Home » Simmering Embers Amidst the Sands of Time

Simmering Embers Amidst the Sands of Time

by Gowri Bhargav

The sublime moon is no longer visible. The stars seem to cringe with fear as they are tucked in by the ominous clouds. A sudden gale of wind storms across ferociously and dislodges everything in its path. The waves lash at the distant lighthouse with rage. A flag bearing a tiger’s emblem comes flying towards you. The ships in the sea are tossed mercilessly. You are holding the hands of a beautiful woman. Her eyes, which flashed a thousand dreams moments ago, seem terrified now. Monstrous waves rush ashore like fast-rising tides with powerful currents. Both of you try to run and seek shelter but the whole land succumbs to the waves, waiting to be swallowed in entirety. You conclude it will all be over soon. Feeling helpless you just stay put. Waiting to be consumed. Wondering if all memories would be washed away. Rewinding the entire tapestry you weaved rerun in a flash until a huge wave swallows you. After that, all you see, feel, and breathe is the saltwater. Soon a deafening silence sucks you into oblivion within an unknown dimension called void...

You wake up with a start, gasping for breath and sweating profusely. It’s the same dream, yet again. Ever since you moved to Chennai because of the promising IT job, this dream has been haunting you, playing in endless loops, night after night depriving you of your sleep. You are clueless about its significance. To make matters more intriguing, the setting seems to be from an ancient era. You grab the bottle of water beside you, gulp water down your parched throat, and try to recall your dream. Was there any other detail today which could help me investigate why this dream keeps recurring? You wonder, closing your eyes. And soon, something flashes across your shut eyelids- the flag bearing a tiger’s emblem and a faint voice inside your head that says ‘Puhar’. 

***

Over the next few days, you are on a quest to gather more information by piecing in all the clues from the recurring dreams. And finally, after exhaustive research, there is one place that seems to be a close match with the place that appears in your dream — Poompuhar also known as Puhar, once a flourishing port from the Sangam era predominantly ruled by the Cholas, believed to have disappeared mysteriously. What could possibly be the connection?  What if you were a king once, a general, someone who played an important part in history, or a spy perhaps? You only become more anxious thinking about it. 

At last, you decide to visit the place to find out if the puzzling scenes from your dream bear any resemblance to the actual place. It seems like a calling and it has grown stronger over the past few days. So, taking a few days off from your work, you embark on a road trip all alone to the place which could provide answers to all your questions. 

***

Poompuhar

After a long drive, you reach your destination – the quaint little town of Poompuhar.  You hurriedly proceed towards the beach along the Bay of Bengal. The yawning stretches of the seashore are punctuated by some scanty vegetation and jagged rocks. It seems tranquil and sparsely crowded. You see some tourists clicking pictures. Nothing that catches your attention. The beach that appeared in your dream seems different from what you see here. You then visit a few places of interest. Most of them are begging to be maintained.  Being disappointed you head to the Silappadikaram Art Gallery to get some insights into history. You see a lot of sculptures, and objects dated to the Sangam era. They seem to breathe so many stories. But has it got anything to do with your dream? You are not sure.

Is it just a wild goose chase? You turn impatient very soon and wonder if your mind probably conjured some random scenes in your dreams. Was it preposterous to assume it had some story to tell? Only time can tell.

After having dinner you check in at a hotel and fall asleep…

You can feel the water filling your lungs rapidly. The pain is excruciating. Your swelling organs are on the verge of explosion. But deep within your mind, her face flashes repeatedly. Your shut eyelids seem restless. 

And then, you wake up. It had seemed so real. The pain. The suffocation. Her face. Your feelings.

You feel lost and more anxious than ever.

By then it is midnight. But you are in no mood to sleep because of the unsettling feeling. You came here searching for answers but all you are left with are more puzzling questions.

You ponder for a while and then head to the beach hoping your answers lie there somewhere, safely concealed by the sands of time. 

The sea appears calm. The sonorous sound of the waves is mesmerizing and has a strange effect on your mind. You close your eyes and think hard. After a while when you open your eyes, the whole atmosphere seems changed. The waves seem ferocious and the sky, dark. You look around shocked and suddenly feel a sense of déjà vu hitting you. Your eyes fervently search for the woman from your dreams. Why? No clue. The wind blows with great intensity hurling particles of sand towards you. Your visibility becomes poor. You panic and try to run but your feet seem glued to the ground. They refuse to move ahead. You hear musical instruments like pambai, udukkai, and panchamuga vadhiyam being played at a distance, the tintinnabulation of a temple bell. Your mind feels groggy.

***

300 BC

The scorching sun doesn’t bother you. Beads of sweat trickle down your forehead. You brave every hardship undaunted. Tightening the cloth around your waist, you pull the boat ashore single-handedly and dock it with care. It has been a lucky day for you. You have more than a bountiful catch of fish that can fetch you a lot of money.

“Ponni! Look what I have,” you call out to her. Ponni is the only living soul that means the world and home to you. Though you are an orphan, Ponni’s warmth and company since childhood has prevented you from feeling lonely. What began with an innocent friendship slowly blossomed into love. You love her deeply but don’t want to reveal your feelings to her yet. 

Ponni comes running to you with joy keeping aside the jasmines that she had been stringing midway. Looking at the smile on her face, the pain in your aching muscles vanishes. 

“This is plenty, Maaran,” she exclaims. She is in awe of your catch. 

Your heart swells with pride.

“We can sell the fish at Naalangadi. I’m sure we will make a great profit. Ponni, today I will buy you that muthu maalai as promised,” you tell her. Your eyes brim with love. 

Ponni blushes and shifts her gaze towards the sand. 

You admire her beauty. Her raven tresses pirouette down her slender waist. Her doe-shaped eyes, arched eyebrows, and luscious lips make you wonder if she is a deva loga kanni like Urvashi and Rambha who has descended onto the earth. Your hypnotized eyes steeped with love imagine embracing her entire body, longing to make her yours. Only yours.

Your heart skips a beat as you watch her tender feet adorning kaappu trace circles on the soft sand. You wish to tell her that you love her deeply and would like to marry her by the next Indra Vizha but stop short of telling anything. Her father had once said that anyone marrying his daughter must first prove himself to be worthy enough. So, you need to work hard and prove yourself first.

As you are lost in thoughts she grabs the basket from your hand and marches towards the market.

“Come soon, Maaran! We have to attract customers before other sellers occupy the market,” she tells you and grabs your hand. 

Your body feels ignited.

Good things have to wait. I will confess my love for Ponni when the right time comes. Time only marinates feelings into things sweeter. You assure yourself and head to the market.

Being a port town that is always bustling with activity there are a lot of people who visit your stall and are interested in your catch. Being a natural charmer, Ponni lures customers and sells a few of them for more than the market price. Everyone seems pretty impressed with her marketing skills. Why wouldn’t they? She is a beauty with brains. Your catch is sold out in no time. You then buy her the necklace as promised. The rounded pearls caressing her dusky skin glisten like a thousand moons. How you wish you transformed into those fortunate pearls…

***

Over the next few days, you get busy. Real busy. You spend long hours at the sea trying to maximize your catch. You want to accumulate the profit you make so that her father approves you being worthy of his daughter’s hand. 

Your long working hours prevent you from spending time with Ponni. You are unable to accompany her to the market too because you spend more time on the sea than on land. However, your thoughts always revolve around her. You miss so many things about her; her smile, holding her hands and gazing at the kaleidoscopic sunset every evening, those friendly conversations and exchanging banters laced with humor, and her heavenly touch during those moments she gently applies the herbed emollient to soothe your frequent cuts and wounds. You wonder how much she must be missing you.

***

Finally, after four long months, your hard work has borne fruit. You have accumulated decent wealth. You want to make up for your absence by spending time with Ponni. Most importantly you want to pour your heart out to her and ask her hand in marriage. You are very excited because, finally, you don’t have to hold back your feelings for her. Her feelings for you have always been evident in her eyes.

***

It is a pleasant day. You decide to take the day off and go to Ponni’s house in search of her. Her father tells you that she has gone to Elavathigai Cholai to pick flowers to string a garland. You rush to the place. On the way, you pick up a few Shenbagam blooms—her favorite. 

You search for her, calling out her name. She comes, pretending to be angry with you.

“Maaran, don’t you realize how much I miss you? You don’t seem to be bothered at all.” Tears trickle down her cheek.

Your heart melts looking at her. You embrace her slender petite body with your well-sculpted arms, tuck the Shenbagam blooms in her hair, and whisper, “It was all for you. I wished to accumulate wealth before our wedding. I love you very much, my love. Do you wish to marry me?”

Ponni’s face lights up immediately and she adorns you with the garland that she had strung.

“Why did it take so long for you to confess your feelings for me? Don’t you realize my love for you? I had been waiting for you to speak up first. Of course, I wish to marry you,” She replies and blushes.

“I had to prove worthy to ask your hand in marriage. I will talk to your father right away. We don’t have to wait anymore.” You assure her and head to meet her father.

It doesn’t take much effort to convince her father. He knows how much you love his daughter and how hard-working and responsible you are.

Soon, arrangements for the wedding commence in full swing. Your wedding date coincides with the Indra Vizha.

***

The much-anticipated day has finally arrived. You are excited about the wedding. The Indra Vizha that is celebrated annually doesn’t happen this year. The Chola king who is grieving over his son’s loss has chosen to skip the festivity this year. However, you decide to go ahead with the wedding as planned. 

Ponni looks resplendent in her bridal attire. Your heart flutters as you hear the sound of her clinking bangles and anklets. You both look happy and seem to be made for each other. The whole atmosphere sounds divine as the musical instruments are played. You tie the thali around her neck. The distant bells of the Siva temple at Sayavanam tintinnabulate—a divine blessing indeed. 

All the wedding guests leave by sunset once the rituals are over. You can’t wait to spend some lonely moments with your wife.

“Come Ponni, Let’s soak our feet in the soft sand of the ocean. Trace footprints and weave timeless tales. Spend the entire night sculpting the dusky sky. Whisper sweet nothings to each other endlessly. I am your husband and you are my wife.” You hold her hand and drag her towards the shore. Resting on her lap you gaze into her eyes and talk for hours together. You consider yourself lucky in every way.

Unfortunately, you don’t realize that destiny has a vile plot in store…

The whole atmosphere changes in a while as if a curse has befallen.

The sublime moon is no longer visible. The stars seem to cringe with fear as they are tucked in by the ominous clouds. A sudden gale of wind storms across ferociously and dislodges everything in its path. The waves lash the distant lighthouse with rage.  A flag bearing a tiger’s emblem comes flying towards you. The ships in the sea are tossed mercilessly. You are holding the hands of Ponni. Her eyes, which flashed a thousand dreams moments ago seem terrified now. Monstrous waves rush ashore like fast-rising tides with powerful currents. Both of you try to run and seek shelter but the whole land succumbs to the waves, waiting to be swallowed in entirety. You conclude it will all be over soon. Feeling helpless you just stay put. Waiting to be consumed. Wondering if all memories would be washed away. Rewinding the entire tapestry you weaved rerun in a flash until a huge wave swallows you. After that, all you see, feel, and breathe is the saltwater. Soon a deafening silence sucks you into oblivion within an unknown dimension called void…

***

You wake up with a jolt. You are still at the beach. Though you can’t recall whether you fainted or fell asleep, the dream is still vivid. 

You find it hard to believe at first but then conclude that they were events that happened more than a thousand years ago from your past birth. You have a feeling you relived every moment of your past life. Surprisingly, you were neither a king nor someone of great importance. You were just Maaran—a humble fisherman who loved Ponni deeply. What a tragic love story!  You both had just got married. 

 Why was the city consumed and lost amidst the pages of history? Was it because Indra Vizha was not celebrated? You are not sure. The past events linger in your mind and you are encompassed with a plethora of emotions.

And why did your past life come chasing after you? You are clueless.

As you amble along the shore you see a young woman busily collecting seashells.

She is wearing a yellow Kurti, and blue jeans. Her long hair is neatly drawn into a chignon. She turns around and looks at you.

You freeze. Déjà vu! Her doe-shaped eyes, arched eyebrows, and dusky complexion bear a striking resemblance to Ponni. You are drawn to her immediately.

“Ponni?” You blurt out.

“Ponni?! I’m Priya. And you are? You seem familiar. Have we met before?” she asks.

“I’m Mahesh! Maybe we’ve met… in a previous birth,” you reply and smile.

She chuckles assuming it to be a joke. She doesn’t know it’s the truth, yet. She will, very soon.

You wonder if destiny has brought you both together again. If you both are meant to be together during this birth? 

The bells from a distant temple tintinnabulate. You have a feeling it’s a good sign.

***

He grew up enjoying the sights and sounds of the deep blue sea,

She, an alluring beauty always gave him company,

Drowned in love, they wished to be together,

Weaving timeless tales of love forever,

Alas! One fateful night monstrous waves lashed the city,

Swallowing the land in its entirety,

They both ceased to exist but embers continued to simmer,

Years passed, and in another birth, he felt a calling that grew stronger,

Dreams vivid brought back his memories,

The puzzling questions present in his mind did cease,

The universe conspired and the wheel of time brought them together,

Showering blessings for him to meet her,

A second chance indeed for the ardent love story to continue,

In their book of life began a chapter new.

 

History is not just about kings and their stories of valor,

It also harbors untold stories of love which amidst the sands of time disappear.

 

***End***

 

References:

https://www.livehistoryindia.com/story/lost-cities/puhar-in-search-of-a-lost-city

 

Poompuhar is an ancient port city in Tamilnadu that is believed to have disappeared around 300BC (Sangam Era) due to a tsunami. There is a popular belief that Indra Vizha, a festival that was celebrated annually was skipped by the reigning Chola king since he had lost his son. This angered the gods and hence the city was swallowed by the ocean. The places mentioned in the story are known to have existed.

The above fictional story is based on the above facts. All characters mentioned here are purely fictional.

 

Glossary:

pambai, udukkai, and panchamuga vadhiyam – Musical instruments used during the ancient period

Naalangadi – day market in Poompuhar

muthu maalai – Pearl necklace

deva loga kanni – Heavenly damsel

kaappu – a hollow anklet with bells

Indra Vizha – an annual festival held in Poompuhar during the Sangam era

Elavathigai Cholai – the name of a garden in Poompuhar

Shenbagam – Champak flower

Thali – mangalsutra

***

Picture Credit : Pixabay

This story was written for the prompt #VOS by Penmancy. We were required to pen a story in 2nd POV. This story was first published in Penmancy and garnered the first place.

 

https://penmancy.com/simmering-embers-amidst-the-sands-of-time/

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