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The Treasure Shell Of Marsambhi [Short Story]

Venba, a journalist comes to Vallanadu in search of the supposedly cursed treasure from the Pandya regime. What happens next?

At the Government hospital near the Vallanadu wildlife sanctuary, there is a feeling that everything moves in slow motion. The chief doctor has his own enormous bungalow, which is somewhat secluded. The rest of the doctors and administrative staff live in allotted quarters, within walking distance of the hospital.

All of us who work in the hospital see rather a lot of one another during working hours and perhaps for this reason, we tend to keep to ourselves in the evenings. Being a senior doctor, I have a small bungalow to myself, and I have ample time left to plan my evenings. But mostly, I spend my leisure time reading all the old books in the general library, just two streets away.

The internet signals are weak here. We have designated places where one can get two or three bars up on a mobile phone. I am not on any social media site. Calling my parents from the landline at home every alternate day is enough for me.

So, it was a welcome break when Venba came to stay with me for a couple of days. We had been to the same school together – Girls Regent High School, some twenty years ago. I lost touch with her after school. Until I was with my parents in Chennai, I was on and off in touch with her.

She then went to Delhi for her journalism course, and I joined medical school. Incidentally, she met my uncle during a press coverage that she was doing and decided to visit me. I had no idea what she could be doing in Vallanadu. On the very first evening, she told me about it.

We were talking about history or rather historical fiction – Ponniyin Selvan, our all-time favourite novel. As we spoke, the talk drifted to Aditya Karikalan’s murder.

“What do you think happened to Veerapandyan’s sword and all the jewels from the Kadambur Palace?” Venba asked.

“Isn’t that a myth? But everyone believes it. The Ravidasan gang made off with it. The palace was burned to ashes.”

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Venba laughed, and it felt like the same arrogance-filled laugh from our school days. She looked at me as if asking me to go on.

“That is what the internet groups say, as deduced from the temple inscriptions. While Ravidasan and his gang were banished to exile, he wanted to use the loot for planning and attacking the Chozhas. Some of these men were greedy. Disagreements and….”

Venba gave me a strange smile and said “You seem to know a lot about history as you do about medicine”

“Medicine is my bread and butter. History is my hobby” I said.

“So, what happened to the loot and the sword, Miss. History Hobby?” Venba teased.

“There is a mention of Marsambhi, who worshipped Goddess Kotravai. A priest from the fallen Pandya regime, whom Ravidasan trusted.”

Venba shifted herself to the bigger sofa. She had this strange glint in her eyes.

She poured herself another drink and said, “Do you think Ravidasan would have carried the sword and the entire loot, amidst all this tension? Everyone must have been eyeing the jewellery. It would be worth millions now.”

“What did he do? Did he kill them all?”

“No. He needed them for his army. He told Marsambhi to take care of the loot. He kept it in the temple”. Venba cleared her throat.

“And Ravidasan came back after a few years for Veerapandyan’s sword?” I questioned.

“There is nothing on that. He must have joined Amarabhujanga, the next leader of the Pandyas. What do you think Marsambhi did with all the treasures in his temple? It was definitely not safe as the temple could have been attacked any time.” Venba sounded like a know-it-all.

“He must have buried it. A priest doing this….hmm.” I wondered aloud.

“Yes, he did. But he didn’t dig any pit. There were so many disused wells and moats. He put the sword and all the jewellery in a shell-shaped iron box.”

“How do you know all this?” I got caught in the mood. Could be the whiskey too.

“My paper also runs a TV channel. I co-wrote the script for the travel series – Lost treasures. I got talking with several historians, archaeologists, and the descendants of the Pandya, Chozha family…” Venba smiled.

“So, is that why you are here? To film or to hunt for the loot?”

“I don’t need to hunt for it. I know where it is. I did my own research, putting two and two together”.

“Do you really believe this?” What she said took me by surprise, and I accidentally spilt some drink on my kurta.

Venba reclined further and crossed her legs. She looked serious.

“I do, after many months of researching this subject”

“Then why is the loot still lying intact without being dug up by people who know where it is?”

“Now, this could be a myth. A spell or a curse was supposedly cast by Marsambhi on that thing,” Venba laughed.

“A curse!”

“Marsambhi was, as you know, a priest. He had renounced worldly pleasures and was loyal to the Pandyas. To safeguard the sword and all the jewellery, he cast an evil spell on it so that if anyone other than Ravidasan attempted to dig up the loot, they would die. Of course, Ravidasan never came back for it. So, the curse stayed. This sounds like nonsense, but the royal descendants  still believe in this theory, so no one has dared to touch it.”

“And you?” My heart was beating faster than usual.

I have never been superstitious. And someone has to dig it up. Someone who doesn’t care for all this nonsense. So, I am going to that spot tomorrow.”

“Alone? Are you even permitted there?”

“I have made all the arrangements. Of course, the forest department thinks I am filming something for the news channel. But I am taking the guard’s brother, a dumb jobless fellow. I’ve paid him some cash already and he will come along to show me the exact spot. But I will trek alone to the spot.” She rinsed her glass in the sink and was getting ready to go.

“Venba, please be careful. This is not just for the curse, but you know, the treasure, government rules, police…” She cut me off with her typical manly thunderous laughter.

“Come on, Doctor!”

She patted me on my shoulder and left.

Venba was brought on a stretcher the next evening, by four forest department officials and a short man who looked like he had seen a ghost. He must have been the guard’s brother. I understood that Venba was dead even as they were getting off from the ambulance.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Doctor Amma, a snake bit her. I told her not to go and to rethink this. But she laughed at me and asked me to wait. She went down the well with a small axe and after half an hour I heard her screaming “Paambu Paambu (Snake! Snake!)”.

“I saw the snake, caught it and killed it right there, Amma”. The guard’s brother pointed to a dirty brown bag tied with a rope.

“Then?”

“I picked her up and helped her walk out of the well. After making her sit, I ran to get help. By the time we returned, she was dead. Amma…this was in her hand.”

He handed me a small coin-shaped object. I could make out two fish on it. It was the seal of the Pandyas. If one had dropped a pin, I swear we would have heard it. Everyone looked frightened and stood still.

There were no visible marks on Venba’s body. So I sent the snake to two different research labs to carry out all necessary tests. They sent me back the reports in two days.

The results from all independent and standard test reports said the same – the snake was completely non-poisonous. It was the common Indian rat snake.

Glossary

Chozha and Pandya – The longest-ruling dynasties in Southern India which were often at war with each other.

Vallanadu, Kadambur, Chennai- Places in Southern India

Amma(Tamil) – Madam( as a form of addressing someone)

Paambu (Tamil) – Snake

Image Credit: Screengrab from the trailer of the Tamil movie, Ponniyin Selvan.

 

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About the Author

Archana Shivmani Rao

Archana was raised in Chennai and lives in Dubai.She was a banking professional for more than a decade. She holds a diploma in creative writing from Writers Bureau,UK and a master's degree read more...

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