Though Sivalai was hungry yet he sat with deep concern after hiding his boat near a rock along the seashore. He had purchased it from his savings of gold coins. Only his fisherman friend knows the whole affair.
He had kept carefully the acidified boiled rice and rice flakes on the prow of the vessel in a box made of Palmyra leaves.
It is now midnight.
Kothai is not to be seen.
“What would have happened to her?”
“She promised to call over before midnight.”
The whole planning will go for a six if she did not get up before her father completes his midnight adoration ceremonies at the temple. His worried thinking made him to dig up a big pit by his thumb unconsciously. Fear and excitement caused a sensation to urinate. He reclined on the boat to avoid anyone’s notice. He got up to pass urine.
Torches of flambeau at a distance struck his mind like sudden lightning. He felt as if someone is teasing his liver.
The flambeau lights came like fire-mouthed devils towards the seashore.
“Kothai must have got caught.”
He hid himself behind a rock with a thought that villagers are on the lookout for him.
“I am a coward. I am only thinking about myself. What happened to Kothai who had trust in me?” His fright eased temporarily.
The flambeau torches could be seen closer. There are unclear utterances as well. Sivalai hid himself inside a narrow corner of a rock. The villagers parted in two factions and combed the seashore. Luckily those searchers who came closer to the rock where Sivalai is hiding looked at one side only and moved back.
Sivalai breathed with peace of mind.
Though he is relieved from the search of villagers yet the plight of Kothai haunted him and tears ran down his eyes.
There was a gentle noise and he got alarmed. He turned round to see the figure. Kothai immediately silenced him by her beautiful hand and leaned on him like a garland. Both of them avoided any talk for a long time. The sweetness and warmth of her body gave comfort to the shivering Sivalai from cold and anguish. He did not want this pleasant atmosphere interrupted by talking.
At last Kothai shunned the silence.
“Did you think that I wouldn’t come and join you?”
“Though I had belief in you, I feared whether anything had occurred beyond your control.” Why are you late, dear?” “I went to take the bundle of clothes kept behind our house after my father left the house for his usual adoration ceremonies.
At that time my father came back to collect what he had forgotten to take. As he did not see me in my bed, he called me several times.
My guilty conscience compelled me to stand still behind our house. When my father proceeded towards the temple warden’s house, I came running towards the seashore.
When I noticed villagers on the way searching someone, I had spent some time in hiding myself.” She told the story breathlessly.
* * *
It was an era twenty-centuries back!
During this period Saivaism was in an impoverished state. It was the time when Buddhism was prosperous and pervaded throughout South-East Asia. Nagapattinam of Thamilnaadu was the centre of the expansive growth of Buddhism. Several foreign students and children obtained their education at the Soodamani Shrine situated at Nagapattinam. Wealthy people of Nagapattinam were in the forefront to give financial and material help to the Shrine.
Brahmins went out of the town in search of food and started to do some other jobs. It was the time when Saivaism was deprived of Royal honour and the assistance of traders.
Kuyilpakkam village is situated a few miles from Nagai. It is surrounded by sea on all three sides. Kaaveri River gave productiveness not only to fisheries but also paddy cultivation. Several cultivators had a luxurious living.Gunaseelar is a Brahmin Priest attending to six special seasonal adoration ceremonies of Kuyilpakkam Sivan temple at dawn, 9.00 a.m., noon, sunset, 9.00 p.m. and midnight in accordance with Brahmin virtue.
His assigned job is a continuous one in this temple from his ancestors. Gunaseelar lost his wife when she was pretty young. She passed away to heaven after delivering a female child as her gift of their married life.
He named her Poongkothai a reminder of his garlanding flowers to God. Her name was shortened to Kothai for usage. Even though people asked him to get married again, he refused. Kothai too requested a mother when she was young. He restricted his adulthood passion in bringing up his daughter and serving the divine temple.
Though he had a lock of hair tied in a knot on his head, it was his practice to shave his face twice a week. Sampuvan is his barber for the last twenty-five years. He is also of Gunaseelar’s age. Both used to have frank conversations on various subjects while shaving.
One day, Sampuvan sent his son Sivalai to attend to the shaving, as he was unwell. When Sivalai finished his shaving and went to the well to wash his hands, he saw two beautiful feet underneath a saree placed for drying.
“The feet were artistically decorated by the dye of Hena, a flowering shrub the leaves, flowers of which are used medicinally. Surely those can’t be that of a girl – may be of a Goddess.” The person who came to wash his hands eagerly waited for the vision of the sacred soul.
Kothai did not come out of the saree hideout as she found out that there was a stranger on the other side.
Seconds passed. Sivalai went back as he felt it is improper to stay there.
Kothai knows Sampuuvan well. It had been the practice of Sampuvan addressed her as ‘lady’ and request for water. He also questions her as to when she was going to provide her wedding feast to him. His remarks make her to feel shy. As he is of her father’s age, she smiled and slipped away without any answer.
Sivalai could not sleep that whole night. The fascination of her lovely feet got embedded in his heart. He did not see anything other than the flowers of Hena. He was eagerly awaiting the next occasion to attend to shaving of Gunaseelar.
Coughing and prognostic form of sneezing became the conventional language of love. Her deep love and determination and the diminishing sight and hearing sensations of Gunaseelar helped blooming of their friendship.
They are well aware that their love is not going to end in marriage at Kuyilpakkam village where diehard caste and religious discriminations are in full force. Since it is a village surrounded by sea on all three sides it is also not a possibility to run away and lead a married life in another village. If their affair comes to light not only both will be entombed but also the death of their fathers by disgrace.
A fisherman friend of Sivalai gave him a good suggestion.
“If you sail on a boat for 24 minutes towards south-east direction and come back to the seashore, you could reach ‘Paandi naadu’. Both could live there as destitutes.” He gave his boat with his suggestion. Sivalai handed over his gold coins to his friend with tears.
* * *
Sivalai lifted Kothai and put her inside the boat. He pushed the boat till he reached waist-deep sea surface and then jumped inside. The sea was calm. He stirred the water with two oars. The boat did not move from the seashore in spite of his fast rowing. His not used to rowing a boat.”He should go to the middle of the sea before sunrise.
Otherwise they could chase and both will get caught.” “Shall I help you?” – Kothai asked him. “Show me your hands.” – He glanced at her hands. “These hands can pick up flowers only.” In the early morning the wind changed. He woke up Kothai sleeping on his lap. She got up excitedly.
“You give me your cloth’s border”. “Hei! What are you talking?” “Don’t get annoyed. I don’t know any other alternative.” “Have you brought me to that purpose in the middle of sea?” “What? Purpose? You have misunderstood me.” “I am now going to make you as mast of vessel and your saree as mat spreading to sail.
We could go fast as wind has now changed.” Kothai regretted for her ignorance and gave the saree border to Sivalai. She stood in the middle of the boat with her legs well apart in a distended fashion.
While getting seated on the prow of the boat, Sivalai held her saree firmly. He splashed seawater by his hand to her saree saying that the speed is inefficient. The droplets of water drenched her breasts. “What are you up to?” “Boat will run fast if saree becomes wet with moisture”. Kothai covered her breast with her hands. She could not believe him.
The boat sped fast. Kuyilpakkam went out of sight. She dressed her saree and sat on a side of the boat. Sivali took the acidified rice and rice flakes and fed her.
Sivalai and Kothai got tired after a heavy meal and the weariness made them to sleep. Both got up when the rays of sun struck them.
She got up hurriedly as she saw her receded from her chest. “Hei! Get up slowly. Otherwise boat will capsize and we will become food for fishes.” She distorted her face when told the word ‘fish’.
“Where are we?” “We are close to some Island but very far away from Kuyilpakkam.” He rowed and reached the seashore. The Island looked like a green elevated land with Coconut and Palmyra trees. Sivalai said that it is the western side of the Island after looking at the sun.
Both of them walked along the seashore after binding the boat to a huge stone. Pebble stones found underneath the coconut trees hurt Kothai’s tender feet. Sivalai requested Kothai to sit on a rock. He dashed a coconut and on a big stone. Both quenched their thirst by drinking coconut-water and ate the fruit inside.
They were lying down under the shade of trees. A Buddhist monk came towards them. Sivalai and Kothai got up and worshipped the monk. “Children! Where are coming from?” “We are from Chola country”. Both elaborated their history from the beginning.
“I am also from your country. I am a resident of Soodamani shrine at Nagapattinam. I am returning after visiting sacred Buddhist shrines . All vessels of traders sail on this sea route. This is a place visited by Gautama Buddha. It is called ‘Nagadeepa’.
There is a small Buddhist shrine and ‘Amman’ temple in this Island. You both can live closer to the Shrine or temple and get back to your country after some time. A ship is expected to call over today and I am travelling home”.
“Swami! Please help us.” – Kothai was holding the monk’s feet. “Get up, Child! What do you want?” “Please meet my father at Kuyilpakkam and kindly convey the message that I am hale and hearty here. Otherwise he will succumb to death by thinking of me.” “I agree to convey your message.”
Kothai and Sivalai proceeded with grasped hands towards the Buddhist shrine situated on the East with mental peace and fond attachment.
by Noel S. Nadesan, Translation by Nallaikumaran –Courtesy Daily News
Island of Love