Please do not generalise all men to be a bad lot.”

“Enough with the gratitude. Now listen to what I am going to say carefully.”

“Earlier in the morning, your friend, the Vaidhiyar’s son, wanted to collect herbs. So, I offered help and brought him to this forest. He soon started making advances at me. I told him that you had already beaten him to it. He became very upset and told me to reconsider. He said that you were a fugitive and were running away from the law.”

“Scoundrel.”

“At that time, we heard the sound of horses. Instead of running away from the horses, he walked towards the riders. He negotiated with the soldiers, that if he showed them where you were, they should let him go free.”

“Two-faced rogue. But then, why did you take my clothes and run? You could have told me all this on the beach.”

“If I had not run like that, I would not have been able to get you here to the forest. You would have wanted to go and fight the soldiers. Or perhaps the soldiers may have over-powered you.”

Vandhiyathevan felt ashamed that he had initially thought this girl to be mad. She was indeed very intelligent.

“I cannot describe how big a help you have rendered me. I just want you to help me a little more. Please take me to Lanka. I assure you that I am not going there for any illegal reason. Please help me.”

“What would you give me if I do help you?”

“I would not forget your help. I would do anything that you command.”

“Is that a promise?”

“Yes. I will never forget this promise.”

“Ok. Then I will ask for the favour later, when I require it.”

She took him to a secluded mandapam inside the forest.

“A cheetah used to live here. I killed it and made this mandapam my home. Whenever I want to spend some time alone, I come here.”

“Wait here until dark. I will come and get you. I will also try and bring some food for you. We will have to set sail within the first hour of darkness.”

“Do not step out on any circumstance – whatever be it – even if you hear human voices or horses or wild animals. I will make the sound of a cuckoo. Come out only if you hear me make that sound.”

“Would there be any wild animals?”

“After I killed the cheetah, I have not seen any. There might be the occasional fox or wild pig.”

“I left my spear and knife at the lighthouse.”

She went behind a pillar, retrieved a sharp weapon and gave it to him.

“I have not seen a weapon like this. What is this made of?”

“It is made of the bones of a big fish. I used this to kill the cheetah.”

“I will wait for the sound of a cuckoo.” 

Book 2 | Chapter 5 | Fire Spewing Demons

Sleep evaded him. After a long while, he fell asleep. He dreamt of being in a boat with Poonkuzhali. The dark ocean surrounded them. He dreamt of asking her to sing again.

Vandhiyathevan turned around. What he saw, brought his heart to his throat. His breathing just stopped abruptly. He saw many small pits of embers. There was no fire. There was no smoke. And these pits of embers were appearing and disappearing. They were an eerie sight in the night. They looked like an army of mutilated rakshasas spewing out fire from their mouths.

Poonkuzhali laughed an eerie laugh. “These are my lovers. Can you or your friend Amudhan beat these lovers? I come to meet these lovers every night.”

Vandhiyathevan was almost certain that Poonkuzhali was stark raving mad and lost hope that he could convince her to take him to Lanka.

Then it struck him. He remembered. He recalled someone telling him about this. When sulphur trapped under the ground escapes through puddles of ground water, it appears like molten lava. These fiery outbursts only last for small periods of time and disappear. When this happens over a large piece of land, the effect is quite dramatic. Ignorant people think of these as kolli vai pisaasu (monsters with burning embers in their mouths).

He calmed down and decided that it would only be prudent to take her back home.

“Girl, your lovers will remain here. We can come and see them tomorrow also, if you wish. Come, let us go back home.”

She wept uncontrollably.

After a little while, she stopped weeping and slowly the two started walking towards the lighthouse.

“People say that the Emperor is unwell. Is that true?”

“Yes. I saw him with my own eyes. He is bed-ridden. I need a favour from you.”

“I hear that the Emperor would not live long. Is that true?”

“If you do not help me now, that might very well be true. I need to get some herbs from the Sanjeevi Mountain in Lanka. Can you help me get to Lanka?”

“If he dies, who will succeed him?”

Vandhiyathevan was shocked. He decided that the girl was not mad at all, but rather very intelligent.

“You and I should not worry about that.”

“Why is that? Both of us are citizens of this kingdom. We have the right to know.”

Vandhiyathevan was silent. He decided not to indulge in too much conversation, lest he blabber anything important to this girl.

“Why are you silent? Who will succeed the Emperor?”

“Aditya Karikalan is the Crown Prince. So, he should succeed the Emperor.”

“How about Madhuranthakan? Does he not have the right to rule?”

“Well, he has said he has no interest in the throne.”

“That was before. I hear that he is interested now?”

“It is not just his interest that matters. The people of this kingdom should approve.”

“I hear he has some important people backing him?”

“I am also hearing similar things. But I am very surprised that these rumours have reached all the way to your ears.”

“I need your help. Can you please take me to Lanka? I do not know how to man a boat, and your father says there is no one else but you. I hear your brother also left just yesterday to Lanka.”

They reached the lighthouse. She went into the house and he lay down again. Sleep evaded him. After a long while, he fell asleep. He dreamt of being in a boat with Poonkuzhali. The dark ocean surrounded them. He dreamt of asking her to sing again.

Book 2 | Chapter 4 | Following Poonkuzhali

The best sailor in this region is Poonkuzhali, but it is also the most difficult task to convince her to take you. I would advise you to not ask her right now. Wait for an opportune moment and ask. If she refuses now, it would be difficult to convince her later.

That night, after dinner, Vandhiyathevan met Thyagavidangar, the lighthouse keeper, alone. He expressed his desire to cross over to Lanka.

“There was a time when there used to be a large number of boats here. They are all now in Sethukarai. They are helping our troops fight the war in Lanka. I have two boats, one of which my son has taken. He has gone with the two people who came yesterday. I am not sure when he will return.”

“Sir, can you tell me who the two people who came yesterday were? Your daughter mentioned that they did not look very amiable.”

“Yes. I did not like them either. I am not sure who they were. They had a ring with the Pazhuvettarayar’s insignia. I would still not have let my son go. Unfortunately, my daughter-in-law has an extreme greed for money. When she heard that the two strangers were ready to give a big bag full of money, she forced her husband to go.”

“And your son did not listen to your words? Anyway, I do not wish to interfere in your family affairs.”

“There is nothing wrong in you asking. My son has a…”

Vandhiyathevan remembered what Amudhan had said about this family, and remembered that the son was dumb.

“I now remember, sir. I remember what Amudhan told me about your son. I am sorry.”

“Oh, you are that brave man, whom Amudhan had helped. Word about you has reached all corners of the kingdom. I hear they are searching for you all over.”

“That does not bother me at all. But, please do not mistake me to be someone who is running away from these people. I am going to Lanka to deliver an important scroll.”

“I am thinking about the favour you are asking of me. One of my boats is gone. I do have one more boat, but there is no one to take you. Would you and your friend be able to take the craft to Lanka?”

“I do not think so. Neither my friend nor I know how to sail a craft. In fact, I am a little scared of the water. My friend is not coming with me to Lanka. He is here to get some herbs and return to Pazhayarai.”

“If it is only you, then there is one way. The best sailor in this region is Poonkuzhali, but it is also the most difficult task to convince her to take you. I would advise you to not ask her right now. Wait for an opportune moment and ask. If she refuses now, it would be difficult to convince her later.”

Vandhiyathevan walked towards the lighthouse and lay down in the verandah of the keeper’s house. Tiredness took its toll. He was asleep in no time.

After a few hours, he heard someone open the door and walk out. It was Poonkuzhali. Vandhiyathevan remembered what Poonkuzhali had said earlier in the day. He forced himself to wake up and followed her. He thought it might be good to know more about her. It might help him in convincing her the next day, to take him to Lanka.

She started walking faster. It took a lot of effort to keep up with her. He followed her across the bush forest. They went up and down the dunes of seashore sand. It became darker as they went further away from the lighthouse. He almost had to run to keep up with her. And then she vanished.

He looked around and strained to see where she was. The trees cast gloomy shadows all around. Fireflies flitted around. And then suddenly he saw a figure sitting on top of a tree. And almost at the same time, he heard a sad melancholy song. He slowly walked towards the figure. He noticed that he was climbing a small hillock on top of which was the tree, on which she was sitting. He reached the top and stood mesmerised at the view from the top. He could not see the lighthouse. He could see the silver sands. He could see the waves lapping on the beach.

She stopped singing abruptly.

“Vandhiyatheva, so you have come! I saw you sleeping like Kumbakarnan outside the house.”

“I woke up when I heard the door open. It was quite a task to follow you to this place.”

“Why did you have to follow me?”

“You only asked me to come here, if I wanted to see your… lovers.”

“Hah! So, see them. Turn around and see.”

Book 2 | Chapter 3 | Lighthouse Keeper

“I can see that you are lying. Just two days ago, two men came here. They also were telling similar lies like the one that you are telling. They said that a magician had sent them, and that they had to get tiger nails and elephant tail hair, for some occult ritual that they were going to perform. They wanted to go to Lanka to get these items. My brother has taken them in his boat.”

The dark night was lit beautifully by the moon. Vandhiyathevan stood looking at the sea, hesitating to go in.

“Is the sea very deep here?”

“Of course not. I have never seen someone as scared as you. The sea here is very shallow – not even up to hip level for a very long distance. That is the reason why the fire atop the lighthouse burns so bright every night.”

Vandhiyathevan hesitantly washed the wet clay off his legs. When he turned around, he saw the Vaidhiyar’s son riding towards him. He was bringing his horse too.

“Oh no! Those two are riding towards the quicksand pit. Stop. Stop!”

Vandhiyathevan ran towards them and stopped them before they reached the pit. Poonkuzhali reached them in a bit as well, and the three of them started walking towards the lighthouse settlement.

She gently caressed Vandhiyathevan’s horse, which seemed to have taken a liking to her.

“It looks like my horse likes you. I need to go to Lanka. Can I leave my horse with you until I come back? Would you be able to take care of it?”

“Sure, I can take care of the horse. All animals take a liking to me. Only humans have a problem with me.”

“But Sendhan Amudhan…”

“I also have problems with humans.”

“Why do you have such hatred against humans?”

“They are wicked. They are filled with lies and deception.”

“You cannot generalise like that. Amudhan is a very nice person. This Vaidhiyar’s son is also a very nice person.”

“How about yourself?”

“I am also a nice person, but I should not be singing my own praises.”

“What are you two doing in these parts?”

“You might be knowing that the Chakravarthy is not well. To cure him, we are searching for a few herbs that are apparently found only in these forests. That is why the Vaidhiyar’s son and I are here.”

“But I thought you said you wanted to go to Lanka?”

“Some herbs might not be available here; I have been instructed to go to Lanka and get them. It seems the mountain that Hanuman brought is still there.”

She smirked sarcastically and said, “Yes. And that is why hundreds of people there are dying of a dangerous plague-like fever right now.”

“I had not heard about that. Even the Chief Vaidhiyar, who sent us, did not tell me about it.”

“I can see that you are lying. Just two days ago, two men came here. They also were telling similar lies like the one that you are telling. They said that a magician had sent them, and that they had to get tiger nails and elephant tail hair, for some occult ritual that they were going to perform. They wanted to go to Lanka to get these items. My brother has taken them in his boat.”

Vandhiyathevan was reminded of Ravidasan, the magician, and the night at the mandapam, when he was on the run from Thanjavur to Pazhayarai. He was wondering who these people, who have gone to Lanka before him, could have been. He thought it best to befriend Poonkuzhali.

“Poonkuzhali, what I told you a few moments ago, was indeed a lie. Please forgive me. Let me tell you the real reason. I am headed to Lanka on a top-secret mission. I would like to tell you about it.”

“Oho. You do not need to tell me about anything. Do you not know that you should not be telling secrets to women?”

“That is for ordinary women. I think you are trustworthy enough to keep a secret.”

“How do you know that I am not ordinary? It has been a very short time since we first met.”

“Ever since I saw you on top of the temple wall, I have been observing you. You seem a very nice person. I like you. I would like to ask you a question, to which I want an honest reply. Can I ask you?”

“You may try.”

“Are you sure that Sendhan Amudhan is not your lover? Are you not going to marry him?”

“Why do you ask this question?”

“Sendhan Amudhan is a close friend of mine. I should not be doing anything to endanger my friendship with him. But if you do not love him…”

“Go on…”

“If you do not love him, I was wondering if I could apply for that position.” Vandhiyathevan smiled sheepishly.

He continued, “I do not like the way you talk badly about the beautiful thing called love. Everyone has expressed their feelings on love. The three main Shaivite saints, Appar, Sundarar, and Manickavachagar have all worshipped their Lord through love. Kalidasan has written poems on love. Why, Lord Krishna himself has expressed so much love in his life.”

She stopped him, mid-sentence.

“Please do listen to what I have to say on this.”

“I am listening.”

“I also like you. The hatred that I felt when I saw the two people yesterday vanished when I saw you.”

Vandhiyathevan felt very glad on hearing this.

“But listen, Amudhan may not be my lover, but I have other lovers in my life.”

“Lovers? How many of them? Who are they?”

“I usually go for a walk late in the night. If you follow me, I will show them to you.”

She laughed a manic laugh, which unnerved Vandhiyathevan. He thought she was probably a bit deranged. He decided not to tell her anything more.

When they reached the lighthouse, an old man and his wife came out, hearing the horses.

The old man asked Poonkuzhali – “Who are these people, my girl? Two days ago, you brought two people. Today you are bringing these people. Where did you find them?”

“I did not find them, Appa. They found me. It seems they are here to take some herbs for the Chakravarthy’s treatment.”

Vandhiyathevan stepped forward to the old lighthouse keeper and gave him the scroll that the Princess had given. The old man read the scroll under the light of the lighthouse. And as he read the scroll, Vandhiyathevan could see happiness flushing over his face.

The old man looked at his wife and said, “Princess Kundavai has sent these two men. We are to help them in whatever we can. Let us first give them food. They will be tired. Go tell your daughter-in-law not to close the kitchen.”

Book 2 | Chapter 2 | Quicksand

Poonkuzhali stopped in mid-step and turned around. She saw that he was stuck in the quicksand. She looked around and saw an abandoned craft. To his amazement, she jumped on to it, and paddled deftly through the wet sand and crossed the quicksand pit. She jumped on to firm land on the other side. She got down on all fours, firmly gripped Vandhiyathevan’s hand, and slowly pulled him out.

Kodikkarai lighthouse ruins. (pic src: http://madraswanderer.blogspot.com/)

Vandhiyathevan chased Poonkuzhali over the mounds of fresh white sands of Kodikkarai, through the dense shrubbery. She vanished for a moment and then he saw her again. He realised that she had the speed of a deer.

“Why am I chasing this girl?” he thought to himself.

His mind quickly gave a reason for this act as well. As they had neared Kodikkarai, Vandhiyathevan had been reminded of Poonkuzhali, whom Amudhan had so beautifully described. This girl, whom he had seen on the temple wall, seemed to resemble her. Vandhiyathevan had thought that befriending this girl would help him in manyfold ways. He could take her help to reach the lighthouse. They had been hopelessly lost in the bush forests nearby, when they had run into the Kuzhagar temple and seen Poonkuzhali on the wall.

But, catching her was proving to be a challenging task. He then chanced to see an opening in the shrubbery and saw the endless expanse of the ocean through it. He stood for a minute to take in the beautiful sight. He saw the lighthouse also in the distance, with the bright fire on top of it. He decided to pursue her through this open space, and thought it would be easier to catch her. He saw her run towards the ocean. He started running towards her. He noticed that she started running towards the forest again.

By now, Vandhiyathevan was getting very tired and was beginning to run out of breath. She was just a few steps away. As he made the last lunge to catch her, he heard her scream a word of caution. He stopped abruptly. Slowly he began to realise what was happening. His feet were sinking. He was down to his ankles and sinking slowly. He had heard about these quicksand pits. These pits were capable of swallowing whole animals – even large ones like elephants. He was down to his calf muscles. He began to panic.

“Ayyo! Please help. Can someone please help me? I do not want to die like this.”

Poonkuzhali stopped in mid-step and turned around. She saw that he was stuck in the quicksand. She looked around and saw an abandoned craft. To his amazement, she jumped on to it, and paddled deftly through the wet sand and crossed the quicksand pit. She jumped on to firm land on the other side. She got down on all fours, firmly gripped Vandhiyathevan’s hand, and slowly pulled him out.

Mangrove forests at Muthupet. Close to present day Kodikkarai. pic: src: http://madraswanderer.blogspot.com/

He realised the strength in her arms. They seemed even stronger than the iron hands of the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar, who had gripped him earlier.

Once on firm land, he stood up, and to her surprise, he started laughing loudly. His knees were still shivering a bit.

“Ha ha! So, you think you have rescued me from the quicksand? Do you think I could not have escaped on my own?”

“Hmm. Then why were you screaming out in panic?” “Oh! That was just to stop you from running away.”

“Ok, then. Let me push you back into the pit. And you can come out using your own prowess.”

“Oh! Please do not do that.”

“And why not?”

“I am not afraid of my life. I am afraid of this wet sand. Look, I am dirty up to my knees already. I do not want to get dirtier.”

She laughed softly and said, “Then, you should go and wash yourself in the ocean.”

“I would appreciate it if you could help by showing me the way.”

She guided him to the water, by navigating around the quicksand.

“Why did you run away like that, when you saw me? Did you think I was a ghost?” “No, I did not think you were a ghost, but an owl. Your face resembles that of an owl.” And she laughed heartily.

Poonkuzhali’s remark about his appearance angered Vandhiyathevan. He was one who took pride in his appearance.

“To your monkey face, it seems like my face is an owl face,” he murmured.

“What did you say?”

“Oh, nothing. I was asking why did you run away like that on seeing me.”

“Why did you come chasing after me?”

“I wanted to know the way to the lighthouse. I wanted to ask you.”

“Can’t you see the lighthouse now? It is visible from so far away.”

“Not from within the jungle. You still have not answered my question.”

“I do not like men. They are mean. I stay away from them, as much as I can.”

“Even Sendhan Amudhan from Thanjavur?”

“What do you know about him?”

“I know that he is your lover.”

She laughed a vicious laugh. “Did he say that to you? Thanjavur is so far away. That is why he can get away with saying something like that. If he was here, I would have thrown him into that same quicksand pit that you fell in. What else did he tell you?”

“He said that you were his cousin, and that you looked so beautiful that even apsaras from heaven are no match for you. He also said that you sing so beautifully that the ocean waves stop making noise so that they can listen to you.”

They reached the ocean together.