This is the story of valiant Velu Nachiyar, the Queen of Sivagangai who fought the British much earlier than Jhansi Ki Rani. This work is pure fiction, though it draws heavily from the history and the times of the Queen- late 17th Century. The Queen who is driven out of Sivagangai finds refuge at Dindigul fort, forging an alliance with Nawab of Mysore, Hyder Ali. After a wait of eight long years, combining forces with Gopala Naicker of Virupakshi and Hyder Ali's trained forces, the strong army of 6000 men and women soldiers, descend into Sivagangai Fort in the night. Kuyili, confidante of the Queen douses herself in oil and walks straight into the gunpowder storage of the British and lights it up, dying instantly...as the Queen who has no idea of what is happening stands watching in horror.
Silence...The ashes were strewn everywhere. Gentle breeze was picking up the dust and littering the area. Periya Marudhu stood paralysed in shock. Kuyili...their Kuyili...his Kuyili was dead- shattered beyond recognition. His stallion refused to budge as his heart that had stopped still. He failed to notice the soldier lunging at him. Chinna Maruthu was vigilant. Though in shock, he was sharp to note the soldier lunging at Periya Marudhu and in one swift moment, his sword tackled the soldier. All Periya Marudhu could do was acknowledge his sibling in a curt nod and move forward. A thousand voices were clouding his mind, yet Chinna Maruthu was strong. Strong enough to push everything aside and he risked a glance at the Queen in horseback who was shielded. Her eyes were wide in pain and shock.
The neighs of horses from the makeshift stables floated through the air. The full moon shone in a distance, its rays bathing the gopuram of Kalaiyar Kovil temple. Velu Nachi stood watching the temple, her mind in a whirlpool of emotions. Capturing Kalaiyar Kovil was her dream for the past eight years. Every living moment she had spent imagining this victory. The threshold of the temple where she lay crying, holding to a dead Muthu...the blood, the sweat, the suffering, the pain that refused to erase from the distant past. The sight of Kalaiyar Kovil in the soothing moon light did nothing to ease away her pain.
Kuyili...why did she have to do that? Why did she never talk to her about her plan? Her best friend and confidante was now gone...vanished. All that remained of her were the little escapades of their younger years. How carefree and happy they were...Two little girls who grew up amidst laughter and fun in the Ramnad Palace, the love of a valiant Muthuvaduganathan had changed everything about her. Her life had now altered totally. She had a fierce battle ahead...the ensuing battle might bring her death or victory. Velu nachi was ready to face both with aplomb. All she could not comprehend was the sacrifice of Kuyili. The poor woman was caught in the whirlwind of her life. She was never able to show her love to Periya Marudhu, though she pined for his affection.
Periya Marudhu...Velu nachi had totally remained engrossed in her thoughts and shook out of her reverie. She had to see Periya Marudhu. She wanted to meet him and knew where exactly she could find him. The huge black stallion rose like a tower against the dark night silhouetted against the rising moon, its silky coat rippling as it munched on the grass. Periya Marudhu lay on the grass, listening to the owls hooting somewhere far away. The full moon...reminded him of the last meeting with Kuyili. She had come to him as he was waiting for the Queen to complete her prayers in the Abiramiamman temple atop the Dindigul Fort.
The famed kalmandapam stood proud atop the hill and Periya Marudhu perched on its steps, enjoying the night breeze, his striking long hair ruffled by the wind. Kuyili who had finished her prayers soon, tiptoed to the kalmandapam and was rewarded with the sight of Periya Marudhu...all of windswept hair, toned muscles and in deep thought, his eyes savouring the full moon above. The sound of tinkling anklets woke him with a start and he opened his eyes, staring straight into the most beautiful face of Kuyili. If eyes had soul, he would have understood her unrequited love through them. Periya Marudhu chose to ignore the eyes as always. He wouldn't risk falling into their depths and lose Chinna Marudhu- his dearest brother.
|The Kalmandapam atop Dindigul Fort, a testimony to the lives of Velunachiyar, Kuyili and Marudhu brothers|
"Isn't the moon beautiful?", Kuyili tried to strike a conversation. Small talk always helped to bring him out of his non existent shell where he would coil himself into, every time he saw her. With a silent nod, he turned his attention to the full moon, thought his senses shrieked at him to look at her. The mild fragrance of jasmine flowers from her hair, the smell of shikakai and turmeric...a heady mix lethal, emanated from her and wafted through his nostrils. " I would like to tell you sss..something", she stammered. Her lips quivering and eyes fluttering. Dear God! This is not the time and place, he swore under his breath. " We are moving soon to Kalaiyar Kovil", she said. He nodded and she continued now, gaining little hope.." and I would like the battle to end soon. I..I..would like to marry you...", she blurted out.
Periya Marudhu risked a glance at her and regretted immediately. Her eyes bespoke volumes of love, her best years spent in yearning for his love and attention. He pulled up his guard again, the mask slipping back. Kuyili stared at him, she could see the softening of his eyes, his shoulders relaxing a little and his hardened lips showing a ghost of a smile, before the mask slipped on. Now his expression was hooded. Lowering his eyes, he looked at the void beyond the hill and stood silent. Kuyili waited with bated breath for him, his word. All that ensued was silence, with the breeze touching the two wounded souls very much in love. Periya Marudhu tried to bring back the image of a desolate Chinna Marudhu, shattered by the news of his wedding to Kuyili..No..he wouldn't let this happen.
He shook his head and looked away. Kuyili could understand his hooded emotional turmoil. She had been watching him for years now. Now that she had laid her heart bare to him, she now knew exactly how he felt. And it dawned on her...how long she waited, Periya Marudhu would never be out with his love. She felt happy, glad that she knew he loved her. That one moment when he stood transfixed, letting himself be just a lovelorn man, she understood his love. With a tear threatening to evade her little left pride, Kuyili turned from the brooding man and left...
The tinkling bells, the cool breeze, the full moon...and a life without Kuyili...Periya Marudhu lay on the grass, lost in the web of his thoughts. He knew exactly why she had chosen to take the extreme step of blowing herself up. She saw no future for both of them and her kohl- laden eyes will always haunt him. Approaching footsteps woke him with a start and he sat up abruptly looking at the Queen herself who came towards him in a swift stride.
To be continued...
p.s.: Please bear with the long gap between Queen Of Spades- Part 10 and this part. I have been trying to write this series without break...I swear ;) I will promptly complete the series.
p.p.s.: Back to work after a small break. I wonder why Indian Railways doesn't change its outdated and antique duty hours roster. At times I wonder what time of the day it is- morning or night...Whatever time I am awake is day and when I sleep is night;)
p.p.p.s.: My son got a special mention in today's Hindu, gave his first press interview on the biodiversity express train...Happy :)