(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
They brought the murderer to the stake. First, they sent children and pregnant women away. The murderer’s hands were tied behind his back. His legs were bent back and tied. Then, they sat him onto the tip of the stake and pressed him down. The sharp tip went up his anus, through his body, and out the back of his neck, next to his spine. His body writhed. His bowels loosened, joining the leaking blood. He howled in agony. All this happened in a few seconds. The tip extended half an arms-length past his head. They untied his arms and legs.
From a distance, it looked like the man had sat himself on a cross beam to stare at the ground under him.
Two guards, armed with spears, stood watch behind him. It was believed that the gaze of a man executed in this manner should not fall onto anyone as anything he said might come true. It was also ensured that a man impaled on a stake faced away from the village.
The guards kept people from coming near for two days.
In the quiet of the night, his rending screams struck fear into the villagers.
“Water!” He cried. “Give me water, please!”
One guard came into the village and asked, “He keeps asking for water. Should we give it to him?”
“Water?! For him? That woman died drinking enough water for the both of them. So why does he want more?” Some said.
The guard asked Govindappa Nayakkar.
“Who said a thirsty mouth should be denied water?” Govindappa Nayakkar asked. “Give it to him. Give him whatever he asks for. Run!”
The guard returned to the dying man. He poured cold water into the man’s mouth using a young palm leaf. The man drank greedily but he was unable to drink much.
He sobbed and spoke to an unseen audience. “You wretched people… Don’t kill women. Crimes against women are unforgivable…”
His face would twist from the unbearable pain assailing his body.
On the third day, some girls from the lower caste section of the village – the paraiyar – arrived with a few palm strip boxes to possibly pick neem seeds.
The cheerful chatter of the prepubescent girls elevated the silent, deathly veil that had fallen on the area. The kazhuvan – as a man impaled by a kazhu is called – could not lift his head. Still, he could hear them and that brought a change to him despite his plight.
“Children… Come here…” he said.
The girls were shocked and looked at the guards. They had assumed he would be dead by now. They ran away in fear and then stopped. They looked at each other, curious to approach him.
One of the two guards, Sithayya, was a kind and merciful man. Moved by the man’s suffering, he asked, “Do you wish to see anyone for the last time? Tell us quickly and we can do something.”
The compassionate words and soft voice touched the kazhuvan’s heart. Tears flowed from his eyes. Unable to raise his head or arms, he squeezed his eyes tightly to push out the tears. He tried to smile at Sithayya as he cried but only his nose and lips twitched and the smile never came. He tried to speak but the phlegm got in the way and he was unable to clear it. It was clear he knew his end was near.
“Children…Come here…” He managed to choke out.
The children were scared but also found it amusing. They looked at the guards.
“Go on. It’s fine. We’re here,” Sithayya said.
The girls approached the kazhuvan carefully. He could see them now. He looked at the oldest and said, “Children, I am going to die. I have a wish. I cannot bear my pain. Please do a kummi dance around me while singing a song to God.”
The girls hesitated but the guards told them to grant the wish. They set down their half-full boxes and began. They sang while dancing around the stake, bending down and up while clapping their hands.
It was a song intended for the goddess Mariamman. It was sung while women performed the rites for the goddess and lit mavilakkus – lamps made of sweet rice flour dough. The song was born of their unique pronunciation and imagination.
In Mariamma’s temple
A hundred mavilakkus, a hundred ascetic women.
Gracefully kummi dancing,
A hundred young girls, a hundred young girls.
Mari was born in Maanadu – Mari’s
Children were born in Kanji Vanam
For people born in Kanji Vanam,
Keep your eye on them Muthumari
Make rice out of river sand,
Curry out of avaram seeds,
Light a lamp with a firefly,
And play, Muthumari
Did you see sprawling bitter gourd
Did you hear of the spreading bitter gourd
All of them are chaste women
Sing and dance a kummi
Do you see the bottle gourd
Did you hear of the thickly trailing bottle gourd
All of them are chaste women
Sing and dance a kummi
Do you see the kovai fruit
Do you see it bursting through the ground
Red Kali within the fruit
Chained to it by lighting
Toe rings made of five beads
Anklets made of a thousand jasmine buds
Will chime on your feet
A stomach as flat as a banyan leaf
Two brows below a large forehead
A life like a parrot’s
In my village, Gopallam
Mother was born in Ayothi
Her braid was done in Sathuragiri
The neem tree was born in Venagiri
We came to play in Gopallam
In the quarry where we cut stone
We grew seeraga samba rice
Now parrots play and sing
Fly and clap, my dear friend