(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
Next to the drowsy Ragupathi Nayakkar, was Jalarangan. He was sitting atop the stacked rocks encircling the pond, his feet dangling towards the water. He had flared nostrils and an upturned nose so it was easy to see everything inside it when looking at his face.
His mother, unable to withstand the pain of the labor contractions while giving birth to him, jumped into the pond. Many of the villagers still remembered her crying and running.
The baby was born as soon as she jumped into the pond. Seeing her child, she no longer wanted to die. With the baby held up above her head, she shouted for help. Fortunately, the pond was not too deep and they were both saved. As he was born in the water, jalam, he was named Jalarangan.
Kalthozhu Margadayya finally arrived. As he had been out of town, he had no idea what was going on. He had barely sat down at home before having to rush to the council.
All the important people had arrived, and others were rushing over. People out of town, sick people, and the elderly were the only ones not in attendance. Guards kept children away from the crowd and also made sure no one, especially women, went near the corpse.
Seeing the guards at work, Govindappa Nayakkar called out over the clamoring voices. “Is everyone here? Does anyone else still need to arrive?”
The crowd quietened and grew energetic as the meeting was about to begin. Parthasarathy Nayakkar, who was part of a devotional singing troupe, arrived and headed towards Govindappa Nayakkar. He had a long white beard and had a streak of thiruman on his forehead. People deferrentialy gave way. While intoning the god Ramachandramurthy’s name, Parthasarathy sat down while holding onto Govindappa’s broad shoulders.
Parthasarathy Nayakkar smelled of camphor, the comforting smell of a temple.
“What is this?” Parthasarathy grieved, his palms held out and facing the sky.
He was a soft-hearted man. Even simple things caused him to cry. Whenever he recalled the scene in the Ramayana when Rama calls an ordinary boatman his friend, Parthasarathy would lose himself in his tears. He was a steadfast Rama devotee and was always singing His name while strumming his tambura. When he earnestly sang the line “Ramanamamu kallkandu” – Ram’s name is crystal sugar – goosebumps would cover listeners.
“Shall the council begin?” Govindappa asked Parthasarathy. The latter nodded. Govindappa scanned the crowd and everyone followed his eyes. When he spotted Kind Hearted Tiravathi, he called him over and said, “Take his ropes off and take him there.” He pointed at a spot in front of the crowd.
Tiravathi did as he was told, drew a circle on the spot, and made the thief stand in it. The younger villagers grew alert.
“Who are you?” Govindappa Nayakkar asked in a clear, strong voice. “Where are you from? What’s your name?”
The thief did not respond.
Govindappa Nayakkar asked again, slightly angrier.
Again, no answer.
The crowd grew restless. A few eyes seemed surprised. Some eyes were angry. Some were confused. Others simply stared at the thief.
Suddenly a sharp voice. “Can’t you hear? What are you thinking?”
A man rushed towards the thief with a raised hand. The younger villagers rose with him.
Govindappa Nayakkar raised his arm and calmed them. “Don’t touch him.”
He looked at Parthasarathy, who nodded. Then, Govindappa instructed his brother Krishnappa to tell the council what happened.
Krishnappa narrated how he had been headed to their fields that were close to the road that went to Madurai. He had a cartful of sprouts to plant. During his second trip to the field, the iron strips hammered to the cart’s wheels were heating up and looked ready to fall off. So he turned the cart onto Mangamma’s Path to go to the pond that was near it and cool the wheels down.
“When I saw him, I felt a little uneasy,” he said. “I thought something was wrong. But I wasn’t sure. When the goldsmith arrived, I had a feeling what he was talking about was connected to this guy. I demanded that he leave the pond and thank god he did or who knows what I would have done.
“It was only after he came out of the water did I see what awful thing had happened. She had bitten into his big toe. Obviously he had shoved her under the water and stepped on her face.”
At this, Parthasarathy Nayakkar could no longer control himself. He surged to his feet and bellowed, “You absolute scum!”
He had to be calmed down by those near him. He sat down, yielding to them but still glaring at the man. His eyes were bloodshot and he remained out of breath. He always boiled with rage when an injustice happened to a woman. Though he was a devotee of the calm Rama, he had Rama’s brother Lakshmana’s short temper.
Ravanan’s kidnapping of Sita, Rama’s wife, had made Parthasarathy a staunch supporter of women. He couldn’t abide even the simplest slights against them.
Govindappa Nayakkar rubbed Parthasarathy’s shoulders. “Brother, please calm down.”
After the crowd settled down, Krishnappa Nayakkar finished his account. He sat down after being told to by Govindappa.
Then they called the goldsmith. He covered his face with hands, body wracked with sobs. The crowd murmured sympathetically. Empathetic individuals wiped their eyes, hearts melting. Others looked at the perpetrator angrily. A few looked at the victim’s body.
The goldsmith’s crying grew louder. Everyone wanted to comfort him. Parthasarathy murmured Rama’s name as a litany. Tears flowed from him, the drops glistening in his beard.