Daksha looked up. ‘Send bird couriers across the empire. If they see such a notice anywhere, it must be pulled down and replaced with what I have asked you to put up instead. This notice is bogus, do you understand?’
‘Yes, Your Highness,’ said Kanakhala.
As she closed the door behind her, Daksha angrily flung the tablet on the floor. ‘Mine is the only practical way to stop this. Maharishi Bhrigu has to listen to me.’
The Fire Song
Gopal was shown into Shiva’s private chamber the moment he arrived. He joined Shiva and Sati in the balcony and seated himself in an empty chair beside them.
‘What news do you have, Panditji?’ asked Shiva.
It had been a week since Shiva’s proclamation banning the Somras had been released simultaneously across Meluha and Swadweep. He was hoping that the people would follow his edict.
‘My pandits across the country have sent in their reports.’
‘The reactions in Meluha are very different from those in Swadweep.’
‘I expected that.’
‘It appears that the Swadweepan public has embraced the proclamation. It feeds into their bias against Meluha. It is seen as yet another instance of the Meluhans unfairly conspiring to stay ahead of the rest. And remember, none of them use the Somras anyway. So it’s no real sacrifice for them.’
‘But how have the kings reacted?’ asked Sati. ‘They are the ones in control of the armies.’
‘It’s too early to say, Satiji,’ said Gopal. ‘But I do know that all the kings across Swadweep are in intense consultations with their advisors even as we speak.’
‘But,’ said Shiva, ‘the Meluhans have rejected my proclamation, haven’t they?’
Gopal took a deep breath. ‘It’s not so simple. My pandits tell me that the Meluhan public seemed genuinely disturbed by your proclamation initially. There were serious discussions in city squares and a lot of them believed that they needed to follow their Neelkanth’s words.’
‘Then what happened?’
‘The Meluhan state is supremely efficient, my friend. The notices were taken down within the first three days, at least in all the major cities. They were replaced by a Meluhan royal order stating that they had been put up by a fraud Neelkanth.’
‘And the people believed it?’
‘The Meluhans have learnt to trust their government completely over many generations, Shiva,’ said Sati. ‘They will always believe everything that their government tells them.’
‘Also,’ said Gopal, ‘you have been missing from Meluha for many years, my friend. There are some who are genuinely beginning to wonder if the Neelkanth has forgotten Meluha.’
Shiva shook his head. ‘It looks like a war is inevitable.’
‘Daksha, and more importantly Lord Bhrigu, will ensure that,’ said Gopal. ‘But at least our message has reached most Meluhans. Hopefully some of them will start asking questions.’
Shiva looked at the ships of the Brangas, Vasudevs and the Nagas anchored on the Ganga. ‘We set sail in two days.’
‘No, no!’ Shiva shook his head in dismay. ‘You’ve got it all wrong!’
Light and shadows from the bonfire danced on the faces of Brahaspati, Veerbhadra, Nandi and Parshuram as they looked at Shiva, suitably chastened. It was a moonless night and a cold wind swept in from the river. The Ganga’s waters shimmered in the reflected light of the torches from the Branga fleet.
In keeping with ancient tradition, the Gunas sang paeans to the five holy elements ahead of major war campaigns, to invoke their protection and as a mark of manhood in the face of danger. The friends of the great Guna, Shiva, had gathered to honour this custom. For they would set sail at the crack of dawn tomorrow.
Shiva passed his chillum to Parshuram and decided to teach his friends the fine art of singing.
‘The real trick is in here,’ said Shiva, pointing towards his diaphragm.
‘I thought it was in here,’ said Veerbhadra playfully, pointing to his throat.
Shiva shook his head. ‘Bhadra! The vocal chords are basically a wind instrument. Your skill depends on the control over your breath, which means, essentially, the lungs. And lungs can be regulated through the diaphragm. Try to sing from here and you will find that you can project and modulate your voice with much greater ease.’
Nandi sang a note and then asked, ‘Am I doing it right, My Lord?’
‘Yes,’ said Shiva, looking at Nandi’s immense stomach. ‘If you can feel the pressure of your diaphragm on your stomach, then you’re doing it right. The other thing is to know when to take a breath. If you time it right, you will not have to struggle towards the end of the line. And if you don’t struggle, then you will be able to finish your tune without having to rush through the last few notes at the end.’
Brahaspati, Parshuram and Nandi listened with rapt attention.
Veerbhadra however, was sarcastically nodding, his eyes mirthful. He didn’t much care for tuneful singing. ‘Shiva, you’re taking it too seriously! It’s the thought that counts. So long as I sing it with my heart, I don’t think anybody should object even if I murder the song!’
Parshuram waved his hand at Veerbhadra before turning to Shiva. ‘My Lord, why don’t you sing and show us how it’s done?’
As everyone pinned their eyes upon him, Shiva looked up at the sky, rubbed his cold neck and cleared his throat.
‘Enough of the theatrics,’ said Veerbhadra. ‘Start singing now.’
Shiva slapped Veerbhadra playfully on his arm.
‘All right now,’ said Shiva with a genial grin. ‘Silence!’
Veerbhadra light-heartedly put his finger on his lips as Brahaspati glared at him. Veerbhadra reached out, took the chillum from Parshuram, and inhaled deeply.
Shiva closed his eyes and went within himself. A sonorous hum emerged from within his very being, as he hit the perfect note right away. A lilting melody of words followed and the enraptured audience understood their significance. It was the prayer of a warrior to agni or fire, imploring it for a blessing. The warrior would repay this honour by feeding his enemies in combat to the hungry flames of a cremation pyre. The listeners intrinsically understood that Shiva’s prakriti was closest to fire rather than the other four elements, each of which had Guna war songs dedicated to them.
It was a short song but the audience was spellbound. Shiva ended his performance to a robust round of applause.
‘You still have it in you,’ smiled Veerbhadra. ‘That cold throat hasn’t thrown your voice off.’
Shiva smiled and took the chillum from Veerbhadra. He was about to take a drag when he heard someone cough softly near the entrance of the terrace. All the friends turned to find Sati standing there.
Shiva put the chillum down as he smiled. ‘Did we wake you?’
Sati laughed as she walked up to Shiva. ‘You were loud enough to awaken the entire city! But the song was so beautiful that I didn’t mind being woken up.’
Sati took a seat next to Shiva as everyone laughed.
Shiva smiled. ‘It’s a song from back home. It steels a warrior’s heart for battle.’
‘I think the singing was more beautiful than the song,’ said Sati.