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When his minister Sendrakar left the world, Raja Katasuria did not have a ready replacement. Sendrakar was an old and trusted prince, impeccable in manners, and versed in custom and tradition.

As the raja’s representative and administrator for the district of Aluva-nadu, Sendrakar’s diligence and honesty were above reproach, and his tax assessments gave no cause for the people to complain.

Now the court officials manoeuvred to land the lucrative appointment. Tax collection was a ready gold mine.

‘These are honest men for now. But they are feeble, and we cannot lead them astray,’ said Raja Katasuria. He returned the palm leaf that contained a short list of names.

‘In that case, break up Aluva-nadu, my king, and apportion the territories to the other three administrators,’ said the chief minister.

‘They trot well, and tirelessly,’ said the rajah. ‘But how long can one gallop?’

‘If not the city, look to the hills then, my king,’ said the chief minister. ‘The Ayainar and his flock. There’re none more honest and versed in all sixty-four arts.’

‘These are recluses, untainted by temptation.’

‘That makes them eminently qualified for such an important position, my king.’

Raja Katasuria went silent. He looked past his chief minister, his thoughts elsewhere. Then he said,

‘Our man lives in the city. In Veloor.’

‘Veloor? I beg your pardon, my king, but that place teems with gaming houses and dance halls.’

‘We know, chief minister. Our high-born refer to that place as the anus of the city. Yet, the same high-born frequent the place.’

The chief minister flinched. The young raja’s reputation for forthrightness never failed to unsettle the older man.

‘How do I find our man, my king?’ said the chief minister.

‘Look for one who keeps meticulous records; does not cheat the harlots their dues; is faithful to his wife; and donates to the poor.’

‘Is there such a man, my king? And in Veloor?’

‘It is a thriving community. There must be at least one such person, chief minister. Locate him for us, this lotus in the muck. Find him not, and perhaps we erred.’

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019