‘Exactly,’ said Sati. ‘Whatever may be the reason behind his choosing to back us, an alliance with him will help us win the war.’
Gopal suddenly noticed a pensive Ganesh. ‘Lord Ganesh?’
Ganesh reacted with a start.
‘Does something about this plan trouble you?’ asked Gopal.
Ganesh shook his head. ‘Nothing that needs to be mentioned at this point of time, Panditji.’
Ganesh was worried that he had inadvertently ruined any likelihood of an alliance with Magadh, for he had killed the elder Magadhan prince, Ugrasen. He had done so while trying to save an innocent mother and her son from Ugrasen. He hoped Surapadman was not aware of his identity.
‘Dada and I have discussed this,’ said Kartik. ‘And we believe we should not assume Magadh will come to our side. We should also be prepared to conquer Magadh, if need be.’
‘Well, hopefully that situation will not arise,’ said Shiva, turning towards Ganesh. ‘But yes, we should make contingent plans to fight Magadh. It could be one of our opening gambits in the war.’
‘Then I shall start making plans for our departure to Magadh,’ said Gopal.
‘Are you going to come with us, Panditji?’ asked a surprised Shiva. ‘That would reveal your allegiance openly.’
‘There was a time to remain hidden, my friend,’ said Gopal. ‘But now we need to come out in the open, for the battle with Evil is upon us. We have to pick our side openly. There are no bystanders in a holy war.’
Parvateshwar and Anandmayi rode their favourite steeds, whispering to each other. He had leaned a bit to his right, holding Anandmayi’s hand. He had just told her that if it came to a war, he would have no choice but to fight on the side of Meluha. Anandmayi, in turn, had told Parvateshwar that she would have no choice but to oppose Meluha.
‘Aren’t you even going to ask me why?’ asked Anandmayi.
Parvateshwar shook his head. ‘I don’t need to. I know how you think.’
Anandmayi looked at her husband, her eyes moist.
‘And I guess you know how I think,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘For you didn’t ask me either.’
Anandmayi smiled sadly at Parvateshwar, squeezing his hand.
‘What do we do now?’ asked Parvateshwar.
Anandmayi took a deep breath. ‘Keep riding together.’
Parvateshwar stared at his wife.
‘Till our paths allow us...’
Shiva leaned against the balustrade of the ship as it sailed gently down the Chambal. Beyond the banks, he could see dense forests. There was no sign of human habitation for miles in any direction. He looked back at the five ships following them, a small part of the fifty-ship Vasudev fleet. It had taken the Vasudevs a mere two months to mobilise for departure.
‘What are you thinking, my friend?’ asked Gopal.
Shiva turned to the chief Vasudev. ‘I was thinking that the primary source of Evil is human greed. It’s our greed to extract more and more from Good that turns it into Evil. Wouldn’t it be better if this was controlled at the source itself? Can we really expect humans to not be greedy? How many of us would be willing to control our desire to live for two hundred years? The dominance of the Somras over many thousands of years has admittedly done both Good and Evil, but it will soon perish for all practical purposes. Isn’t it fair to say then that it has served no purpose in the larger scheme of things? Perhaps it would have been better had the Somras not been invented. Why embark on a journey when you know that the destination takes you back to exactly where you began?’
‘Are there any journeys which do not take you back to where you began?’
Shiva frowned. ‘Of course there are.’
Gopal shook his head. ‘If you aren’t back to where you began, all it means is that the journey isn’t over. Maybe it will take one lifetime. Maybe many. But you will end your journey exactly where you began. That is the nature of life. Even the universe will end its journey exactly where it began – in an infinitesimal black hole of absolute death. And on the other side of that death, life will begin once again in a massive big bang. And so it will continue in a never-ending cycle.’
‘So what’s the point of it all?’
‘But that is the biggest folly, great Neelkanth; to think that we are on this path in order to get somewhere.’
‘No. The purpose is not the destination but the journey itself. Only those who understand this simple truth can experience true happiness.’
‘So are you saying that the destination, even purpose, does not matter? That the Somras had to just experience all this; to create so much Good for millennia and then to descend into creating Evil in equal measure. And then to have a Neelkanth rise who would end its journey. If one believes this, then in the larger scheme of things, the Somras has achieved nothing.’
‘Let me try to put it another way. I’m sure you’re aware of how it rains in India, right?’
‘Of course I am. One of your scientists had explained it to me. I believe the sun heats the waters of the sea, making it rise in the form of gas. Large masses of this water vapour coalesce into clouds, which are then blown over land by monsoon winds. These clouds rise when they hit the mountains, thus precipitating as rain.’
‘Perfect. But you have only covered half the journey. What happens after the water has rained upon us?’
Shiva’s knowing smile suggested that he was beginning to follow.
Gopal continued. ‘The water finds its way into streams and then rivers. And finally, the river flows back into the sea. Some of the water that comes as rain is used by humans, animals, plants – anything that needs to stay alive. But ultimately, even the water used by us escapes into the rivers and then back into the sea. The journey always ends exactly where it began. Now, can we say that the journey of the water serves no purpose? What would happen to us if the sea felt that there is no point to this journey since it ends exactly where it begins?’
‘We would all die.’
‘Exactly. Now, one may be tempted to think that this journey of water results in only Good, right? Whereas the Somras has caused both Good and Evil.’
‘But of course,’ Shiva smiled wryly, ‘you would disabuse me of any such notion!’
Gopal’s smile was equally dry. ‘What about the floods caused by rains? What about the spread of disease that comes with the rains? If we were to ask those who have suffered from floods and disease, they may hold that rain is evil.’
‘Excessive rains are evil,’ corrected Shiva.
Gopal smiled and conceded. ‘True. So the journey of water from the sea back into the sea serves a purpose as it makes the journey of life possible on land. Similarly, the journey of the Somras served a purpose for many, including you. For your purpose is to end the journey of the Somras. What would you do if the Somras hadn’t existed?’
‘I can think of so many things! Lazing around with Sati for example. Or whiling away my time immersed in dance and music. That would be a good life...’
Gopal laughed softly. ‘But seriously, hasn’t the Somras given purpose to your life?’
Shiva smiled. ‘Yes it has.’
‘And your journey has given purpose to my life. For what is the point of being a chief Vasudev if I can’t help the next Mahadev?’