There is nothing much to write about me. I was the normal IT person (or the abnormal or sub-normal, if you ask the other 50% of the people in
One such story had peaked my interest laterally – buried in one corner of it was an analogy of Mukilan-Nila; I’ve never heard of that one before – heard of Ambikapathy-Amaravathy several times over in Tamil literature, even Laila-Majnu, but Mukilan-Nila ? Not even once. I had googled for it, and came up with nothing. Then called up the Vikatan’s office, introduced myself and got the coordinates of the author. Long story short, I was pointed to a small town in Tamil Nadu near Tirunelveli; he also said that there was very little literature around it, would send whatever he had to me; but averred for its authenticity. The intrigue around this was very tempting; I had decided to give it a shot and pursue the veracity – hopeful that it would give me a story to write and to veer off my normal cross-roads !
So here I am sitting in a passenger train between
He stuck up a conversation; “Thambi, enna padichittu irrukeenga ?”. His dialect was strange, but I told him what I was reading...
“Aaah. That story! That was a long time ago, thambi”. I sensed my pulse quicken.
I asked him, “Periyavare, Do you know something about it?” He nodded and I looked at him and he launched into the story.
Mukilan’s and Nila’s family were close and next door in a village near Virudhunagar. Mukilan was a few months older than Nila. As they grew up together, they had fabulous time together playing around in the fields, in and around the pond and the orchards. Fate intervened; when they were 8, some differences cropped up between the families around land and use of water. It escalated from verbal, then fisticuffs and ended up in bloodshed of Nila’s uncle and jail term for Mukilan’s cousin. To avoid further bloodshed, Nila’s family moved out.
Time fades the past in the young. Mukilan had gone on to a college to do his Intermediate in Tenkasi and had seen a quiet girl and fallen for her. He did not have the courage to go up to and talk to her, since she was in a different group. However, things turned on its head in the end of the first year – Mukilan had topped his class in the first year and as is wont in that college, all the top students in various groups were to be felicitated in a function. He saw that quiet girl in the same group. When Mukilan’s name was called out he did not notice, the girl had jerked her head up and look at him intently. When the girl name was called out, she was looking directly at Mukilan and it was Mukilan’s turn to be surprised. It was Nila; soon after the function, they met and talked about the past and the present – came to know the families had still sworn vendetta. Through that year, their proximity grew and their fear grew. Particularly, Nila’s cousin, who had lost his father, was still intent on revenge when Mukilan’s cousin gets out of the jail in a few years from then. At the same time they were doing extremely well in the college and the principal had secretly wagered a bet that both of them would top their group in the state exams and they would go on to do greater things.
The time rolled on to the year, both managed to keep their love off public; principal had won half of his wager. Nila had topped her group and Mukilan had come second. Mukilan and Nila went to colleges in Tirunelveli, Mukilan aiming to go for civil services and Nila for her science. It was towards the end of the 3rd year that trouble reared her head. When Nila had gone home at Rajapalayam, her mother had announced that they have found a potential groom for her, who was working in
Little did they know their story had leaked out and reached the ears of Nila’s parents, on that fateful day.
The old man had paused; as the darkness fell and the train was slowing down. The old man seemed rushed. He quickly said he needed to take leave as his destination had come and rushed out, when the train had stopped at Sivakasi. I was desperate – I didn’t know if I should follow him or not. It was night and there wasn’t much light and my indecision was taken care by the train, as it started. I sat back, marveled at the story the old man had just spun… At the same time I felt a need to know what had actually happened to Mukilan and Nila. I sat through rest of the journey up to Rajapalayam thinking about various combinations and permutations. It felt very strange to have known so much and not known the whole thing – it was like reading a thriller, only finding out that the last few chapters have been ripped out.
With heightened sense of curiosity and a disappointment, I got down at Rajapalayam and found my colleague’s brother waiting for me to take me to his house. I had told him the fascinating story that I had heard from the old man. He responded that he had heard about the story himself from various people with various versions, each changing based on the Goran who tells it. He said he would check around tomorrow with some to know if they can add more light to it. After dinner, I could hardly sleep and when I slept the old man was in the dreams reliving the story again.
Here I am, two days later, waiting in the Sivakasi station. It had been the most frustrating time for me. It was like chasing a mirage and false leads. Aided by my host, I had gone and met several people. Everyone had heard about it in vague terms, but nothing concrete. A lead to the descendent of Nila’s family turned out to be completely false and we got thrown out – fortunate not to have been inflicted bodily harm, since the Nila in question there was a young girl, who was just about to get married in two days time!
The whole experience was maddeningly futile; added to the misery was constant rain and power-cut. I later decided to abandon the project and take the train to Tirunelveli and go meet a relative of mine there and return to
Something told me that she isn’t a common beggar for alms – I stuck up the conversation with her. She talked about the rain this season, which is something she hasn’t seen for a long time. On a hunch, I asked her if she had heard about Mukilan-Nila’s story. What the heck? Last ditch attempt is not going to hurt.
“Oh yes, those two – poor ones, thambi”… she started. She covered the same background of their early days, the days of enmity and meeting again at the college and how Nila liked the quiet and modest demeanor of Mukilan. And how she fell in love all over again for his kindness and how they were perfect for each other. And how they had decided to elope! My senses quickened, as I listened intently…
Prior to that day, Nila had diligently collected a few of her essentials elsewhere. The plan was she would go out on the pretext of meeting a friend, and join Mukilan onboard the train at the Rajapalayam station. She left around 11 AM for the late evening train.
Unknown to her, the news of their impending elopement had reached their parents. Nila’s cousin who had sworn revenge on Mukilan’s family found this to be an opportunity to get even. He and his friends set-out to intercept Mukilan midway, where as Nila’s father and his friends set-out in search of Nila – unable to locate her, they settled to wait in the station.
The revenge-party had boarded the train just ahead of Virudhunagar in one of the small stations and found Mukilan. Mukilan had no chance – it was brutal and it was quick. He was hacked and his body was thrown out of the train at Sivakasi. The story has it that they killers traveled in the same train until Rajapalayam and got down from the train with the blood-soaked sickles.
Nila who had just entered the station had seen her parent and knew things have gone awry. However, as soon as she saw her cousin and his friends getting down the train with red plastered on their shirts, she knew the worst has happened. She fainted and she was carried away and no one had since heard of her.
The old woman monologue was broken by the train which had just steamed in. I knew there was something here – I didn’t want to miss the ending and also didn’t want to miss the train. As I hauled my back-pack, I asked her what had happened to Nila later on…
As I was getting into the train, she looked at me and said, “Thambi, the legend has it that even today, Mukilan still travels on this train from Virudhunagar to get to Nila and Nila patiently waits for him at the station”…
As the visage of the old-man in the train emerged from my subconscious, I dropped the rucksack down and turned around quickly to look at her; she was already gone, an ambling silhouette framed against a distant lightning streak. A mere apparition in the darkness!
Apparition??? Realization hit me like that distant thunder!!!