The early morning sunrise in the forests of Sakkanthi was purely magical. Mist floating by, jungle fowls announcing the start of the day and crisp morning air- Velu Nachi loved her time out in the wild. What day it was? She tried to remember- Saturday. Wasn't she supposed to have her language classes today? Jumping with a start, she gently touched Kuyili sleeping nearby. The Maruthu brothers had already washed up and were waiting for the women to get ready. The horses trotted in a uniform rhythm towards Ramnad Palace. The King was already waiting for her in her chamber, fuming in anger. Not a good sign, she mused. It always amused her no extent when the King got angry. She loved the thrill it gave her! By the time she got an earful for the escapade of previous night, her tutor Bismillah Khan was awaiting her.
King Chellamuthu had high hopes for his only daughter- by God, he only knew she was going to rule the land one day and he pinned all his hopes on her. Urdu, English, Portuguese, French, Malayalam, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada- you name the language, Velu Nachi had been tutored. She was well behaved, stunningly beautiful with healthy robust features, fearless and brave- everything he had wanted her to be- but a little too much playful. He smiled as he heard the hysterical shrieks of Bismillah Khan from the library. In quick steps he reached the room to find him standing tip toe on the table and his daughter sporting a live snake writhing in her hand. A harmless tiny garden snake, but that was enough to terrify Bismillah Khan. The library echoed with his shrill cries and his daughter's tinkling laughter. Hiding a knowing smile, King Chellamuthu moved away to the main Durbar Hall. He had to plan his daughter's wedding! God had his own plans...
|Kalaiyar Kovil temple- Sivagangai
Kalaiyar Kovil was buzzing with activity. It was the month of Thai, the temple was getting a facelift for ensuing Thaipoosam Festival. King of Sivagangai had ordered the cleaning of the premises, with dozens of volunteers taking up the task. Scores of saree clad women were seen cleaning the temple, with the men roaming around, dusting and washing. Muthu and his two friends were busy overseeing the work. Happiness spread across their cheerful faces, little ones ran around. The four men on horse back arrived tired and aghast. The men turned to look at them and continued their work. The women felt sorry for the tired travelers and offered buttermilk in clay pots. While two of them staggered along with the women and the other two men lingering behind, Muthu felt something was not right with the group. What work did men have in cleaning with the women?
He rushed past the women, to face straight into the eyes of one of them holding the hand of a young woman. "How dare you touch a woman? That too some one who you don't even know? Who are you?", Muthu thundered at the lithe, tall man. The newcomer's look went from startled to mischief when he replied- " I am Velu. Since when did the women of Sivagangai need the help of men in safeguarding themselves?" His voice seemed a bit unearthly, a little more than a whisper. Stunned at the straight reply aimed at him, Muthu stumbled a bit, recovered fast and hissed- " I am incharge here and answerable to the King. Do you understand? Now move yourself out of the way, get back to where the menfolk are", he grumbled. Startled, the duo moved to the group of men and started chit chatting.
Muthu's eyes never wavered from the face of the man who answered him. His turban and mustache-less face seemed so arresting, that he felt his mouth go dry. He gently chided himself- may be he should have listened to his mother and married earlier. He motioned to his aides and gestured towards the foursome. Message understood, they nodded and left. The weary travelers got some rest in the local restrooms- chathrams. The evening at the temple wore a festive mood as the local archers competed for the coveted prize- a bag of gold coins offered by the King of Sivagangai himself. Jubilant bystanders cheered the archers who tried to strike the target. Most of them failed- due to the darkness that enveloped the arena. Muthu stood quietly watching the crowd carefully, particularly the colorful red turban sporting lad without mustache.
The whole evening he was unable to move his eyes away from him. When the little lad went up to pick his bow and arrows, Muthu felt all his senses on alert. Aim made and with total concentration, Velu stuck. The arrow darted and straight at the target. The crowd cheered and Muthu could not but admire the deftness and concentration of the lad. As the local Chieftain awarded the prize, Velu stood still, his face beaming. Quite unusual, Muthu thought. Some man standing so aloof winning a bag of gold...Muthu had his own doubts. He himself was going to watch this one, alright. When the foursome started their journey back from the temple to the restroom, they failed to notice Muthu following them stealthily at a safe distance. Velu wanted a dip in the pond after the humid day. Bidding goodbye to the friends at the chathram, the horse turned towards the allikulam pond, with Muthu in hot pursuit. So, he is going alone somewhere. I shall find out who he is, today, thought Muthu.
The figure alighted from the horse in a swift gracious movement, removed the turban and Muthu could see tufts of hair tumbling down the turban in the darkness. Long hair to the hips swung and as the figure slowly undressed, Muthu was breathless and speechless. Velu Nachi, unaware of the watchful eyes, dived into the cool soothing water, turned back facing the star clad sky and started singing a chanson in French, eyes closed. Muthu stood mesmerised by her beauty and her voice. He forgot who he was and what he was doing, watching over a lovely maiden bathing in the moonlight and the crystal clear waters.
By the time a mellowed and soothed Velu Nachi walked out of the pool with tiny rivulets of water dripping from her body, Muthu was half dead in desire and wanton. Unfazed and unaware of him, Velu Nachi dressed up, mounted her horse and rode away, her chanton still echoing in his ears. The archery skill, horse riding skill, French prowess, she had to be none other than the famed Velu Nachiar, Princess of Ramnad, he thought to himself. His mother would be happy- very much. And he made his head strong decision of marrying her at that moment, come what may. He knew he was pathetically in love with her. He- the King of Sivagangai- Muthu Vaduganathar, in disguise!
To be continued...