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


  1. You’ve got to watch those geckos, they have the habit of calling out at the most distressing times to tattle tale. Have to make sure they are well supplied with moths to keep their mouth full. LOL.

    Once again good descriptions to keep us glued to the story. You were overly kind in your description of Ravana of Lanka. He was a bad dude. Should have alerted Hanuman and Garuda. 🙂

    1. Hello Ian,

      Whenever I hear the word gecko, Wall Street and Michael Douglas – greed is good – comes to mind.

      Yes, Ravana is the bad guy. Interesting that in many ways, he held more merit than some of the “good guys” in the Ramayana. In both the Hindu epics, ultimately everyone answers to karma – or so it seems.

      All good wishes,

      1. I’ve never forgiven Rama for rejecting his wife after she’d been rescued from her captivity in Lanka. That was a moral position I couldn’t understand at all. 🙂

      2. I agree with you, Ian.

        When we scrutinise the characters, we notice they are people of their times – and their actions come across as jarring.

        Ravana is not the totally evil man he is made out to be. And the Vaanaras were not “monkey people”.

  2. This is a well rounded chapter although I am probably missing something as I’m not sure how it ties into the story so far. It may be my fault as I’ve been on sabbatical for a while and now try to catch up by indulging in fast binge reading – perhaps a poor compliment to writers like you – I apologize.

    Is the chapter’s quote: “Cross not swords with fools, lest your antagonism renders them worthy – Kachagan” an original from that epoch and surely Haiku material?


    1. Dear Jane,

      The fault is mine, really – posting snippets and expecting readers to stop-and-go and catch onto the flow after every few days. But blog posts do not allow for full length chapters which often run into 3,000 to 4,000 words.

      No need to apologize, dear Jane. We’re both caught in the limitations of blogging.

      As I hinted in one of my earlier comments, I would be happy to send through the full manuscript for you to read at one go – but at your time and convenience. Look out for a private email later today.

      Re: the Kachagan quote. Every single quote in the chapter beginnings – whether attributed to Kachagan or Kabilar – are mine. The quotes provide insights into the characters’ personalities.

      And yes, this particular quote is Haiku material.

      All good wishes,

  3. The Pamarajah failed to see his queen’s beauty and goes for quick fulfillment, a second wife to bear him children. Rather superficial. A jackal in a lion’s pelt may be an apt description, but it makes me laugh when I try to visualise the sight of an oversized lion’s pelt covering a jackal.

I like to hear your thoughts

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