‘It’s not my line,’ said Kali, turning to Shiva. ‘It can be attributed to a sage of yore, I’m sure. But I think it makes sense. We don’t have to reveal to Surapadman that we know who his brother’s killer is. All we need to motivate him to do, is to wait till after we have attacked Ayodhya before choosing his friends and his enemies. His ambition will guide him in the direction that we desire.’
‘The walls of Ayodhya are impregnable,’ warned Gopal, drawing attention to another factor. ‘We might be able to bog them down, but we won’t be able to destroy the city.’
‘I know,’ said Ganesh. ‘But our aim is not to destroy Ayodhya. It is to ensure that their navy is unable to sail their forces over to Meluha. Our main battle will be in Meluha.’
‘But what if Surapadman attacks from the rear after we have laid siege on Ayodhya?’ asked Gopal. ‘Caught between Ayodhya in front of us and Surapadman behind us, we could get destroyed.’
‘Actually, no,’ said Ganesh. ‘Surapadman attacking us from behind would make things easier for us. It’s when he moves out of Magadh that we’ll make our move.’
Shiva, Kartik and Sati smiled; they understood the plan.
‘Brilliant,’ exclaimed Parshuram.
The rest turned to Parshuram for a whispered explanation on the side.
‘You don’t have to lie,’ continued Kali to Shiva. ‘Refrain from telling Surapadman the entire truth, except for those portions which will make him pause. Let his ambition play out the rest. We require him to allow our ships to pass through the confluence of the Sarayu and Ganga, towards Ayodhya. Once that is done we will achieve our objective one way or the other; either by holding Ayodhya back or by destroying the Magadhan army.’
Shiva’s brief nod acknowledged his assent. ‘But what about Meluha? Should we launch a frontal attack with all our might? Or, should we adopt diversionary tactics to distract their armies while a small group searches for the secret Somras facility and destroys it?’
‘Our Branga and Vaishali forces will battle in Magadh and Ayodhya, leaving the Vasudevs and the Naga armies for the Meluhan campaign,’ said Sati. ‘So we will have much smaller forces in Meluha. Of course, they will be exceptionally well-trained and will have superb technological skills, like the fire-spewing elephant corps that the Vasudevs have developed recently. But we have to respect the Meluhan forces; they’re equally well-trained and technologically adept.’
‘So are you suggesting that we avoid a direct attack?’ asked Shiva.
‘Yes,’ said Sati. ‘Our main aim has to be to destroy the Somras manufacturing facility. It will take them years to rebuild it. That much time is more than enough for your word to prevail amongst the people. The average Meluhan is devoted to the legend of the Neelkanth. The Somras will die a natural death. But if we attack directly, the war with Meluha will drag on for a long time. The more it drags on, the more innocent people will die. Also, the Meluhans will begin to look upon the war as an attack on their beloved country, and not the Somras. I’m sure there will be large numbers of Meluhans who would be willing to turn against the Somras, but if we challenge their patriotism, then we have no chance of winning.’
Kali was smiling.
‘What?’ asked Sati.
‘I noticed that you said “they” instead of “we” when you referred to the Meluhans,’ said Kali.
Sati seemed perplexed. She still believed Meluha was her own land. ‘Umm, that’s unimportant... It’s still my country...’
‘Sure it is,’ smiled Kali.
Gopal cut in. ‘Just for the sake of argument, let us imagine what would happen if there is a direct all-out war.’
‘That is something we will have to avoid,’ said Shiva. ‘I see sense in what Sati is saying.’
‘Nevertheless, let us consider what Lord Bhrigu and Daksha might think,’ said Gopal. ‘I agree, it is in our interest to not have a direct war. But it is in their interest to have one, and a destructive one at that. They will want tensions to escalate so that they can confuse the people. They will then say that the Neelkanth has betrayed Meluha. Like Lady Sati just pointed out, the patriotism of the Meluhans could drown out their faith in the Neelkanth.’
‘I agree that Lord Bhrigu may want to escalate the situation,’ said Shiva. ‘What I do not understand is how he will manage it once it has. I have seen the Meluhan army from up close. It’s a centralised, well-drilled unit. But the problem with such armies is their utter dependence on a good commander. Their general, Parvateshwar, is with us. Trust me, they do not have another man like him. If Lord Bhrigu is as intelligent as you say he is, he would know that too.’
Ganesh and Kartik sighed at the same time.
Shiva glared at his sons.
‘Baba...’ said Kartik.
‘Dammit!’ screamed Shiva. ‘You will not doubt his loyalty! Am I clear?’
Ganesh and Kartik bowed their heads, their mouths pursed mutinously.
‘Am I clear?’ asked Shiva once again.
Kali frowned at Shiva before looking at Ganesh and Kartik, but remained silent.
Shiva turned back to Gopal. ‘We have to avoid provocation. Our military formations have to be solidly defensive, so as to deter them from staging an open confrontation. The main task for our army is to keep them distracted, so that a smaller unit can search the towns on the Saraswati for signs of the Somras manufacturing facility. Once we succeed in destroying that facility, we will win the war.’
‘Nandi,’ said Sati, turning to the Meluhan major.
Nandi immediately laid out a map of Meluha. Everyone peered at it.
‘Look,’ said Sati. ‘The Saraswati ends in an inland delta. The Meluhans will not be able to get their massive fleet from Karachapa into the Saraswati. Their defence doctrine covers just two possible threats – a naval attack via the Indus or a land-based army attack from the east. That is why they don’t have a massive fleet on the Saraswati.’
Shiva grasped what Sati was alluding to. ‘They’re unprepared for a naval attack on the Saraswati...’
‘You have to understand that this is with good reason. They assumed that no enemy ships could enter the Saraswati. No enemy-controlled rivers flow into it and the Saraswati does not open to the sea.’
‘But isn’t that just the problem?’ asked a confused Athithigva. ‘How will we get ships into the Saraswati?’
‘We won’t,’ said Shiva. ‘We will capture the Meluhan ships stationed in the Saraswati instead.’
Kali nodded. ‘That is the last thing they would expect, which is the reason why it will work.’
‘Yes,’ said Sati. ‘All we have to do is capture Mrittikavati, which is where most of the Saraswati command of the Meluhan navy is stationed. Once we’re in possession of those ships, we will control the Saraswati. We can quickly sail up, unchallenged, even as we continue our search for the Somras manufacturing facility.’
‘That’s correct,’ said Brahaspati. ‘The manufacturing facility can only be on the banks of the Saraswati. It cannot possibly be anywhere else.’
‘This sounds like a good plan,’ said Gopal. ‘But how do we capture their ships? Where do we enter their territory from? Mrittikavati is not a border town. We will have to march in with an army. And we will obviously face resistance from the border town that falls on the way – Lothal.’