‘It wasn’t only the destruction of our ships. There is something else. I had asked Kanakhala to try and locate the Gunas.’
‘Who are the Gunas?’
‘They are the tribe of that fraud Neelkanth. The Gunas were immigrants in Meluha. There are standard policies in Meluha for immigrants, one of them being that their records are kept strictly secret. This system ensures that they are not targeted or oppressed, and are in fact, treated well. But the upshot was that the royal record-keeper was refusing to tell his own Prime Minister where the Gunas were settled.’
‘How can the record-keeper do that? The Prime Minister’s word would be the order of the Emperor. And his word is law!’
‘Well,’ smiled Bhrigu. ‘Meluha is not like your empire, Lord Dilipa. They have this irritating habit of sticking to rules.’
Bhrigu’s sarcasm was lost on Dilipa.
‘So what happened, My Lord? Did you find the Gunas?’
‘At first, Kanakhala seemed quite sure that the Gunas were in Devagiri itself. When that initial search yielded nothing, she had no choice but to approach Emperor Daksha. He passed an order through the Rajya Sabha that would force the Meluhan record-keeper to reveal the location of the Gunas. By the time we reached their village, they were gone.’
‘I don’t know. I was told this happens quite often. Many immigrants are not able to adapt to the civilised but regimented life in Meluha and choose to return to their homelands. So I was asked to believe that the Gunas must have gone back to the Himalayas.’
‘And did you believe that?’
‘Of course I didn’t. I suspected the fraud Neelkanth must have spirited his tribe away before declaring war. But what could I do? I didn’t know where the Gunas were.’
‘But why is Bhagirath here? Why would the Neelkanth reveal his hand?’
‘Fraud Neelkanth, Your Highness,’ said Bhrigu, correcting Dilipa.
‘I’m sorry, My Lord,’ said Dilipa.
Bhrigu looked up at the ceiling. ‘Yes, why has Shiva sent him here?’
‘My God!’ whispered Dilipa. ‘Could he have been sent here to assassinate me?’
Bhrigu shook his head. ‘That is unlikely. I don’t think killing you, Your Highness, would serve any larger purpose.’
Dilipa opened his mouth to say something but decided instead to remain silent.
‘Yes,’ continued Bhrigu, narrowing his eyes, ‘we do need to know why Prince Bhagirath is here. I look forward to meeting him.’
‘Father,’ said Bhagirath as he walked confidently into Dilipa’s chamber.
Dilipa smiled as best he could. He didn’t really like his son. ‘How are you, Bhagirath?’
‘I’m all right, father.’
‘How was your trip to Panchavati?’
Bhagirath glanced at Bhrigu, wondering who the old Brahmin was, before turning back to his father. ‘It was an uneventful trip, father. Perhaps the Nagas are not as bad as we think. Some of us have returned early. The Lord Neelkanth will join us later.’
Dilipa frowned, as if surprised, and turned towards Bhrigu.
Bhagirath arched his eyebrow before turning towards Bhrigu as well with a Namaste and quick bow of his head. ‘Please accept my apologies for my bad manners, Brahmin. I was overwhelmed with emotions on seeing my father.’
Bhrigu looked deep into Bhagirath’s eyes.
Bhagirath is consumed with curiosity about who I am. I better put this to rest so that his conscious mind can move on to more useful thoughts.
‘Perhaps it is I who should apologise,’ said Bhrigu. ‘I have not introduced myself. I’m a simple sage who lives in the Himalayas and goes by the name of Bhrigu.’
Bhagirath straightened up in surprise. Of course he knew who Bhrigu was, although he hadn’t met him. Bhagirath stepped forward and bent low, touching the sage’s feet. ‘Maharishi Bhrigu, it is my life’s honour to meet you. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to seek your blessings.’
‘Ayushman bhav,’ said Bhrigu, blessing Bhagirath with a long life.
Bhrigu then placed his hands on Bhagirath’s shoulders and pulled him up, while once again looking directly into his eyes.
Bhagirath has realised that his imbecile father is not the true leader. I am. And he’s scared. Good. Now all I have to do is make him think some more.
‘I trust the Neelkanth is well?’ asked Bhrigu. ‘I have still not had the pleasure of meeting the man who commoners believe is the saviour of our times.’
‘He is well, My Lord,’ said Bhagirath. ‘And is worthy of the title he carries. In fact, there are those of us who believe that he even deserves the title of the Mahadev.’
So, Bhagirath volunteered to uncover the identity of the true leader. Interesting. That Tibetan barbarian understands that this fool Dilipa could not have been the one. He has more intelligence than I thought.
‘Allow posterity to prevail upon the present in deciding the honour and title bestowed upon man, my dear Prince of Ayodhya,’ said Bhrigu. ‘Duty must be performed for its own sake, not for the power and pelf it might bring. I am sure that even your Neelkanth is familiar with Lord Vasudev’s nugget of wisdom which encapsulates this thought: Karmanye vaadhikaa raste maa phaleshu kadachana.’
‘Oh, the Neelkanth is the embodiment of that thought, Maharishiji,’ said Bhagirath. ‘He never calls himself the Mahadev. It is we who address him as such.’
Bhrigu smiled. ‘Your Neelkanth must be truly great to inspire such loyalty, brave Prince. By the way, how was Panchavati? I have never had the pleasure of visiting that land.’
‘It is a beautiful city, Maharishiji.’
They were attacked at the outskirts of Panchavati... So our ships did make it through. And their devil boats got us. Well, at least our information about the location of Panchavati is correct.
‘With Lord Ram’s blessings,’ said Bhrigu, ‘I will visit Panchavati someday.’
‘I’m sure that the Queen of the Nagas would be honoured, My Lord,’ said Bhagirath.
Bhrigu smiled. Kali would kill me if she had half a chance. Her temper is even more volatile than Lord Rudra’s legendary anger.
‘But Prince Bhagirath,’ said Bhrigu, ‘I must complain about an iniquity that you have committed.’
An astonished Bhagirath folded his hands together in an apologetic Namaste. ‘I apologise profusely if I have offended you in any way, My Lord. Please tell me how I can set it right.’
‘It’s very simple,’ said Bhrigu. ‘I was really looking forward to meeting the Emperor’s daughter and her new husband. But you have not brought Princess Anandmayi along with you.’
‘Apologies for my oversight, My Lord,’ said Bhagirath. ‘I overlooked this only because I rushed here to pay obeisance to my respected father, whom I have not met for a long time. And Princess Anandmayi has dutifully accompanied her husband General Parvateshwar to Kashi.’
Bhrigu suddenly held his breath as he read Bhagirath’s thoughts. Parvateshwar wants to defect? He wants to return to Meluha?
‘I guess I will only have the pleasure of meeting Princess Anandmayi and General Parvateshwar when the Almighty wills it,’ said Bhrigu.
The smile on Bhrigu’s face left Bhagirath with a sense of unease.