Ponniyin Selvan Chapter 14 – A Crocodile On The River Bank

Ponniyin selvan Part 1

In those days, those who wished to reach Tanjore from
Kudanthai, travelled along the banks of the rivers Arisil or
Cauvery and reached the town of Thiru-vai-aru. From
there, they would turn south to go towards Tanjore.
Convenient ferrys or fords to cross the rivers Kudamuruti,
Vettar, Vennar and Vadavar were available only along that
route. Vandiya Devan who started from Kudanthai, first
went towards the banks of River Arisil. The sights that he
saw along the way astonished him, being more exquisite
than what he had heard about the Chozla countryside. Any
beautiful sight appears more striking when it is viewed for
the first time!

Emerald green rice fields, gardens of ginger and turmeric,
plantations of sugarcane and banana, groves of tender
coconut palms; streams, rivulets and brooks; tanks, pools
and canals; all these made a mosaic of the landscape.
Water-lilies bloomed in profusion in the creeks; Lotus and
blue-lily were in riotous display on still-water ponds and
pools. The large red-, white-, and blue-lotus flowers
dazzled his eyes.

He had never seen such flowers before! White storks and herons flew in large groups like soft
clouds. Red-legged cranes stood on one leg and performed
penance. Crystal clear water rushed frothing along
conduits. Farmers ploughed their rice paddies — muddy
fields, darkened with good fertilizer and rotting leaves —
even deeper. Women transplanted seedlings in the well
tilled fields. As they were bent on their task they sang
pleasant folk-songs.

Sugar mills were established next to the cane plantations.
They fed the mature, dark cane of the previous year’s
harvest into those mills and extracted sweet-juice. The
aroma of the fresh juice and boiling molasses being made
into sugar-candy and jaggery filled the air and tingled the
nose.

Small cottages with roofs thatched with coconut palmleaves and houses with tiled roofs were found amidst the
palm groves. In the villages, they had cleaned the streets
and front porches to a mirror brightness and decorated
them with beautiful drawings of rice-powder. On some
front porches they had spread the new paddy to dry in the
hot sun. Hens and roosters came and pecked at the grain
and ran hither and thither with cries of “Koko ro ko, koko
ro koro!” The little girls set to guard the grain did not seem
to bother: `How much grain can the tiny hens eat?’ – they
thought in disdain as they continued with their board
games with cowrie shells.

The smells and smoke of cooking rose from chimneys on
rooftops. The fragrance of paddy being cured, millet-grain
being parched, and meat being roasted mingled with each
other. Such smells made Vallavarayan’s mouth water.
Blacksmiths had their shops along the roadside. The fires
in such smithies burned bright with glowing embers. The
sound of hammers striking iron could be heard loudly. The
smithies were filled with implements essential to farming,
such as plough-share points, wheel-pins, shovels, hoes and
rakes as well as sharpened spears, lances, swords and
shields; farmers and soldiers vied with each other to buy
these instruments of their trade.

Small temples could be spied in the midst of tiny villages.
The sound of drums being beaten and pipes being played
inside the temples mingled with the pleasant music of
religious chanting and singing of devotional poems like
Thevaram.

Priests carried the guardian deities of the village, like
Mariamman, on little cots and pots balanced on their
heads; they danced the Karagam in tune to the beat of little
udukku drums held in their hands as they sought alms of
grain and produce.

Men, tired of their work behind the ploughs, rested beneath
shady, wide spreading mango trees. They entertained
themselves by setting sharp horned goats to fight each
other.

Pea-hens roosting on housetops called out to their mates in
a shrill voice; the pea-cocks lifted their long, beautiful tails
with difficulty and flew up to them majestically. Turtledoves shook their heads and danced with cooing sounds.
The parrots and cuckoos — poor creatures shut up in cages
— sang sweetly.

Vandiya Devan rode upon his horse rather slowly,
enjoying such scenes. His eyes had plenty to occupy them.
His heart also enjoyed all the sights. But his inner mind
dwelt upon the picture of a girl, covered in mist.

Aha! Why didn’t that girl open her reddened lips and utter
a few words? What would she have lost by uttering a few
sentences? Who could she be? Whoever she is, shouldn’t
she have some manners? Do I seem like a fellow to be
ignored? — That wily old astrologer never did reveal who
that girl was! He is clever; very clever. How he measures
the depth of one’s heart! Such experienced words he utters!
Of course he did not predict anything sensible or specific.

About political affairs … he escaped without disclosing
anything! He merely repeated things known to everybody
in a fascinating manner. But he did make the good
prediction about my lucky-stars being on the rise … Let the
astrologer of Kudanthai prosper in his trade.

Vandiya Devan rode onwards with such thoughts
occupying his mind. The sights presented to him, dragged
him off and on from this dream world to reality. Finally he
reached the banks of the River Arisil. After going a few
yards he heard the sound of women laughing and the jingle
jangle of their bracelets.

The women were completely hidden by the thick groves of
trees growing on the bank. He peered into the trees, trying
to locate the women who made the noise. Suddenly he
could hear the fear filled screams “Oh dear”, “Ai Oh”,
“Help”, “Crocodile!” said the voices of several women. He
whipped his horse in the direction of the shouts.

He soon spied several maids in a clearing between the trees close to
the water. Their faces were filled with fright. But, —
surprise of surprises — two of them seemed to be the very
same women he had seen in the astrologer’s house!
Vandiya Devan recognized all this within the fraction of a
second.

That was not all. A horrible crocodile opening its jaws
wide, could be seen at the foot of a thick tree trunk,
blending with the roots, half in the water and half on the
bank. He had recently seen one such fearful crocodile in
the floods of the Kollidam. He had heard how dangerous
the beast was. Therefore, when he saw the reptile, his heart
skipped a beat and his whole body froze with agitation for
a minute.

The crocodile was very near the girls who had been
laughing merrily a few moments earlier. It was opening its
horrible jaws wide and appeared monstrous. The crocodile
had to only move just one step closer; one of the girls
would be gone! She could not escape because of the thick
tree!

However confused his heart and mind, there was nothing
wrong with his courage. He did not even think beyond one
second about what he should do. He took careful aim and
swiftly threw the spear in his hand. The spear pierced the
crocodile’s back, entered deep into its hide and stood
upright. Our hero, immediately jumped off his horse and
drawing his sword he rushed towards the reptile to finish
it off in one stroke.

He heard the girls laughing once again, like before. The
sound was repulsive to Vandiya Devan’s ears. Why do
these foolish women laugh like this at this dangerous
moment? he thought.

Having rushed forward, he stopped in shock and surprise
for a minute. He saw the faces of those women. He could
see no fear or fright in them. He could just detect the signs
of laughter and mischief. He could not believe that they
were the same girls who cried out for help a few minutes
ago.

One among them — the maid he had seen in the astrologer’s
house — spoke in a pleasant, elegant voice: “Girls, stop it!
Why are you all laughing?” He heard her scolding as if in a
dream.
He moved closer to the crocodile and then hesitated as he
raised his sword. He turned to look at the faces of those
girls once again. A suspicion, which filled his heart with
shame, humiliating his very existence — rose in him.
By now, that girl — the lady who had dwelt in his thoughts
for some time now — parted from her friends and came
forward. She stood before him, in front of the crocodile, as
if guarding it!

“Sir! I am very thankful to you. Please do not trouble
yourself unnecessarily,” she said.

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