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Cross not swords with fools, lest your antagonism renders them worthy – Kachagan

How did we, Kachagan, Rector of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Devaney, the Cholan Queen and mother of the future emperor, begin our loving but dangerous liaison? I suppose she drifted into the relationship though I cannot claim such unblemished innocence. It was no scheme of mine, even though I spent my entire life scheming.

Devaney was a Velir princess, given in marriage to seal a slight. The blood she spilled on the matrimonial bed was the price that won the peace. Her husband, the Paramarajah adopted the name Kari-Kaalan. It was the name of an illustrious king of the Cholan dynasty. Over the aeons, several lesser kings of the lineage adopted the name. The Paramarajah was the latest of that line of imposters. But a jackal that adorns itself with the pelt of a lion, does not become a lion.

The Cholan Paramarajah and I did not always agree on the direction the academy should pursue. He expended much time away, expanding his kingdom but also believed in pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge. But what good is knowledge reposing in bound books?

The Paramarajah was a learned man and a senior fellow of the academy. He expected the scholars and the masters of learning and sciences to defer to his wishes. Our intellectual duels started off as an irritation, and swelled and became vexatious, and found expression in another arena. His queen, the maharani’s bedchamber, a dangerous battlefield where I risked all. There was no better battlefield to hone my skills. No better trophy to risk my life. And so, I felt justified even as I embraced her full sweaty breasts to my chest.

I was young, seeking myself, and deciphering how best to serve the royal lineage, an unsullied bloodline that traced back to the Vaanara kings who helped Lord Rama vanquish the gifted but predictable Ravana of Lanka. I acquired a hobby that soon became a passion. Puppetry.

The Paramarajah and Queen Devaney shared a marriage of political expedience brokered among the royal cousins of the Cholan household. Her ordinary looks and round flesh did not help. But she was a beauty. Dark skinned and blemish free. It took one with a third-eye to discern her worth. Before long the king took a second wife. An aberration that, for the Tamilakam kings were monogamists. But the Paramarajah blamed his queen for not giving him a child, an heir. Devaney had given birth to one still-born child after another. Instead of showering love and helping her cope with the misfortunes, he distanced himself.

Meanwhile, unaware of my growing resentment, the Paramarajah, who was often away on military campaigns but always with his second wife, trusted me enough to visit his queen and entertain her with song and poetry. She was a savant of fine poetry and he had grown tired of amusing her. Perhaps it was his idea of making me suffer a little.

But he overlooked something obvious. The blind do. I was not without my charms. This was no idle boast. Many women in the palace tried seduction but failed. I enjoyed their attention and coy inviting smiles but always rejected their dreams. They pined, and that gave me pleasure. It also helped with my learning. Human behaviour. But I never relied on my male looks. Never. Beauty shrivelled and dropped limp with age. I relied then, as now, on my wits. Intellect sharpened with age and experience. Intellect matured like good wine. There are many alcoves and anterooms where palace maidens worked their wiles. Staid courtiers gave themselves over to such temptations. My geckos on the palace walls and garden trees learned of every single tryst. Information was more than knowledge. It was an armoury.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019