8. The messenger returns

Kaarvannan dropped Panmozhi to her door, and they noted with relief that the house was asleep, there was no search party starting out. After their fond goodbyes, Panmozhi tiptoed into her room. Apparently, the family had assumed that Panmozhi had gone to bed early due to her headache. So far so good! Panmozhi climbed noiselessly into her bed but couldn’t fall asleep for a long time. In her mind, she was re-enacting the events and feelings of the evening’s sweet meeting for a long time. Finally, she drifted off to sleep in the last quarter of the night.

The next day was a day off for the Koothar kuzham, as they were not scheduled for any performance. Polankuzhai, concerned that Panmozhi was still asleep late in the morning, went to her room and softly touched her shoulder to wake her, saying, “Panmozhi! Are you not feeling well? How is your headache?”

Waking hurriedly, Panmozhi sat up saying, “Headache is gone, aunty! I guess I overslept because I could not fall asleep for a long time last night.”

“Alright! Idiyappam is ready, go wash your face and join us for breakfast.” Polankuzhai told her with affection.

Panmozhi’s mother Shalini, a beautiful and skilled dancer, and a lady of great culture, had led a charmed life with Koothanaar. During one of their journeys through a jungle ten years ago, a great misfortune had occurred: Shalini had died of a snakebite, leaving behind her beloved husband and young 7-year old daughter. At that time when Koothanaar was immersed in sorrow, his sister Polankuzhai took over the day-to-day running of Koothanaar’s household. Shalini’s untimely death left a great sorrow and void in the life of Koothanaar. To fill that up, Koothanaar indulged more deeply in the arts of dance and music.

Yaazhini, Polankuzhai’s daughter, was five years old then. Polankuzhai brought up both girls with love and kindness, not allowing Panmozhi to feel the loss of her mother, treating her like her own daughter.

Koothanaar saw Panmozhi as the spitting image of her mother Shalini: in her looks, her nature and personality, as well as in her talent for dance.

As Koothanaar was turning the pages of a palm leaf script, Yaazhini came and silently sat beside him without disturbing his concentration. A while later, when he looked up from what he was reading, he noticed her and asked affectionately,

“I was immersed in some thoughts my child! Have you been waiting long?”

“No uncle, not long. I came to enquire whether there is rehearsal today”, replied Yaazhini.

“Yes! There is, my child! Next Friday is Chitra pournami” (full moon). King Paali wants our programme in the open-air auditorium of the palace, under the light of the full moon. For that performance there is going to be quite a large and elite audience: apart from the royal ladies, members of enn peraayam (light administrative departments), the respected scholars whom the king regards in high esteem, their families, as well as normal citizens have all been invited. I was thinking how best we can plan our programme.”

Koothanaar set the time for the rehearsal shortly after, and the whole group assembled.

Panmozhi was also present physically, but her mind seemed faraway, engrossed in thoughts. Koothanaar enquired, “You seem to be somewhat distracted my child! Are you unwell?”

“No, yendhai! I am a little tired as I didn’t sleep too well last night”.

“Maybe you should take some rest then. You can be excused from the rehearsal today if you prefer” Koothanaar offered.

“No, I am not that tired, yendhai! If I start dancing it will be alright,” she said with a smile.

While the others were tuning their instruments and generally getting ready, Yaazhini wanted to settle a technical point of disagreement that she had been having with Panmozhi. She asked her uncle,

“Uncle! Panmozhi and I have a question about some dance hand gestures. I say that the gestures to denote a rooster and the dove kapotham belong to the ‘pinaiyal’ classification, but Panmozhi believes it is classified as ‘pindi’. Which is correct?” asked Yaazhini.

“Hmm… let me see! Show me the hasta muddirai (hand gesture) for the dove”, said Koothanaar.

Yaazhini made the gesture by joining both palms together as for worshipping.

“Okay! Now the rooster?”

In the single-handed gesture called ‘mukula’ joining her fingertips like a lotus bud, she took the fingers under the thumb except the pointer finger.

“The hasta muddirai is correct but it seems you have not yet understood the basic difference between the two,” Koothanaar laughed.

Yaazhini was confused: “What basic difference?”

Pindi is a gesture with a single hand. Is not pinaiyal a gesture with both the hands?” Koothanaar asked. Yaazhini graciously admitted her mistake and accepted Panmozhi as the winner of this particular debate.

“Now that that is settled, shall plan our programme for the grand full moon night performance?” Koothanaar asked.

“Uncle! You start with the Thudi Koothu of God Murugan after annihilating Sooraasuran” suggested Yaazhini.

“Yaazhini and I will dance the Kudai koothu (umbrella dance) of Cheyyon after he defeated the demons”, added Panmozhi.

Then Koothanaar gave his suggestion.

“Yes… maybe… those are traditional, sure. However, I am looking for something a bit more out of the ordinary. Something special that particularly celebrates this fertile Kurinji land… How about something from pulavar (poet scholar) Kapilar’s ahappaadal? These are poems concerned with personal emotions, which you both can enact and dance exquisitely. Yes! I got it! This poem ‘Aadu Alama’, Aham 82, in kurinji thinai setting will be appropriate.”

Koothanaar went on to explain the setting as follows:

“The mild summer breeze piercing through the holes of the bamboos, produce melodious flute music,

The refreshing cool cascade of a waterfall plays the muzhavu,

The bumble bees play the yaazh (harp),

Hearing this nature orchestra, the female monkeys are rattled, and the peacocks start to dance.

While the princess of kurinji country awaits the return of her hero.

Yearning for him, with tears in her eyes, shoulders slumped, she asks her tozhi (girlfriend), ‘when will I meet my sweetheart? When will this pain of separation end?’”

The members of the group murmured their consent for this theme. Yaazhini was particularly enthusiastic: “Yes! We can do wonderful realistic abhinayam for this, Panmozhi as the princess, and I will be her tozhi!” She winked at Panmozhi.

Panmozhi was reluctant: “No… I don’t think so!”

“Okay then, you be the tozhi, and I the princess!”, said Yaazhini.

In the meantime, they heard the sound of a horse’s hooves, which stopped at their door. In a few moments Kaarvannan entered and greeted them, Koothanaar warmly welcomed him and offered a seat.

“I am on my way back to Puhar, with the reply from King Paali. I just stopped by to take leave of you”, said Kaarvannan, looking around at everyone in the group, and his eyes finally resting on Panmozhi. He noticed in some satisfaction that she was not happy to see him go.

Addressing Koothanaar, he continued, “I am honoured to have made your acquaintance. I cannot forget your art and your friendship. I hope you will come to the Chozha country soon, to Uraiyur by Aadi thingal pournami. I will meet you there.” This last he said looking at Panmozhi.

After Kaarvannan’s departure the practice continued, but Panmozhi’s heart was not in it. Observing her distracted state, Koothanaar suggested that she rest as while. Panmozhi accepted and sat beside her father.

The rehearsal concluded after some time, and everyone dispersed. Panmozhi and Yaazhini were left alone. Panmozhi was silent, her mind far away, in fact, on the road to Puhar. Yaazhini broke the silence.

Akka! I know something is disturbing you. Would you like to tell your dear sister and friend?” She came and sat beside her and looked her eye to eye holding her chin gently. Two drops of tears peeped out of Panmozhi’s eyes.

“You need not tell me akka! Shall I guess?” Yaazhini spoke in a sign language. She showed the dance hand gestures for a bee, a lotus, and the crescent moon. Panmozhi looked at her pretending she didn’t know what it meant.

Then Yaazhini explained by repeating the poem that Kaarvannan had concluded his speech with at the King’s court.

“Crescent moon in the west, chiming anklets, cascading waterfall, victorious Lord Murugan, this poem I could also decode akka! Cheer up! He has promised to meet you during Aadi Perukku at Uraiyur!” Yaazhini held her hands with warmth. “Yaazhini! You are very perceptive! And mischievous!” smiling, Panmozhi drew her close and embraced her tight with deep affection.

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