‘Truly spoken, sir Kovalan, but please hear my feeble words,’ said the Greek. ‘These were not rejected because of flaws seen or unseen, but because of their music. Evidently, my friend’s client sees no merit in the music made by rubies. But does that diminish their worth or value? There are some who prefer the song of the malabar, and for others the mockingbird is more divine. These prejudices are as unique as the judgements of one who sees beauty in one maiden but fails to be captivated by another, even when the second is equally if not more pleasing.’
The Greek leaned in and I, catching a whiff of his stale, disagreeable breath, bent back but held his fixed smile. He said,
‘Do one’s prejudices diminish the beauty of a fair maiden or the song of a gifted bird? This pair, sir Kovalan, will never again be found anywhere in the world. I was on my way to the harbour where even now my galley tugs at her moors, ready to catch the wind, but providence intervened and our thoughtful friend, sir Anandan, who loves you as a brother intercepted me. So, here I am at the bidding of friend and fate.’
Ordinarily, such rambling would irritate me. But on this occasion, the man’s verbosity gave me time to think. Taking my smile as an invitation to continue, he said,
‘Your bright new wife-to-be, sir, is the only person worthy to wear these anklets. And favoured fate has chosen you, already promised a blissful communion, to relish the whispered melodies of this divine creation. Take the high ground, sir Kovalan, and recognise the hands of gods at play. They wish to bless your union and had these marvels crafted and, lest these fall into wrong hands, they have charged me as their instrument of deliverance into your possession.
‘Though I have not yet had the pleasure and privilege to set eyes on your dear promised wife, Kannagi, whom I already consider my little sister, I hear said by all who know her, in person and in passing, that she is herself a creation of great purity and the gods broke the mould after breathing life into her. She, and only she, is fit to wear these anklets. Hear the music within, sir Kovalan, sung by the finest of rubies.’
The Greek shook the anklets, and indeed the tones mesmerised with their fine clean tinkling that soughed and sang. The ankle rings spoke to me and I imagined the music accompanying the footsteps of my beloved Kannagi as she moved about our home. And the thought of the mellifluous melody of the many tongued ankle bracelets whispering various enchanting modes filled me with immense joy.
At long last, I had found the important addition to Kannagi’s dowry. A peculiar arraying of birth stars had denied my Kannagi the skills of music, a vital attribute for a high-born woman such as herself. The music from these ankle rings, I supposed, would veil and compensate for her lack of artistic skills, and please my parents and dispel the gossip.
Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2018
Song of the Ankle Rings, an adaptation of Silappatikaram
Continued on Friday: A Tenuous Lover forfeits his Humility
Fascinating that different precious gems make different music. The rubies are indeed a most excellent gift for the bride..
Yes, you’re right, experts could and should be able to tell the different gems by shaking the anklet.
But in the original version – Silappatikaram – (written 3rd century B.C.E. to the 4th century C.E.) the author Illango Adigal ignores this fact.
It is one of several plot-holes that my adaptation – Song of the Ankle Rings – plugs and hopes to make the novel more acceptable to the modern discerning reader.
Thank you for reading and commenting,
I’m just wondering what a great salesman you have made the Greek, he can literally convince a bird on a tree to perch on his hand.
You hinted here that Kovalan is very much decided on buying this anklet. Suppose I have to wait and see if I am right.
The Greek is an accomplished salesman – show don’t tell, say the experts. I hope I’m showing Telamonius to be what he is and not merely a cardboard. He is a minor character but I fleshed him out. Tried to make him real.
Eric you have masterfully expressed this in the thinking of the time which shows the extent of your research on the subject. I enjoyed the bargaining again. It is so authentic and the language perfect.
I know I used to use the phrase “Laxmi has sent me to you today to give you the opportunity to please as I’m your lucky first customer.” That would immediately disarm and you could see them processing that to see if it were truth or bargaining bluff.
Then I’d name my price. The counter would then be “Your offer is less than my cost price!” To which I’d reply, “Laxmi will bless you in other ways then.” Most times that would work. 🙂
Occasionally with all my smarts I’d find out I was the one being fooled but not too often. 🙂
Thank you for your kind words re: the authenticity and language in the interaction. Looks like this aspect of my research has paid off.
You mentioning Laxmi in your bargaining gave me a smile. I think you understood the locals there a lot more than the usual/casual visitor. Taking such a keen interest will surely put you in a special place with locals in any country, I reckon.
If it makes you feel any better, though a Singaporean in Singapore, some shopkeepers got the better of me in bargains. That was back in the 1960s/70s before fixed prices. But even now I bargain especially with shopkeepers and even trading houses. For example, the last car I bought – I drove a hard bargain, and the agent threw in many extras. LOL.
Have a great start to your week, Ian, and thank you for following this series,