‘When you were in the forest, meditating, have you had visitations?’
‘Apsara maidens out to test your resolve. Erotic dreams,’ said Pari, and his speech faltered. He looked troubled, as if he regretted having broached the matter. Silence descended upon us. And after a while, I said,
‘Would you like me to leave?’
He kept looking straight, into nothing. I adjusted my shawl around my shoulders and was about to rise to my feet when he reached and touched my elbow.
‘Chitragandan echoed what my courtiers had already advocated,’ said Pari in a soft and reflective voice. ‘He suggested I take another wife. Many Velir kings were eager for an alliance with Parambu.’ He went silent again. I felt compelled and said the obvious.
‘But you declined.’
‘I had to decline and because I spent much of my free time, or what little of it I had for myself, gazing at the portraiture of my beloved wife, the courtiers weaved a tale.
‘King Pari harboured such a deep and undying devotion for his departed queen and wife that no princess with heaving breasts and narrow waist can hope to take her place.’
Pari’s love for his departed wife was legendary. Almost every poet in Tamilakam had sang in praise of my friend’s passion for his queen. The stories, ever growing in intensity, enthralled the neglected women who shared their husbands with mistresses. His love for his queen also fascinated princesses yet to circle the mano-stone in marriage rites. His love story raced like a fire through the dry grasslands and provoked poets to pencil more paeans. And the people’s adoration for Pari grew many folds.
‘It is not a matter of affection, said the wise Chitragandan. Statecraft demanded I remarry and produce a male heir.’
‘And yet, you did not.’
‘No Kabi,’ said Pari. ‘I did not wish to propagate the lie about my wife. Yes, I loved her and I knew the responsibilities that came with kingship. But my relationship with the courtiers, at worst, one between master and servant, and at best, one of allies, but not friends, did not allow me to confide my personal matters. Not to my trusted prime minister. Not even to my royal physician. This was my weakness, my ego at play.’
He was preparing to reveal some secret, one so dark he could not even confide in his physician. But why, of all people, mention physician? An old battle injury perhaps. Surely, it was usual for a physician to be privy to such knowledge.
‘Relax your frown, Kabi, my dear bosom friend and I will give unto your ears the secret but you must promise to keep it a secret.’
‘A secret is only a secret if it remains with you,’ I said. ‘Why risk my trust?’
‘I will burden you, so you will understand certain decisions I will make, forced to undertake. Many will oppose me, not the least Chitragandan, and I will need your advocacy.’
He opened his palm, seeking my promise. I clasped his hand and held it to my breast. He drew a deep breath and said,
‘My secret lay in the foggy mists of lost memories and fleeting snatches of dreams. After my wife’s death, I found moments of solace along the banks of the mighty Cauvery.
Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019
Continued Friday, 20 September, 2019