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Chapter 25 — Sparks of rebellion
Year 2, Kali yuga
61 years before present day
“Quiet that infernal noise!” Kannanār snapped.
Āndāḷ looked up, startled. She dropped her wooden rattle, and tears slowly began to well in her eyes. She got up, and ran to Meenakshi, and wrapped herself around her mother’s leg, crying loudly. Meenakshi lifted her up, held her tight, and tried to pacify her. She shot a poisonous look at her husband. “It has been a year. A year since Mukhilan’s death—and here you sit, wallowing in your grief and pity! Āndāḷ too is your child!”
Kannanār glared at his wife and daughter. He tried to calm himself, but felt the rage build inside. He clenched his fists, and stormed out of the hut. He walked in a daze, wandering through the small lanes of his neighbourhood. The cool evening breeze did nothing to soothe his mood. That foolish boy! Such an impulsive child! Kannanār shook his head. I should have not shouted at him that day...then he would have still been here. Maybe if I had explained to him calmly—but no, Mukhilan wouldn’t listen! Why did the idiot just not listen! Kannanār clenched his fists tighter. Maybe I should have sent him to some far away gurukulam for his schooling. That would have kept him safe. Why did he have to run away! The foolish boy! His chest began to tighten, and Kannanār rubbed away tears from his eyes. If only. If only he had not been at the temple that day to hear the town crier. If only he had not accompanied me that day! Kannanār stumbled on a small rock in his path, and snapped out of his thoughts. Where am I? He took a deep breath and looked around. The streets were deserted. He walked further, trying to spot a familiar landmark. The streets were narrower, and the huts smaller. This was probably the older part of the city, somewhere close to the Niraiāru river. But where is everyone? The sun had set a little while ago, twilight was approaching, the streets were silent.
Then suddenly the air filled with the cries of a great number of people, but died down as quickly as it had been heard. He stopped, turning around, trying to place the shouts. It sounded again, this time louder and longer. The noises rose and fell frequently, almost like a chant.
Kannanār followed the shouts, and he could now hear a woman’s voice between the cries. He could hardly make out the words, he stopped, strained his ears, trying to place the voice. “——our sons?” the voice said. It sounded close. Kannanār spotted the top of a large banyan tree behind the huts. The voice seemed to come from there.
“Is he? Is our esteemed Lord Thattān going to give us back our sons?”
Kannanār quickened his pace. In a large clearing between the closely-packed huts, a large gathering of people sat on the ground. An elderly woman stood under the tree, gesturing passionately as she spoke. “Thanmayan, our dear learned scholarly king, Thanmayan, buries his nose in parchments and manuscripts—why did he not go to the War himself?” Her eyes were red, her face expressive with grief and anger. “Should he not have gone himself? Should he not have led the army? Is that not the duty of a ruler?” Her rhetoric drew vehement shouts from the gathered villagers, echoing her rage. The woman brushed a few strands of grey, unkempt hair from her face. “Why should he live in his grand palace, while the corpses of our sons, our husbands, our brothers rot in some faraway battlefield?” The crowd again agreed with her, more fervently this time. Kannanār joined the throng at the back. She is right! The woman continued, louder still: “Thanmayan, kolaikkāran! Thanmayan, murderer!”
“Killer!” The crowd chanted, slowly getting louder and louder.
Suddenly, a horn sounded. Thattān soldiers entered the street, and began to charge the villagers. The people scattered, and pandemonium broke out. Some of the older men retaliated with sticks and small rocks and bricks, but were quickly subdued. Kannanār stood frozen. An elderly man barged into him, and they both stumbled. Kannanār lay sprawled on the ground, with the wind knocked out of him. A hand reached out, and grasped his forearm. Kannanār looked up, it was the lady who had given the speech. “Quickly! Come with me!” she said, pulling him up. She began to sprint, quick for her age, to the line of huts at the far end of the clearing, along with a few others, and Kannanār followed. They entered a hut, and continued through its length, and came out the back door. They continued, criss-crossing through the huts until they were quite a few streets away. The lady led them into a slightly larger house, and the half a dozen people shuffled in hurriedly. They bolted the heavy latch, and listened for any followers, but there seemed to be none. They were safe, for the time being.
One of the men addressed the lady. “Amma! These soldiers—we need a way to deal with them. They should be taught a lesson.”
But the woman paid no attention to him, she was gazing intently at Kannanār. “There are no temples in these parts—what brings you to these lowly hamlets, priest? Were you lost?” she brushed a bit of dust from her madisār.
“Yes.” Kannanār said in a low voice, looking around at the people around him. “I live near the periyakovil. I was wandering, and was not paying attention.” He turned to the lady. “Who are you, kind lady?”
“Shanthamma, I am called.”
“Careful! He might be a spy for the Thattāns, disguised as a commoner!” one of the men took a step closer to Kannanār.
Shanthamma smiled, a twinkle in her eyes. “No. Look at him. There is an unmistakable air of anguish about him—he is one of us.”