‘Please, My Lord. How can I ever think that? You would never do anything that is wrong.’
‘Then can you please explain the strange workings of your mind? You will not walk with me, although you admit that my path is right. Instead, you insist on walking on a path which leads to your death. In the name of Lord Rudra, why?’
‘Svadharma nidhanam shreyaha para dharmo bhayaavahah,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘Death in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s path, for that is truly dangerous.’
Shiva stared hard at Parvateshwar for what seemed like an eternity, then turned around and bellowed.
‘Nandi! Bhadra! Parshuram!’
They rushed in.
‘General Parvateshwar will continue to remain our prisoner,’ said Shiva.
‘As you command, My Lord,’ said Nandi, saluting Shiva.
‘And Nandi, the General will not be chained.’
Honour or Victory?
‘I say that we have no choice,’ said Kali. ‘I agree we cannot kill him, but he must remain our prisoner here till the end of the war.’
Shiva and his family, along with Gopal, were assembled in the Neelkanth’s private chambers at the Kashi palace.
Ganesh glanced at a seething Sati and decided to hold his counsel.
Kartik, however, had no such compunctions. ‘I agree with mausi.’
Shiva looked at Kartik.
‘I know that it is a difficult decision,’ continued Kartik. ‘Parvateshwarji has behaved with absolute honour. He was not privy to any of our strategy discussions. He could have escaped on multiple occasions, but did not. He waited till you returned so he could take your permission to leave. But you’re the Neelkanth, baba. You have the responsibility for India on your shoulders. Sometimes, for the sake of the larger good, one has to do things that may not appear right at the time. Perhaps, a laudable end can justify some questionable means.’
Sati glared at her younger son. ‘Kartik, how can you think that a great end justifies questionable means?’
‘Maa, can we accept a world where the Somras continues to thrive?’
‘Of course we can’t,’ said Sati. ‘But do you think that this struggle is only about the Somras?’
Ganesh finally spoke up. ‘Of course it is, maa.’
‘No, it is not,’ said Sati. ‘It is also about the legacy that we will leave behind, of how Shiva will be remembered. People from across the world will analyse every aspect of his life and draw lessons. They will aspire to be like him. Didn’t we all criticise Lord Bhrigu for using the daivi astras in the attack on Panchavati? The Maharishi must have justified what he did with arguments similar to what you’re advocating. If we behave in the same way then what will differentiate us from him?’
‘People only remember victors, didi,’ said Kali. ‘For history is written by victors. They can write it however they want. The losers are always remembered the way the victors portray them. What is important right now is for us to ensure our victory.’
‘Please allow me to disagree, Your Highness,’ said Gopal. ‘It is not true that only victors determine history.’
‘Of course, it is,’ said Kali. ‘There is a Deva version of events and an Asura version of events. Which version do we remember?’
‘If you talk about the present-day India, then yes, the Deva version is remembered,’ said Gopal. ‘But even today, the Asura version is well known outside of India.’
‘But we live here,’ said Kali. ‘Why should we bother about the beliefs that prevail elsewhere?’
‘Perhaps I have been unable to make myself clear, Your Highness,’ said Gopal. ‘It’s not just about the place, but also about the time. Will the Deva version of history always be remembered the way it is? Or is it possible that different versions will emerge? Remember, if there’s a victor’s version of events, then there’s a victim’s narrative that survives equally. For as long as the victors remain in command, their version holds ground. But if history has taught us one thing, it is that communities rise and fall in eminence just as surely as the tides ebb and flow. There comes a time when victors do not remain as powerful, when the victims of old become the elite of the day. Then, one will find that narratives change just as dramatically. This new version becomes the popular version in time.’
‘I disagree,’ dismissed Kali. ‘Unless the victims escape to another land, like the Asuras, they will always remain powerless, their experiences dismissed as myths.’
‘Not quite,’ said Gopal. ‘Let me talk about something that is close to your heart. In the times that we live, the Nagas are feared and cursed as demons. Many millennia ago, they were respected. After winning this war they will become respectable and powerful once again as loyal allies of the Neelkanth. Your version of history will then begin to gain currency once again, won’t it?’
An unconvinced Kali chose to remain silent.
‘An interesting factor is the conduct of the erstwhile victims in the new era,’ said Gopal. ‘Armed with fresh empowerment, will they seek vengeance on the surviving old elite?’
‘Obviously the victims will nurse hatred in their hearts. Would you expect them to be filled with the milk of human kindness?’ asked Kali, sarcastically.
‘You hate the Meluhans, don’t you?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘But how do you feel about the founding father of Meluha, Lord Ram?’
Kali was quiet. She held Lord Ram in deep reverence.
‘Why do you revere Lord Ram, but reject the people he left behind?’ asked Gopal.
Sati spoke up on her sister’s behalf. ‘That is because Lord Ram treated even his enemies honourably, quite unlike the present-day Meluhans.’
Shiva observed Sati with quiet satisfaction.
‘A man becomes God when his vision moves beyond the bounds of victors and losers,’ said Sati. ‘Shiva’s message has to live on forever. And that can only happen if both the victors and the losers find validation in him. That he must win is a given. But equally critical is his winning the right way.’
Gopal was quick to support Sati. ‘Honour must beget honour. That is the only way.’
Shiva walked to the balcony and gazed at the massive Kashi Vishwanath temple on the Sacred Avenue, and beyond it at the holy Ganga.
Everyone was poised for his decision.
He turned and whispered, ‘I need some time to think. We will meet again tomorrow.’
Sati looked down. The clear waters of the lake lay below her. The fish swam rapidly, keeping pace with her as she flew over the water, towards the banks in the distance.
She looked up towards a massive black mountain, different in hue from all the surrounding mountains, topped by a white cap of snow. As she drew close, her vision fell upon a yogi on the banks of the lake. He wore a tiger-skin skirt. His long, matted hair had been tied up in a bun. His muscular body was covered by numerous battle scars. A small halo, almost like the sun, shone behind his head. A crescent moon was lodged in his hair while a snake slithered around his neck. A massive trident stood sentinel beside him, half-buried in the ground. The face of the yogi was blurred, though. And then the mists cleared.
‘Shiva!’ said Sati.