The Madava Pass

Long years ago at the outskirts of Patannam, there was a flourishing Friday market that used to come alive in the afternoon. The Madava river flowing nearby used to host the market proceedings as traders from far off places used to trade  their goods for barter or for coins. Men and women from nearby villages used to come and witness the grand proceedings of trade and also barter the goods that they used to bring in and take back the ones that they wanted.

The streets of Pattanam were tidy and wound themselves into different directions. The main highway was also well patrolled by the king’s sentry except for the  Madava underpass at a distance of 10 miles from Pattanam. There was a forest section with a hillock into which a road was carved after chipping away the stones and the tunnel constructed by the locals was around 50 metres long. Some robbers used to loiter around or inside the tunnel and would whisk away the goods of people returning from the market if the conditions were favorable for them. Initially it was a few incidents of robbery that made the travelers weary of the thugs and therefore they used to go in groups inside the tunnel and hence mostly escaped from the robbery.

No woman dared to go alone through the tunnel be it during the day or the evening after the friday market which is when the market was its peak. There was incidents of teasing and kidnapping where the victims were never found. It seemed that there were more than one gang of robbers operating in that area who had their hideouts in the forest. Some would pose as guards and offer their services to take the unwary victim safely and falling into their trap they were either dumped after the robbery and humiliation or not to be seen again.

This went on and on for months and there seemed to be no solution as the vassal king and his sentry also did not pay much heed to the reports. This became a talk especially among the women folk in the weekly Friday market. One of the traders, Vijayan, who visited the market decided to do something about it. He went and stood before Paniappan at his village who had a solution to every problem that was brought to him. Paniappan dragged at the pipe and infused the tobacco and looked long into the eyes of a bunch of kids who were brought by their parents to him. These kids were causing a lot of headache to the village with their pranks. They would climb palm and coconut trees and cause the fruit to fall in other people’s area, thus causing fights between the owner and the possessor of the nuts. They were a naughty bunch and no less than a rogue of elephants in their strength and determination. They had got into angry fights with a couple of villagers who questioned their exploits. But as Paniappan thought they needed some work to direct their energy but what work to give them was still a dilemma.

To a hesitant Vijayan who thought he would share the robbers story at the tunnel after this bunch of young lads had been dispensed off, he was asked to present his story first.  Vijayan was a good narrator and he made the story very interesting in such a way that whoever heard it wanted to go and confront the robbers and give them a sound beating.

The question was posed to the kids to take up the pattanam assignment in front of a crowd and now they could not back out. Doing so would mean all their exploits so far were just for show and they did not possess the true grit required for this assignment. Girish one of the lads came forward and said we will vanquish the ruffians  and return home victoriously. A couple of other well built lads Bheema and Sahadev also came forward. The others though they seemed interested were too young for the job. Paniappan trained the lads for 2 weeks. They were well fed and given difficult tasks which they were able to complete in no time.

But the three lads, would they be enough to drive out the robbers? was a question that still tormented Vijayan’s mind as they ventured towards the town of pattanam which would take them a couple of days walking. On the way a discourse was happening at a temple and our group joined religiously. The priest of the temple chanced upon the young lads and said he too had a boy of the same age and asked gopal to accompany the trio with Vijayan. Now Vijayan couldn’t say no to the priest but he never wanted gopal to be a part of this team. He was lean and appeared a bit timid for the task in front of them. But somehow there was something about the boy, his lovely smiling eyes that bore into you had the power to read your mind.

His eyes were sweet as was his laughter. His heart was sweet as was his gait. His speech was sweet  as was his nature. In short everything about him was sweet.

But that was the problem. How can he gel with the others and tackle the thieves? He was a delicate boy who needed the protection just as the women did. Let us hope everything works out well thought Vijayan to himself as he proceeded towards the market. They reached their destination on the third day mighty tired and feasted on the fruits at the market and setup a makeshift lodging. Vijayan also asked the boys to set up a northern gate on the path to the madava pass, so that they would know the people who would venture to the pass towards the market. He set two of his boys each at the market side and the northern gate. He also had two sentries locally recruited for fridays manning the gates assisted by his boys.

Girish and Bheema manned the northern gate and Gopal and Sahadev were posted at the market gate. In short whoever left the market towards the pass would meet Gopal and Sahadev who would make enquiries before letting them pass and escort them if needed. Vijayan would spend the next week incognito as a villager and make his way through the underpass many a times in disguise. There was no untoward incident during that week and so Vijayan told the sentry to keep doing what they were told to and left for his village promising that he would be back in a month or two It was during Vijayan’s absence that a young village girl  also volunteered to be at the northern gate. People going and coming through the madava pass were curious as to how these lads and now this girl would protect them in the underpass. But they were happy and a bit assured that the added security cover if requested from these lads would be readily available. Some of the womenfolk took a liking towards Gopal and Vani the girl because of their innocent and yet determined nature and always requested them to accompany them through the pass.

The robbers had their task cut out these days as mostly the women were escorted by the well fed Girish and Bheema who did not mind walking umpteen times to the market and going back with eatables from the market. In a month they had gained so much weight that they looked fearful for any one to confront them. On the other side, Gopal and Vani were so sweet that even the robbers inspite of their hard hearts got lost in their charm. Whenever Gopal escorted the women, he had invented his own style of keeping them enchanted. Every day he had something in his hand to sell to the women and the women not wanting to lose his company dilly dallied with their purchase of the saleable item even though he ran around them in the madava pass with his super negotiating skills. He would put a price on the item in hand just as then entered the madava pass and each traveler would want to buy from him and he would go on increasing the price and then start decreasing it as they neared the end of the pass. Another wonder was Vani used to run after him in a bid to catch him and dissuade him from selling it. It was always a sort of procession when the group went through the pass.

The robbers waited for their time for days and even tried their best to rob some one, but utterly failed as at any moment of the day, they would find either of the four inside the pass who would always give them the slip if they tried to administer any injury. The four lit the forest pass with lamps in the evening which refused to die out till the next day morning, so there was ample light and the presence of any of these four was guaranteed whenever circumstances warranted. To cut a long story short, the robbers could do no harm to the travelers as somehow they felt their strength subside when they tried to confront any of these boys. Slowly the robbers were identified and when Vijayan who arrived with a bigger force the next time, caught them from their hideouts near the pass and  madava became free of any such incidents that had got it a bad name. One fine day, Gopal and Vani were not to be seen. They had left the region never to be seen again and the folks in the region made their story a folklore and even constructed a temple at the northern end of the pass dedicated to them. Even today, anyone who prays at the temple has never known to have faced any issue while making their way to and from the madava pass…

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