Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Queen Of Spades- Part 4

The crimson rays of the setting sun played hide and seek along the silent corridors of Ramnad Palace. Somewhere a lone koel cooed its melancholy, the sound resonating in the chamber of Velunachi. Never in her life was she so troubled, perplexed and happy at the same time. A myriad of feelings threatened to burst inside her. The very sight at the painting by the window made her heart ache in unrequited love. How dare he? 

Being the King of Sivagangai did not give him the key to her heart, did it? He knew her, had taunted her, played with her feelings knowing her identity. She had been so naive, never having the chance to even glance at the sleek, silky skin and rock solid muscle that rippled all over his body. She could remember  vividly the quirky smile, the laughter that reached the eyes every time he looked at her. The mischief that shone in his eyes- like a kid enjoying his secret jar of candies unknown to anyone...

She tossed around one more time on the sheets that felt like liquid fire. Kuyili walked in graciously, watching the Princess on fire. Amusement danced in her dark unfathomable eyes and with her agile fingers she closed Velunachi's eyes from behind. "Kuyili!" exclaimed Velunachi happily, she welcomed the merry company. "How did you know it was me?", Kuyili mused and looked at her radiant face. Even if she were dead she could identify  her dearest friend, wouldn't she? Kuyili stealthily glanced at the portrait and said- " I see it is still perched on your window sill. So, does that mean you are pining for the King, Princess?" 

Ah...there she asked it, Velunachi thought. She bit her lower lip a moment and thought a long time before answering- " I don't know if i love him or not, Kuyili. Like him, yes i do. Even a woman blind would fall for his heroics and kind heart. But love is something that needs more time and i am afraid i can't do that unless i get to know him more." Kuyili understood her predicament. " Would you like to meet him once before the wedding gets through, Princess?", she asked. 

Another meeting with him? Velunachi prayed for one, but did not know how or when and where. She had blown her cover the last time, yet now she wanted Muthu to view her as a lady- someone beautiful, lively and vibrant with life. " Can it be arranged?" she queired, her eyes giving away her feelings. Kuyili smiled at her friend's dilemma and the two women started chalking out a wicked plan! 

Meanwhile the wedding plans were drawn swiftly by King Sethupathy. He wanted to gift huge amount of gold and silver to his son-in-law. The Queen was busy ordering jewels for her lovely daughter and days rushed past. Velunachi seldom ventured out of her chamber, spending her time mooning and relishing her image on the mirror. The Queen was happy with what she saw- the transformation of her adamant and childish Princess turn into a lovelorn damsel. 

King Chellamuthu received the Royal party at his Durbar Hall. The ageing widowed mother of Muthuvaduganathan, many of their close relatives, their friends, commanders and soldiers filled the grand hall and the King was filled with pride. After sumptuous meal, the party rested for the evening and Queen Mother met the Princess. One look at her, she knew why her son looked so besotted. So in love! Garbed in silks, bedecked with pearls, diamonds, emeralds and rubies, Velunachi took her breath away. When she presented Velunachi the delicately carved ivory box containing the most beautiful exquisite sapphire and diamond raakodi,( hair ornament) a gift from Muthuvaduganathan, the Princess blinked back happy tears. So he had indeed seen her long tresses! The engagement function went smooth without ag glitch with dance and music performances throughout the night. Fireworks lit up the starry skies and yet, Velunachi remained pensive. She plastered a smile for everyone to see while all she wanted were a few quite moments with Muthu, who remained back in Sivagangai. 

King Chellamuthu had ordered sweets, savories, fruits and jewels as return gifts to be sent from Ramnad to Sivagangai. Forty huge cauldrons of sweets and savories left the next morning with the party for Sivagangai. And guarding the jewels and gifts went the Marudhu brothers, riding side by side, keeping a watchful eye on the carts that carried the bounty. Two days later the wedding party reached the Sivagangai Palace and the cauldrons were received at the Royal Madapalli ( kitchen), except for one. The Marudhu brothers carried the cauldron themselves to the King's Chamber claiming it as personal gift from the Princess to the King. 

A beaming Muthuvaduganathan rushed to his room, sending his aides away. Marudhu brothers loomed large and with a wicked chuckle, he bade them a hasty goodbye and raced to the cauldron. Knowing the spitfire Velunachi, he presumed what was his gift...Why not play a game, he mused to himself. He ordered ten pots of water which arrived in no time. He threw in the first pot of water in the straw covered cauldron and waited. Nothing! In went the second, third and fourth in quick succession- nothing happened. Now he started to worry, what if the cauldron held something other than the beautiful Princess? Panicking, he removed the straw quickly and much to his relief and amusement, drenched completely and chattering profusely, crouched inside the Princess of Ramnad!

As he extended his hand to pull her out, Velunachi ignored it completely and climbed out of the cauldron slowly in a sensuous movement. Her hips swaying, her loose tangled hair dripping tiny droplets of water, her face devoid of expression and the thin silk saree draped around her clinging to her curves, she made a picture no man could dream of! Muthu watched her in silent rapture, his pulse kicking, his Adam's apple bobbing and a film of thin sweat breaking on his forehead. She looked so desirable that his imaginations did  wild things to his otherwise sane mind. He had seen from a distance that she was indeed a beauty, but nothing prepared him for this rendezvous- the woman of his dreams just a yard away wet and shining in her primitive beauty. Wet...oh my, she is wet. What a man i am, my thoughts go gallivanting when she is wet and jittery, Muthu admonished his cruel mind and cleared his throat. " You are wet, Princess. Why don't you...", his sentence hung mid-air as an angry Velunachi lunged at him.

Losing balance at the sudden onslaught, he toppled on the bed, spreadeagled with the wet Princess on top. " How cruel of you", she hissed, " you knew i was in that cauldron, yet you poured pots of water into it. Shame on you, King." Muthu's lips curved in a wicked smile," Oh..so you are angry? I love the punishment, though, little one," he laughed. Only then did Velunachi realize her mistake and tried to roll away. Muthu held her in his tight embrace, did not budge even an inch in releasing her. They rolled along, she trying to break free and he, pulling her more closer. She gave up finally, looked up at his tanned angular face and was mesmerized by the two big soft eyes brimming with love, focused on her. 

Muthu lay transfixed by the beauty splayed over him, her long lustrous hair cascading, her huge eyes intently watching him with luscious lips parted and labored breaths rocking her. It felt nice to rest on something so male and strong, she thought absently, her eyes never wavering from his face. As if in a trance, he pulled her face to him and stopped short when she closed her eyes savoring his attention. He kissed her temples, her closed eyelids, forehead, nose while she lay compliant. She rocked a little when he kissed her earlobe and almost moaned when his lips caught hers in a passionate soul breaking kiss...

Velunachi broke free, came up for air and with strides matching a Queen, pulled a towel from the supplies and started drying her hair. Muthu turned over and watched with eager eyes as the she dried herself. He got up, moved towards her and pulled her into his warm embrace again. Velunachi wanted him to never stop, she loved this new experience, his touch, his love. But she had other things in her mind- things more important, that had to be discussed. As a hungry Muthu planted a kiss on her mouth, she pushed him away. " We need to talk," she gestured him to sit. Confused, the King sat down to listen what this little firebrand had to say.

To be continued...
The images here are paintings of Raja Ravivarma, courtesy- cyberkerala.com.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Queen Of Spades- Part 3

The last day of the Thai Poosam festival reverberated with religious fervor and gaiety. Muthuvaduganathan was happy that everything so far had gone well with his duty and very well with his personal life. The days that ensued after he saw the beauty by the pond made him sulk and brood. He was not his real self, counting the innumerable stars at night and longing for fervent glimpse of the teenager without mustache on the horseback. He never failed to amuse Muthu, starting from his French songs to his mastery in calming down the elephants! Elephants? Yes, he witnessed the astounding feet of his secret love, Velu Nachi handling the temple elephant as if it were some child's toy. 

The day before the festival, Muthu knew if he didn't confront the fiery maiden he would never sleep in peace and staggered slowly towards the two mustache devoid men munching nuts, lying on the meadow by the pond and chatting. One look at Velunachi and her delicate features covered carefully in dhoti, he almost burst out laughing. Velunachi and Kuyili looked up at the man towering over them. Kuyili's senses alerted the very moment and her hand clutched the concealed dagger with full might.

 " Enjoying the sun and breeze, aren't you? You kids?", Muthu drawled, his eyes locked fierce with Velunachis'. " Yes...and will you stop calling us kids?", Velunachi hissed with her eyes shooting daggers at him. Muthu felt a strange stirring in his belly and a mischievous grin escaped his lips. Tying his horse to the banyan tree, he placed his head gear and towels near the two bewildered lads. Playfully, he started undressing. " This heat is unbearable. Almost too much for this time of the year, what do you say, little one?", he quipped. 

Kuyili was wondering what kept the Princess from getting up and leaving the place. She was always spitfire- Tempest. What kept her from running away from this vile person? She was indignant. When she turned around and looked at her friend, she was astonished. Velunachi was spellbound, sat as if in a trance as the bare chested Muthu continued undressing. A scar ran all through his right upper torso which looked like a sword had sluiced through his body. And yet, he looked devilishly delectable...Oh no! Kuyili rushed to Velunachi and with a mighty pinch, brought her back to normal. With eyes still locked to his, Velunachi moved in abandon as pulled by Kuyili to the horses. Even as they mounted the horses and rode out, Velunachi had eyes only for him.

When Maruthu brothers learnt of this little escapade from Kuyili, they were definitely not happy. How dare he? Some man to undress in front of the Princess of Ramnad! They had to teach him a lesson. And they would do it tomorrow- the Thai Poosam, the day that marked the death of Soorapadma. And they would do it without knowledge of the Princess, they vowed.

Devotees in droves rushed past the temple praharas with tonsured heads. The Kavadis were getting ready, few devotees were skewing tiny vels ( sharp spear) in their mouths with the chant Muruga...Muruga...Maruthu brothers broke apart from the women and hid behind one of the many pillars, awaiting Muthu. Muthuvaduganathan loved to be a commoner, to participate in the lives of his subjects and he wished to remain unnoticed. Thai Poosam festival pulled a huge crowd and he knew he was in grave danger if he ventured out, he would be a sitting duck to the French, British and Portuguese who had captured parts of their Kingdom. Clad in a commoner's clothes, his face smeared with sacred ash, he and his dutiful guards merged with the crowd that was now swelling into thousands with the chants.

It was Chinna Maruthu who first spotted the broad- chested macho man in the procession. As the procession drew near, in a swift motion, his hands closed on the wrist of Muthu, whom he turned towards him. Muthu felt the cold metal blade on his waist even before he turned to face his attacker. Seeing the fuming Maruthu brothers, he realised this was a warning to him for what transpired by the pond. Smiling to himself, he decided to play along. " I don't know why you are cornering me. I am a simple trader, I don't even know you", he wailed. Periyamaruthu grunted - " Enough! Stop your games. We know what you tried to do to our friends by the pond yesterday. One more look at them, i shall gouge your silly eyes out." 

Muthu was taken aback by the genuine anger in his voice and tried to calm him. " Easy...easy. What wrong did i do? I just took bath when two young lads were idling away. Is that wrong? Are we men not supposed to undress and bath in the company of men? How strange!" The brothers stood dumbstruck a moment and Chinna Maruthu loosened his grip on Muthu's wrist. Only then did the brothers notice that they were encircled by a group of plainclothesmen from all directions.

 As Muthu gestured to them to back off, they slithered back with a look of aggression writ large over their faces. Whoever this was, he was not to be messed up with, thought Periya Maruthu. This was not the time nor the place to prove their might and power. The Princess was now in their care and they had the duty of safely returning her back to the Kingdom. This man, can wait. With a last angry look, the duo slipped into the crowd.

All the while, Muthu had been laughing to himself. The predicament of the brothers humored him and their love for their Princess awed him. His eyes scanned the crowd for the lithe lad and he spotted him a few yards away. Behind him, Maruthu brothers closed in menacingly. For now, he had no choice. He had to let her go. But by God, he will get her- marry her. With a last forlorn look at her, he moved away. 

By the time the Princess was back in the palace, strange things had happened. Queen Sakandimuthal was dizzy with happiness. Her little daughter's hand had been asked for in marriage and that too to the King of Sivagangai! The messenger from Sivagangai was smothered with food and wine. King Sethupathy felt relieved and glad. Peculiarly, the King of Sivagangai- Muthuvaduganathan had sent a portrait of him to be shown to the Princess, through the messenger. It was strange that the face was covered by an iron mask.

Velunachi was not the same girl who left the palace for Kalaiyarkovil few days ago. She was mellow, subdued and dreamy. The mother noted the changes in her daughter like quicksilver. Something in her little one had transformed. Velunachi thought day in and day out of the tall brooding stranger she met by the pond. She longed to see him again, but could not till she left for Ramnad. The man had simply vanished in thin air. She wished she knew his name. When the King sought to meet her in her chamber, she was nonchalant. She noted a covered easel adorning the corner of her chamber. When did this arrive? Whose painting is it? she thought absently. " I am so happy for you my child. The King of Sivagangai has sent word that he wants to marry you!", said Sethupathy, who was almost breathless. 

The words "King of Sivagangai" and "marry" registered slowly as she turned around to her father, trying to focus on what was being said to her. The King had wanted an early wedding, probably by next month. She nodded her head as if in a trance and Sethupathy continued to talk of his soon to be son-in-law. With a word that the King had sent her the painting in the corner as her gift, a beaming Sethupathy left the room. Wedding? So soon? She had never thought of it. Velunachi took a long breath and pulled her unwilling legs to the painting. Flipping over the cover, she took in the masked face that revealed thundering jet black eyes. Eyes that reminded her of a stormy night. Eyes that pulled her into their unfathomable depths. As her eyes glided slowly towards the open bare chest, she felt the whole world spin. The earth beneath her slid and with a shriek, she fell on the floor with a thud, unconscious...

The dull red scar ran along the right torso of the man in the painting...
To be continued...
p.s.: The paintings attached here are masterpieces of King Ravi Varma, the first one is the Lady by the moonlight, the second one is Contemplation. Courtesy: cyberkerala.com

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Queen Of Spades- Part 2

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...

Friday, 6 July 2012

Queen Of Spades- Part 1

The shrill hooting of the owl followed by incessant barking, cut through the dark night like a knife. A chill went down her spine and sweat trickled along her temples. She was hanging precariously on the window sill of the first floor, hiding among the eerie shadows cast by the Palace. Holding on to the sill with a valari ( Tamil boomerang) and sword weighing her down and fingers aching to let go, she gritted her teeth and looked towards the clock tower. The men guarding the Fort of Ramnad were weary after the long celebrations of Vaadai Vizha. ( Winter solistice) The drinking and merry- making must have made them unusually lethargic, she mused to herself. Safety cannot be compromised and she will be proving it to her dear father tomorrow by day break. Her lips curled into a mischievous smile as she thought of her father and his hell of a temper. And she did want to stir the hornet's nest often. She loved how her friends named her- Tempest- aptly due to her fast and furious persona, something that she inherited from her father. 

A small rustle underneath the jasmine climber caught her eye. All her senses went on alert mode as three figures hurried out of the dark corridors into the courtyard, huddling close together. One look at them, she was relieved. So, they have indeed come here. What a nerve- entering the Palace of Chellamuthu Sethupathy in the middle of the night was not cake walk, they would have to pay dearly for it. She snatched her sword which gleamed under the starry night and slashed at the jasmine climber. The twigs broke with crackling sound and the commotion brought a team of soldiers rushing. The three figures in the courtyard looked up at her, whistled and climbed the jutting pillars. Laughing loudly now, she followed suit quickly, jumping from pillars to the neem trees surrounding the courtyard with the deftness of a seasoned climber. 

All the four of them held hands together as the noisy footsteps of the guards woke up the entire palace. Scaling the Fort wall, the four of them jumped on to the waiting horses and rode away, thundering into the dark night. The soldiers followed as quick as they could. Only when the first valari ( Indian boomerang) struck the man in the middle of the pack on his knee, did they realize who it was. Such accuracy in throwing the valari belonged to only one person in the whole Kingdom- they discussed among themselves, lost track of the foursome soon and trailed back. 

Valari- The ancient Tamil boomerang
Only when they entered the clearing in the middle of the forest did the four horse riders stop. She shook her head and started laughing till tears rolled down her kohl laden eyes. The other three followed soon and the laughter of all four of them echoed through the forest. "I won", she said finally, still her body rocking with laughter. "Oh no, you cheated us, if you hadn't cut the climber, we wouldn't have woken the entire palace up", said the towering Periya Maruthu. His dark handsome face shone with happiness as his eyes roved lovingly along the woman seated on the horse next to him. Kuyili lowered her eyes as Periya Maruthu stared at her without batting his eyelids. Chinna Maruthu was too tired to even speak as he felt his head still spinning, under the influence of the liquor he had with his friends. Yet he glanced longingly at Kuyili, the pretty damsel clad in men's clothes. Velamma had won her bet, yet again! 

As the horses drank water to their hearts fill in the stream nearby, the four friends lay on the banks, whispering and giggling in the dark. Life had always been fun-filled for the four of them, the closest of the friends, all students of Udaiyar Servai. Servai taught them the skills of war, literature, religion and what not. The Maruthu brothers were lucky enough to learn under their own father, Velamma thought. Kuyili on the other hand counted herself lucky to have earned the friendship and trust of the Maruthu brothers and Velamma. A commoner who had nothing, no name, no family name to cling onto. She was glad to be the disciple of Servai. The friendship and bonding the four shared earned the envy of many, including the King of Ramnad himself!

Meanwhile, in the palace, all the lamps had been lit and the rumor mill was abuzz.  Queen Sakandimuthal almost ran to her daughter's room and heaved a sigh of relief at the sleeping figure on the cot, covered head to toe. As the King thundered into the room, she took a few deep breaths and faced him. " Poor one, she is fast asleep. Let us move out", she whispered and awaited his reply. "Who? Your daughter? That mischief monger is out again in the forest with her friends", he bellowed and pulled back the covers. A bunch of pillows lay clattered beneath the covers- the Princess was missing. The door had been locked from outside, then how could she have got out, the Queen thought and much to her chagrin discovered the bed linen twisted and used as a rope, hanging down the window sill. "Let her come back tomorrow, I shall teach her a lesson", she said and left the room quietly. King Sethupathy paced his room, tense and angry. This little girl, all of sixteen, was now beyond his control. It is time she got married. Sethupathy was planning his daughter's wedding, as the Princess Velamma lay blissfully asleep in the forest, bathed in the moonlight.

p.s.: This is purely fiction, but draws heavily from the life of Queen of Sivagangai, Queen Velu Nachiyar(1720- 1780), the first ruler who revolted against the British in India, much ahead of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.
p.p.s.: This series is named Queen of Spades, acknowledging Queen Velu Nachiyar's intelligence, practical and intellectual judgement.
p.p.p.s: Beware- long series ahead:)