Brahaspati had told Shiva that he had made Ganesh take an oath of secrecy; nobody was to know that the former Meluhan chief scientist was alive. Brahaspati did not trust anyone and wanted his experiments on the Mesopotamian bacteria to remain secret. Ganesh had kept his word even at the cost of almost losing his beloved mother and of grievously damaging his relationship with Shiva.
‘You’re a man of your word,’ said Shiva. ‘You honoured your promise to Brahaspati, without sparing a thought for the price you would be paying.’
Ganesh remained quiet.
‘I’m proud of you my son,’ said Shiva.
Sati looked at Shiva, Kartik and then at Ganesh. Her world had come full circle. Life was as perfect as it could possibly be. She did not need anything else. She could live her life in Panchavati till the end of her days. But she knew that this was not to be. A war was coming; a battle that would require major sacrifices. She knew she had to savour these moments for as long as they lasted.
‘What now, baba?’ asked Kartik seriously.
‘We’re going to eat!’ laughed Shiva. ‘And then, hopefully, we will go to sleep.’
‘No, no,’ smiled Kartik. ‘You know what I mean. Are we going to proclaim the Somras as the ultimate Evil? Are we going to declare war against all those who continue to use or protect the Somras?’
Shiva looked at Kartik thoughtfully. ‘There has already been a lot of fighting, Kartik. We will not rush into anything.’ Shiva turned to Ganesh. ‘I’m sorry, my son, but I need to know more. I have to know more.’
‘I understand, baba. There are only two groups of people who know all there is to know about this.’
‘The Vasudevs and the Vayuputras?’
‘I’m not sure if the Vayuputra council will help me. But I know the Vasudevs will.’
‘I’ll take you to Ujjain, baba. You can speak to their chief directly.’
‘Where is Ujjain?’
‘It’s up north, beyond the Narmada.’
Shiva considered it for a bit. ‘That would be along the shorter route to Swadweep and Meluha, right?’
With the security of Panchavati uppermost in her mind, Kali had led Shiva and his entourage from Kashi to Panchavati via an elaborate route which took a year to traverse. The party had first headed east through Swadweep then south from Branga. They then moved west from Kalinga through the dangerous Dandak forests before they reached the headwaters of the Godavari where Panchavati lay. Shiva realised that there must be a shorter northern route to Meluha and Swadweep, which was impossible to traverse without a Naga guide, because of the impregnable forests that impeded the path.
‘Yes, baba. Though mausi is very secretive about this route, I know that she would be happy to share it with the three of you.’
‘I understand,’ said Sati. ‘The Nagas have many powerful enemies.’
‘Yes, maa,’ said Ganesh, before turning to Shiva. ‘But that is not the only reason. Let’s be honest. Though the war has not yet begun, we already know that the most powerful emperors in the land are against us. Which side everyone takes, including those waiting in the Panchavati guesthouse colony, will become clear over the next few months. Panchavati is a safe haven. It’s not wise to give away its secrets just as yet.’
Shiva nodded. ‘Let me figure out what I should do with my convoy. There aren’t too many kings in the Sapt Sindhu I can readily trust at this point of time. Once I’ve made up my mind, we can make plans to leave for Ujjain.’
Kartik turned to Ganesh. ‘Dada, there’s one thing I simply don’t understand. The Vayuputras are the tribe left behind by Lord Rudra. They helped the great seventh Vishnu, Lord Ram, complete his mission. So how is it that these good people do not see the Evil that the Somras has become today?’
Ganesh smiled. ‘I have a theory.’
Shiva and Sati looked up at Ganesh, while continuing to eat.
‘You’ve seen a frog, right?’ asked Ganesh.
‘Yes,’ said Kartik. ‘Interesting creatures; especially their tongues!’
Ganesh smiled. ‘Apparently, an unknown Brahmin scientist had conducted some experiments on frogs a long time ago. He dropped a frog in a pot of boiling water. The frog immediately jumped out. He then placed a frog in a pot full of cold water; the frog settled down comfortably. The Brahmin then began raising the temperature of the water gradually, over many hours. The frog kept adapting to the increasingly warm and then hot water till it finally died, without making any attempt to escape.’
Shiva, Sati and Kartik listened in rapt attention.
‘Naga students learn this story as a life lesson,’ said Ganesh. ‘Often, our immediate reaction to a sudden crisis helps us save ourselves. Our response to gradual crises that creep up upon us, on the other hand, may be so adaptive as to ultimately lead to self-destruction.’
‘Are you suggesting that the Vayuputras keep adapting to the incremental ill-effects of the Somras?’ asked Kartik. ‘That the bad news is not emerging rapidly enough?’
‘Perhaps,’ said Ganesh. ‘For I refuse to believe that the Vayuputras, the people of Lord Rudra, would consciously choose to let Evil live. The only explanation is that they genuinely believe the Somras is not evil.’
‘Interesting,’ said Shiva. ‘And, perhaps you are right too.’
Sati chipped in with a smile, almost as if to lighten the atmosphere. ‘But do you really believe the frog experiment?’
Ganesh smiled. ‘It is such a popular story around here that I’d actually tried it, when I was a child.’
‘Did you really boil a frog slowly to death? And it sat still all the while?’
Ganesh laughed. ‘Maaaaa! Frogs don’t sit still no matter what you do! Boiling water, cold water or lukewarm water, a frog always leaps out!’
The family of the Mahadev laughed heartily.
Shiva and Sati were exiting the Panchavati Rajya Sabha, having just met with the Naga nobility. Many of the nobles were in agreement with Queen Kali, who wanted to attack Meluha right away and destroy the evil Somras. But some, like Vasuki and Astik, wanted to avoid war.
‘Vasuki and Astik genuinely want peace. But for the wrong reasons,’ said Shiva, shaking his head. ‘They may be Naga nobility, but they believe that their own people deserve their cruel fate, because they are being punished for their past-life sins. This is nonsense!’
Sati, who believed in the concept of karma extending over many births, could not hold back her objection. ‘Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t necessarily mean it is rubbish, Shiva.’
‘Come on, Sati. There is only this life; this moment. That is the only thing we can be sure of. Everything else is only theory.’
‘Then why were the Nagas born deformed? Why did I live as a Vikarma for so long? Surely it must be because in some sense we’d deserved it. We were paying for our past-life sins.’
‘That’s ridiculous! How can anyone be sure about past-life sins? The Vikarma system, like every system that governs human lives, was created by us. You fought the Vikarma system and freed yourself.’
‘But I didn’t free myself, Shiva. You did. It was your strength. And all the Vikarmas, including me, were set free because that was your karma.’