‘So how does this work?’ asked Shiva disbelievingly. ‘That the compounded totality of sins committed by all the Vikarma over their individual previous lives was nullified at the stroke of a quill when I struck down this law? On that fateful day, in a flash, several lifetimes of sins sullying every Vikarma soul were washed away? A day of divine pardon, indeed!’
‘Shiva, are you mocking me?’
‘Would I ever do that, dear?’ asked Shiva, but his smile gave him away. ‘Don’t you see how illogical this entire concept is? How can one believe that an innocent child is born with sin? It’s clear as daylight: a new-born child has done no wrong. He has done no right either. He has just been born. He could not have done anything!’
‘Perhaps not in this life, Shiva. But it’s possible that the child committed a sin in a previous life. Perhaps the child’s ancestors committed sins for which the child must be held accountable.’
Shiva was unconvinced. ‘Don’t you get it? It’s a system designed to control people. It makes those who suffer or are oppressed, blame themselves for their misery. Because you believe you are paying for sins committed either in your own previous lives or those committed by your ancestors, or even community. Perhaps even the sins of the first man ever born! The system therefore propagates suffering as a form of atonement and at the same time does not allow one to question the wrongs done unto oneself.’
‘Then why do some people suffer? Why do some get far less than what they deserve?’
‘The same reason why there are others who get far more than what they deserve. It’s completely random.’
Shiva gallantly reached out to help Sati mount her steed but she declined and gracefully slid onto the stallion. Her husband smiled. There was nothing he loved more than her intense sense of self-sufficiency and pride. Shiva leapt onto his own horse and with a quick spur matched Sati’s pace.
‘Really, Shiva,’ said Sati, looking towards him. ‘Do you believe that the Parmatma plays dice with the universe? That we are all handed our fate randomly?’
The Nagas on the road recognised Shiva and bowed low in respect. They didn’t believe in the legend of the Neelkanth, but clearly, their queen respected the Mahadev. And that made most Nagas believe in Shiva as well. He politely acknowledged every person even as he replied to Sati without turning. ‘I think the Parmatma does not interfere in our lives. He sets the rules by which the universe exists. Then, He does something very difficult.’
‘He leaves us alone. He lets things play out naturally. He lets His creations make decisions about their own lives. It’s not easy being a witness when one has the power to rule. It takes a Supreme God to be able to do that. He knows this is our world, our karmabhoomi,’ said Shiva, waving his hand all around as though pointing out the land of their karma.
‘Don’t you think this is difficult to accept? If people believe that their fate is completely random, it would leave them without any sense of understanding, purpose or motivation. Or why they are where they are.’
‘On the contrary, this is an empowering thought. When you know that your fate is completely random, you have the freedom to commit yourself to any theory that will empower you. If you have been blessed with good fate, you can choose to believe it is God’s kindness and ingrain humility within. But if you have been cursed with bad fate, you need to know that no Great Power is seeking to punish you. Your situation is, in fact, a result of completely random circumstances, an indiscriminate turn of the universe. Therefore, if you decide to challenge your destiny, your opponent would not be some judgemental Lord Almighty who is seeking to punish you; your opponent would only be the limitations of your own mind. This will empower you to fight your fate.’
Sati shook her head. ‘Sometimes you are too revolutionary.’
Shiva’s eyes crinkled. ‘Maybe that is itself a result of my past-life sins!’
Laughing together, they cantered out of the city gates.
Seeing the Panchavati guest colony in the distance, Shiva whispered gravely, ‘But one man will have to account to his friends for his karma in this life.’
‘What do you have in mind?’
‘I had asked Brahaspati if he’d like to meet Parvateshwar and Ayurvati, to explain to them as to how he is still alive.’
‘He readily agreed.’
‘I would have expected nothing less from him.’
‘Are you all right?’ asked Anandmayi.
Parvateshwar and Anandmayi were in their private room in the Panchavati guesthouse colony.
‘I’m thoroughly confused,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘The ruler of Meluha should represent the best there is in our way of life – truth, duty and honour. What does it say about us if our emperor is such a habitual law-breaker? He broke the law when Sati’s child was born.’
‘I know what Emperor Daksha did was patently wrong. But one could argue that he is just a father trying to protect his child, albeit in his own stupid manner.’
‘The fact that he did what was wrong is enough, Anandmayi. He broke the law. And now, he has broken one of Lord Rudra’s laws by using the daivi astras. How can Meluha, the finest land in the world, have an emperor like him? Isn’t something wrong somewhere?’
Anandmayi held her husband’s hand. ‘Your emperor was never any good. I could have told you that many years ago. But you don’t need to blame all of Meluha for his misdeeds.’
‘That’s not the way it works. A leader is not just a person who gives orders. He is also the one who symbolises the society he leads. If the leader is corrupt, then the society must be corrupt too.’
‘Who feeds this nonsense to you, my love? A leader is just a human being, like anyone else. He doesn’t symbolise anything.’
Parvateshwar shook his head. ‘There are some truths that cannot be challenged. A leader’s karma impacts his entire land. He is supposed to be his people’s icon. That is a universal truth.’
Anandmayi bent towards him with a soft twinkle in her eyes. ‘Parvateshwar, there is your truth and there is my truth. As for the universal truth? It does not exist.’
Parvateshwar smiled as he brushed a stray strand of hair away from her face. ‘You Chandravanshis are very good with words.’
‘Words can only be as good or as bad as the thoughts they convey.’
Parvateshwar’s smile spread wider. ‘So what is your thought on what I should do? My emperor’s actions have put me in a situation where my god, the Neelkanth, may declare war on my country. What do I do then? How do I know which side to pick?’
‘You should stick to your god,’ said Anandmayi, without any hint of hesitation in her voice. ‘But this is a hypothetical question. So don’t worry too much about it.’
‘My Lord, you called,’ said Ayurvati.
She had been as surprised as Parvateshwar when the both of them had been summoned to Shiva’s chambers. Since their arrival in Panchavati, Shiva had spent most of his time with the Nagas. Ayurvati was convinced that the Nagas were somehow complicit in the attack on Shiva’s convoy. She also believed the Neelkanth was perhaps investigating the roots of Naga treachery in Panchavati.