‘I recall the song you sang, on my daughters’ tenth birthday,’ said Pari, and he recited.
‘A husband mourns his wife, but what of a king?
Decide, Pari, whether you are a husband or king.’
He stopped, and I continued.
‘Decide, Pari, what your next steps will be
Decide, Pari, for you have yet no progeny.’
‘A crude poem it was for a happy occasion, and the literati threw you out,’ said Pari with a laugh. ‘Again.’
‘Yes, if not for the prime minister who again took pity and gave me food and lodging.’
‘That was fortuitous for here we are, years later, as bosom friends,’ said Pari.
Intrigued by my strange behaviour and even stranger poem, after they threw me out of his court for the second time, Pari invited me for a private audience. I unrolled my rough mat and sat cross-legged on the floor with one arm propped on my yoga-danda, the short wooden staff that served as an armrest.
Pari clapped for an attendant, who hurried in with a sitting-board, and joined me on the floor. He waited until the attendants served trays of fresh fruit and honeyed dates, and milk and water. After which, he gestured and said,
‘Please, Sir Kabilar, let us refresh ourselves and while doing so, honour us by explaining your poem.’
‘Surely, the Velir King has his own advisors,’ I said.
‘Yes, I do,’ said Pary, ‘but one cannot weave a web with a single strand, no matter how strong the silk.’
‘Then the Velir King surely knows that will depend on how large the prey,’ I said.
‘Or predator,’ I said.
‘And how large is the Cholan?’ said Pari.
‘With a son, the Velir King need not fear for not only will he have someone to carry out the rites for the journey beyond, his tutelage will benefit the princeling to excellence.’
‘Nevertheless,’ I said, carrying forward Pari’s prompt, ‘the twins, female children both, pose a serious problem for the continuance of the kingdom.’
‘Explain yourself, please.’
‘Surely, the Velir King has his own advisors,’ I said, repeating my earlier statement.
‘Why then attend the feast but only to pretend one already supped?’ said Pari.
‘The Velir King is refreshing for he does not meander like a searching stream of lost water but flies as straight as an arrow shot from a taut bow,’ I said.
‘In public we must sway with the breeze, Sir Kabilar, but in private, we enjoy the benefit of learning from a wise confidante.’
He laughed, and so did I. As our meeting progressed, the king’s humanity and humility drew me to him.
Pari too enjoyed the meetings and ensured our interactions did not stretch beyond an hour. Just as we warmed and wished to linger, he always called a close and we departed, with a yearning for more and looking forward to our next rendezvous. This birthed a high level of anticipation and interest, and over the weeks a friendship pricked the surface and sprouted.
Seeing that I had tired of travelling, Pari offered a permanent place as a poet in Parambu Nadu’s School of Literature. The school became my home.
He also made me his Royal Scribe, to record the events of his life. As Royal Scribe I enjoyed the privilege and burden of sitting with his Council of Advisors, a select group drawn from his administration but excluding members from the Council of Rulers.
‘Record my rule as you live it and witness it,’ said Pari. He claimed that I was unadulterated by hidden agendas and had no qualms about speaking the brutal truth. ‘You push the boundaries of prudence, Kabi, but not once did I detect hints of malice.’ And so I found a patron who understood and appreciated my nature.
He introduced his precious eyes, the princesses Angavai and Sangavai. To my great delight, the girls welcomed me. I became the girls’ tutor, and their confidante.
Towards the end of our first private meeting, so many years ago, as I was leaving, Pari posed a question.
‘Who should I fear most in the Cholan Empire?’
The thrust of his question surprised, but I replied without hesitation.
‘Their Raj Guru, Kachagan.’
‘Kachagan is a master of cerebral warfare and scholar of statecraft. But most of all, he is a man of secrets. Even his right hand is not privy to the deeds of his left.’
Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019
Continued 30 September, 2019