Was it an illusion? A mirage in the desert? Mangamma could not say. She had indeed seen Achaiya among the crowd. And she did want to see him, just for once and ask the question that has been gnawing at her heart. Why did he run away? From her? Their fairy tale romance? Blissfully unaware of her dilemma, Chokkanatha spent every living moment of the day in the temple. Rengamma was worried about her son and the fall of Tiruchirapuram ( modern day Tiruchirapalli) to the Nawab of Mysore and the furtive land grabbing in the east by Kizhavan Sethupathi of Marava Kingdom. She had to see someone active on the reins, not her melancholic son. She waited eagerly for the unborn grandchild that would save the Naiks.
Mangamma spent the last few days of her pregnancy, thrilled to the core. She wanted a male child- a son who would rule over the Naik Kingdom. A son who would make Chokkanatha realize his mistake. A son who would rule Madurai with immense power and bring her laurels. And when indeed a son was born, Mangamma felt her true power as the Queen. Named Rengakrisha, the first look at her infant brought tears to her eyes. His son- the gift from her to the Madurai Naiks....Her heart filled with pride. Chokkanatha received message that a son was born to him and he was thrilled, despite his grieving heart.
When he raced to Mangamma's chamber to have first look at his son- the heir to Madurai Throne, Chokkanatha was totally unaware of what the future held in store for him. There was no welcoming smile, happiness or pride when Mangamma faced him. He saw fresh pain, anger and nonchalance in her eyes. Her face a mask devoid of all expressions, she moved away from the bassinet that held the little one. Chokkanatha was taken aback by her attitude, yet he longed to touch his son. With fatherly pride, he tried to pick up the infant when Mangamma's voice boomed from behind the curtains- " Don't you touch him, O King!" As he turned slowly and faced her- " He is my son and my son alone. You have forsaken me for someone else and my love for you is dead and gone. All i have now is my son and i pray, you never come near him."
Her every word echoed in the chamber, in Chokkanatha's heart and he knew that Annam, his beloved was not this Queen Mangamma. She stood her ground like a wounded tigress and he left her to tend to her own wounds. Mangamma heard from Alarmelamma that the King had left for Tiruchirapuram and then to Thanjavur to quell the troubles from Marathas who had advanced into Tiruchirapuram. Left with an infant and a wounded heart and pride, Mangamma resolved to bring up her son as an efficient and intelligent ruler. He would be a future King with no misgivings like his father. He would marry one woman and devote his life to her. Bringing up a son all alone with the help of few Generals available in Madurai and Ministers, Mangamma had little time to remind her of her failed love.
Few years later...
Rengakrishna was intensely mischievous, curious and an obedient child. He loved his mother for all she was- an epitome of bravery, intelligence and kindness. Mangamma spent huge amounts from the Royal Treasury for developing infrastructure in the Naik Kingdom. She donated huge sums of money for " Annadana Chathirams" ( mandaps that gave free meals in temples) in every temple. Roads were laid, tanks dug for water and she was quickly gaining popularity as Powerful Queen of Madurai. Rengakrishna was proud of her, when men saluted her and rained lavish praises on her. She was undoubtedly the Centre of Power in Madurai. On the other side, Chokkanatha was facing defeat after defeat as Marathas and Nawabs of Mysore pushed back his army from Thanjavur and Thiruchirapuram.
Mangamma stood watching a twelve year old Rengakrishna dueling with his Guru and felt a pang of regret. The boy had grown entirely among women and was missing his father. That was when her aide announced the arrival of new tutor of political science and guerilla warfare to Rengakrishna. Maravas lead by Sethupathy were doyens in guerilla warfare and Mangamma wanted Rengakrishna to be well versed with the new warfare. As the tutor came nearby, Mangamma broke into a sweat. With swift strides, Achaiya neared the Queen and bowed before her. When Chief Minister Sundaram Naik suggested the name Dalavoy Narsappaiah as Principal Tutor of little Prince Rengakrishna, little did she suspect it would be the very same man who ran away from her, breaking her heart...
Summoning him to her private discussion hall, she walked with determined steps, followed by Achaiya. Once in private, she turned towards him, her eyes sparkling fire. Achaiya was taken aback by her anger. " I find this funny Dalavoy Narasappaiah. A coward who forsake the woman he loved for his own selfish being, now training the future King..." Achaiya broke into a smile. And started laughing. He laughed so hard that tears were streaming down his cheeks. Queen Mangamma stood unfazed and distant. " You have shaped up so well, Queen. Had i not ran away from you, we both would not be alive today. Don't you understand that? Did I or you have the power to question the King? Or fight against the Kingdom? We both would have been branded traitors of our Motherland, with soldiers hunting us down like dogs.
Your destiny is not to be a lowly commoner bequeathing children to a tutor, O Queen! You and I, we both are destined to save this Kingdom, the Land that gave us everything. Together we shall bring up Rengakrishna. We shall teach him everything befitting an Emperor. Together we shall build up the Naik Kingdom stone by stone, step by step. We were not destined to live a mortal life, Queen Mangamma. But together we shall create history. We shall create a mighty Empire that the Mughals, Nawabs, Maravas and the whole world will take notice of. Your courage, might, political wisdom coupled with my diplomatic skill, we shall regain the past glory of King Tirumalai Naik. If you still hold me responsible for your state today, kindly punish me, as you deem fit." With these words and folded hands, Narasappaiah glanced at the Queen. Her hardened features had softened remarkably and he could see her eyes glistening with dreams- the dreams of rebuilding a devasted Empire back to its old glory. Will Rengakrishna bring back the lost glory to Madurai?
TO BE CONTINUED...