the oath of the vayuputras - Page 112

Shiva, Kali, Ganesh and Kartik took one last look at Sati before turning around and walking out of the ship. Gopal and the kings in Shiva’s army waited at the port.

Shiva turned and nodded towards the ship captain. Soldiers marched into the rowing deck of the ship to row it back a fair distance down the Saraswati River, far away from the external blast radius of the Pashupatiastra.

‘The weapon is armed, Lord Neelkanth,’ said Tara.

Shiva cast an expressionless look at an unhappy Gopal and then turned back towards Tara. ‘Let’s go.’

It was the fourth hour of the second prahar, just a couple of hours before Devagiri was to be destroyed. Veerini knocked on Parvateshwar’s door. There was no answer. Parvateshwar and Anandmayi were probably alone at home.

Veerini pushed open the door and stepped into the house. She walked past the lobby into the central courtyard.

‘General!’ called out Veerini.

No response.

‘General!’ said Veerini again, a little louder this time. ‘It is I, the Queen of Meluha.’

‘Your Highness!’

Veerini glanced up to see a surprised Parvateshwar looking down from the balcony on the top floor. His hair was dishevelled and an angvastram had been hastily thrown over his shoulders.

‘My apologies if I have come at a bad time, General.’

‘Not at all, Your Highness,’ said Parvateshwar.

‘It’s just that we don’t have much time left,’ said Veerini. ‘There is something I needed to tell you.’

‘Please give me a moment, Your Highness. I’ll be down shortly.’

‘Of course,’ said Veerini.

Veerini walked into the large waiting room next to the courtyard, settled on a comfortable chair and waited. A few minutes later Parvateshwar, clad in a spotless white dhoti and angvastram, his hair neatly in place, walked into the room. Behind him was his wife, Anandmayi, also clad in white, the colour of purity.

Veerini rose. ‘Please accept my apologies for disturbing you.’

‘Not at all, Your Highness,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘Please be seated.’

Veerini resumed her seat, as Parvateshwar and Anandmayi sat next to her.

‘What did you want to talk about, Your Highness?’ asked Parvateshwar.

Veerini seemed to hesitate. Then she looked at Anandmayi and Parvateshwar with a smile. ‘I wanted to thank you.’

‘Thank us?’ asked a surprised Parvateshwar, casting a look at Anandmayi before turning back to Veerini. ‘Thank us for what, Your Highness?’

‘For keeping the legacy of Devagiri alive,’ said Veerini.

Parvateshwar and Anandmayi remained silent, their expressions reflecting their confusion.

‘Devagiri is not just a physical manifestation,’ said Veerini, waving her hand around. ‘Devagiri exists in its knowledge, its philosophies and its ideologies. You have managed to keep that alive by saving our intellectuals.’

An embarrassed Parvateshwar didn’t know how to react. How could he openly acknowledge having broken the law to save the scientists who worked at the Somras factory? ‘Your Highness, I didn’t...’

Veerini raised her hand. ‘Your conduct has been exemplary all your life, Lord Parvateshwar. Don’t spoil it by lying on your last day.’

Parvateshwar smiled.

‘The people you’ve saved are not merely the repositories of the knowledge of Somras, but also of the accumulated knowledge of our great land. They are the custodians of our philosophies, of our ideologies. They will keep our legacy alive. For that, Devagiri and Meluha will forever be grateful to you.’

‘Thank you, Your Highness,’ said Anandmayi, accepting the gratitude on behalf of her discomfited husband.

‘It’s bad enough that the both of you are dying for my husband’s sins,’ said Veerini. ‘It would have been really terrible had Maharishi Bhrigu and our intellectuals suffered for it as well.’

‘I think what’s really unfair is your suffering for your husband’s sins, Your Highness,’ said Anandmayi. ‘Your husband may not have been a good emperor, but you have been an excellent queen.’

‘No, that’s not true. If it were, I would have stood up to my husband instead of standing by him.’

They sat quietly together for a moment, then Veerini straightened her shoulders and rose to leave. ‘Time grows short,’ she said, ‘and there are preparations we still have to make for our final journey. Thank you, both of you, and let us say our farewells. For one last time.’

Chapter 52

The Banyan Tree

Daksha sat quietly in his chamber, staring out of the window, waiting for his death. He looked towards the door, wondering where Veerini had gone so early in the morning.

Has she abandoned me as well?

As death approached, he was honest enough at least with himself, to not blame her if she had.

Daksha took a deep breath, wiped a tear and turned his gaze back at the window, towards the banyan tree in the distance. It was a magnificent tree, centuries old, even older than Daksha. He had known this tree for as long as he could remember. He recalled its size when he was young and the fact that he always marvelled at how the tree never seemed to stop growing. Its branches spread themselves out over vast distances, and when they extended too far, they dropped thin reed-like roots into the ground. The drop-roots then matured, anchoring themselves deep, drawing nourishment and growing enough in bulk to eventually resemble another trunk, thus supporting the further extension of the branch that gave them birth. After a few decades, there were so many new trunks that it was impossible to tell which the original one was. It had been a single tree when Daksha was born. It still was, but now it was so massive, that it appeared like a jungle.

Daksha knew all Indians looked upon the grand banyan tree with utmost respect and devotion. It was considered holy in India; a tree that unselfishly gave its all to others, building an ecosystem that sustained many birds and animals. Innumerable plants and shrubs found succour and shade under its protective cover. It remained firm and solid, even in the face of the most severe storm. Indians believed that ancestral spirits, even the gods, inhabited the banyan tree.

For most citizens of Devagiri, this massive tree represented the ideal of life. They worshipped it.

Daksha’s perspective though, was very different.

At a very young age, he had noted that no offspring of a banyan was able to flourish, or even grow, around its parent. The roots of the tree were too strong; they twisted and pushed away any attempt by another banyan sapling to grow roots in the vicinity. For a young sapling to survive, it would have to move very far away from its parent.

I should have run away.

The banyan tree is pollinated by a particular species of wasp. But the tree extracts a terrible price from the tiny insect that aids its reproduction. It kills the wasp, kills it brutally, ripping the insect to shreds. Daksha’s interpretation of this fact was very simple: the banyan hated its own progeny so much that it would murder the kindly wasp that tries to bring its offspring to life.

To a neglected child’s imagination, the banyan tree’s munificence was reserved for others. It did not care for its own. In fact, it went out of its way to harm its own.

So while everyone else looks upon the banyan tree with reverential eyes, Daksha viewed it with fear and hatred.