Ponniyin Selvan Chapter 23 – Amudan’s Mother
The Velaikara Battalion wound its way through the main market street. Some of the men walking towards the end of the parade performed certain audacities in that marketplace. One fellow entered the shop of a food vendor and carried out a basket of sweetcakes; he distributed the cakes to his friends. When he crowned the vendor with the upturned emp ty basket, all his friends laughed uproariously “Ha ha ha haha ha.” Another gallant fellow plucked the flower tote from the hands of an elderly woman. Scattering the flowers in all directions he shouted “Hey friends, its raining flowers!” Two soldiers tr ying to catch the flowers shouted gleefully and raised a hue and cry! Yet another fellow stopped a bullock cart on the road and unyoked the beast from the cart; he drove the animal into the crowd by twisting its tail; the terrified animal ran helter skelter in the crowd, plunging against innocent bystanders. Gleeful laughter followed this endeavor! Vandiya Devan was watching all this. Aha! These fellows also tease and play pranks just like the men of Pazluvoor. Their pranks are irksome to others. How fort unate that I escaped their sight by standing aside. Otherwise, a little conflict would have taken place! My venture would have been wrecked, he thought. But one difference was obvious to him. The people on these streets did not resent these activities of t he Velir men very much. Some of them even joined in their pranks and enjoyed the merriment and laughter. When he turned around to ask about this, the youth with the flower baskets was nowhere to be seen. He had vanished somewhere in the crowd and commotio n. Perhaps he had gone on his business. On approaching the gate, he found that no one was allowed inside the fort after the Velaikara Battalion left for the day. Only members of the royal household, the ministers and generals had the right to enter or lea ve the fort at all times of night or day. Vandiya Devan heard that the households of the Lords of Pazluvoor also had that privilege. He changed his intentions of entering the fort that very night. He did not wish to show the signet ring in his possession and try its powers. It is better to spend the night outside the fortress, do some sightseeing and enter after sunrise tomorrow. Even if I go in tonight, it is not possible to gain entry into the royal palace and meet the Emperor to deliver my letters. Van diya Devan rode slowly along the streets surrounding the outer ramparts of Tanjore Fort enjoying the various sights presented around him. His horse, which had crossed several leagues that day was very tired. Soon he must give it some rest. Otherwise, tomor row, when the need arose the horse may become useless. He must soon find a comfortable place to spend the night. Tanjore was at that time a new, growing, spreading city. It was evening time. Hundreds of street lamps had been lit throwing brilliant light e verywhere. All the streets were noisy with crowds of people. Travellers from far and near, who had come to the city on various businesses walked here and there. People from other Chozla cities and countryside were there. Persons from nations taken into the Chozla fold recently were also there. Several folks crowded to that capital city from nations spreading across the lands between the North Pennar river and the southern Cape, and between the eastern seas and the western ocean. In that crowd he could also spot foreigners, dressed curiously from the distant lands beyond the Vindhyas and across the seas. People crowded to the shops of vendors selling sweet fritters, roasted meats and ricecakes — like flies hovering around sugar syrup – as they bought the foodstuffs. Fruits like banana, mango and jack were heaped in mounds outside the shops. Words were not adequate to describe the elegant flower kiosks. Gardenia and jasmine, fragrant frangipani, oleander, chrysanthemum and marigold, champaka and iruvatchi, hibiscus and trumpet lilies were heaped in baskets; maidens flocked around them like bees buzzing over flower groves. When he saw the flower shops, Vandiya Devan remembered the youth with the flower baskets who had stood next to him. If I could meet that young man again, how useful it would be! Perhaps he would have helped me find a comfortable place to spend this night in this city… As he was thinking, as if to give life to his thoughts, he saw the youth walking down the street in front of him. Vandiy a Devan hurried forward to accost him again. “Thambi, your baskets seem to be empty. What happened to all the flowers? Have you sold them all?” “I did not bring the flowers for sale. I brought them for worship and decoration at the temple. I have deliver ed them at the place I serve and am now going back home,” said that youth. “In which temple do you serve, delivering these flowers?” “Have you heard of the temple of Talikulattar?” “Oh! The name Tanjore Talikulattar seems familiar. Is it the same? Is it a large temple?” “No; it is a modest place. For some time now, only the temple of the Goddess Durga has been enjoying favor in Tanjore. Special worship, food offering, sacrifice, festivities, ceremony and carnival all take place there. The royal family and the Pazluvoor households have been patronizing that Durga temple. There are no such important patrons for the temple of Talipeople come to worship there…” kulattar. Not many “You are in service to deliver flowers. Do you get paid well for this?” “My family has subsidies for this service. From the times of my grandfather our family had grants from Emperor Gandara Aditya for delivering this flowerservice. My mother and I have been continuing the practice.” “Is the temple of Talikulattar built in brick, or has it been renovated in granite?” Vandiya Devan asked the question because he had seen several small brickwork temples being renovated in stone and decorated with granite sculpture. “It is still brickwork. I have heard that it is soon to be r enovated in granite. Apparently, the Elder Pirati in Pazlayarai wishes to begin the renovation work as soon as possible. But, …”
“But what? Why did you stop?”
“What is the use of repeating idle gossip?
One must look around in all directions before talk ing in the daytime; at nighttime do not even open your mouth. This is a public square where four roads meet! So many people around us…” “We can stand in such a spot and talk bravely of any secret. In this crowd and noise nothing we speak will be heard b y anyone.”
“What secrets do we have to talk about?”
asked the youth, eyeing Vandiya Devan with some suspicion. Aha! This young man is very intelligent. It would be very useful to make friends with him. I can learn about several things from him. But I sho uld not raise useless doubts in his mind, thinking such thoughts, Vandiya Devan said, “Yes, what secrets do we have? Nothing. Thambi, tonight I need a place to rest and sleep well. I have journeyed a long way and am very tired. Where can I stay? Can you he lp me by guiding me to a good rest house?” “There is no dearth of places to stay in this city. There are several inns. In fact there are many government rest houses for the use of foreign visitors. But, Sir, if you would like …” Before the youth could finish, Vandiya Devan interrupted, “Thambi, what is your name?” “Amudan; Sendan Amudan.” ing?” “Oh! What a sweet name! My mouth tastes the sweetness just by hearing it. (Amudu meaning nectar.) Were you about to say that I could come to your house if I was will “Yes; how did you know Sir?” “I have magic skills; that’s how! Where is your house?” “Our gardens are in the suburbs, a little beyond the city limits. Our house is in the middle of the flower gardens,” said Sendan Amudan. “Ah! I must surely come to your house. I cannot rest in peace in this city commotion tonight. Moreover, I would like to make the acquaintance of that good woman who is mother to a good son like you!” “She who gave birth to me is indeed a good woman; but she is unfortunate…” ” Dear, dear! Why do you say that? Perhaps your father is…?”
“Yes, my father is dead. But that is not the reason. My mother is unfortunate from birth. You will know when you see her. Come Sir, let us go.” They walked for about half an hour and reached th e flower gardens beyond the city limits. The fragrance of night blooming flowers made Vandiya Devan’s head swim with uncommon exhilaration. The noise and din of the city was not heard in that pleasing grove. He could see a small tiled house in the middle of the flower garden. Two thatched huts were also seen close by. Two families who helped in the garden lived in those huts. Amudan called out to one of those men and asked him to feed and water Vandiya Devan’s horse and tie it to a tree after grooming it. He then led his new friend into the house. As soon as he saw Amudan’s mother, Vandiya Devan realized her misfortune. She was mute without any speech; she was also deaf without any sense of hearing. But he saw her gentle, good looking face filled with a k indness and love. Her eyes shone bright with a keen intelligence. Was it not the caprice of nature to endow a superior intellect on those with some bodily handicap? That elderly woman understood that her visitor had come from foreign parts by the signs ma de by Amudan. Her expressive face showed welcome and concern for him. Soon, she placed platters of fresh banana leaves before them and served a meal. First came stringcake accompanied by sweetened, freshly squeezed, coconut milk. Vandiya Devan felt that he had not eaten such delicacies in his lifetime! He ate about ten or twelve cakes and drank a liter of coconut milk. Sour sauce with tubers and steamed millet flour followed. He did them justice. Even so, his hunger was not satiated. In the end he partook of a quarter measure of cooked rice and a liter of yogurt! Only then did he rise from his platter. While eating, he asked about and gleaned several facts from Amudan. He enquired about who besides the Emperor and his retinue lived in Tanjore Fort. The m ansions of the Elder and Younger Lords of Pazluvoor were inside. The officers and clerks who were attached to the treasury and granary lived inside because the royal treasury, counting house and granary were inside the fort. The confidante and friend of Su ndara Chozla, his Prime Minister, Honorable Anirudda Brahmaraya as well as the Chief Clerk of edicts and proclamations also lived in the inner fort. Soldiers guarding the fort of Tanjore under the command of the Younger Lord Pazluvoor, lived inside with t heir families. Besides this, the streets of the goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewelers and dealers in precious gems and coin merchants were inside the main fort. Hundreds of clerks and writers working for the Tax Ministry under the Elder Lord Pazluvoor were also provided accommodation within. In addition to all this, the famous Temple of the Goddess Durga Nisumbasudhini was in one corner of the interior fort. The temple priests, servants, dancing girls and musicians attached to the temple and their families, lived inside near the temple. Hearing about all this, Vandiya Devan asked, “Are all the ministers and officials inside the fort today?” “How can everyone be inside? They will be going out and coming back in the course of their various duties. For sometim e now, the Honorable Prime Minister, Anirudda Brahmaraya, has not been inside the fort. It is said that he is gone to the Chera Kingdom. The Elder Lord of Pazluvoor went out four days ago. Rumor says that he has gone to the central provinces beyond the Ko “He might be back now. Do you know?” “The palanquin of the Young llidam.”Queen of Pazluvoor came back this evening. I saw it near the gates myself. But there was no sign of Lord Pazluvoor. Perhaps he is delayed somewhere and will come back tomorrow.” ” Thambi! Does Prince Madurandaka also live inside the fort?” “Yes, his mansion is next to the Pazluvoor Palace. Isn’t he the bridegroom married to the daughter of the Younger Lord Pazluvoor?” “Oh! Is that true? I did not know that till now!” “Not many pe ople know it. Because of the Emperor’s ill health the wedding was not celebrated with pomp.” “Good. Is the Prince inside the fort tonight?” “Must be. However, Prince Madurandaka does not emerge from the fort very often. People cannot see him commonly. It is said that he is involved in his devotions to God Shiva and that he spends his time in meditation, yoga and worship.” “But he has entered into matrimony after all these years.” “Yes, that was somewhat surprising. People also say that the mind and inte ntions of the bridegroom transformed completely after the marriage! Why should we bother about that? Better not gossip about the nobility.” Vandiya Devan desired to learn of several other things from Sendan Amudan. But he did not wish to pry too much and raise his suspicions. The friendship of such a amiable youth would be very useful to him. It was his good luck that he found such a convenient and comfortable place to stay in Tanjore. Why should he spoil the good fortune? Moreover, tiredness of the long j ourney joined forces with the sleeplessness of the previous night. His eyes were drowsy with sleep and exhaustion. Realizing his state, Amudan quickly made up a bed for him. In the drowsiness of sleep, towards the end, Vandiya Devan’s mind glimpsed the gl amorous face of the YoungQueen of Pazluvoor. Oh God! What beauty! What scintillation! His experience of being tongue tied and immobile upon suddenly seeing that ravishing, enchanting face reminded him of another experience. As a child, once when he wa s walking through some woods he suddenly spied a cobra swaying its raised hood. Its beauty was incomparable. The attraction was beyond description. Vandiya Devan had not been able to take his eyes off the swaying hood of the snake. He could not even blink his eyelids. He stood there as if hypnotized; the snake continued its swaying dance. As the snake swayed, his body began to sway in rhythm – what would be the result, no one knew. Suddenly a mongoose pounced upon the snake. A furious contest between the t wo started. Using the chance the boy ran to his escape… Dear me! What a comparison! How can I equate the majestic beauty of this maid without equal in the world, with a swaying snake? Her gentle, tender face will quell all hungers of those who catch a g limpse of it! … I am going to meet her tomorrow! How sweet her voice! Her beauty is extraordinary. But, how about the other maid whom I saw at the astrologer’s house and on the banks of the Arisil? … Her face too, was radiant. It too glowed with a love liness. Both are exquisite beauties; but what a difference! That has dignity and decorum; while this has allure and glamour. Thus, while his heart was comparing the two attractive women he had met recently, a third maid intervened. That merciless tyrant, the Empress of Sleep took charge of him completely.