A thought entered Shiva’s mind. Did Brahaspati accompany me to Karachapa the first time to pick up sea water? Was that used to destroy Mount Mandar?
Brahaspati continued. ‘What seemed to work was fresh river water. When used to wash the Somras waste, over a period of several years, fresh water appeared to reduce its toxic strength. This was proven with some experiments at Mount Mandar. It seemed to work especially well with cold water. Ice was even better. Obviously, we could not use the rivers of India to wash the Somras waste in large quantities. We could have ended up poisoning our own people. Therefore, many decades ago, a plan was hatched to use the high mountain rivers in Tibet. They flow through uninhabited lands and their waters are almost ice-cold. They would therefore work perfectly to clean out the Somras waste. There is a river high up in the Himalayas, called Tsangpo, where Meluha decided to set up a giant waste treatment facility.’
‘Are you telling me that the Meluhans have come to my land before?’
‘Yes. In secret.’
‘But how can such large consignments be hidden?’
‘You’ve seen the quantity of Somras powder required to feed an entire city for a year. Ten small pouches are all it takes. It is converted into the Somras drink at designated temples across Meluha when mixed with water and other ingredients.’
‘So even the waste amount is not huge?’
‘No, it isn’t. It’s a small quantity, making it easy to transport. But even that small quantity packs in a huge amount of poison.’
‘Hmmm... So this waste facility was set up in Tibet?’
‘Yes, it was established in a completely desolate area along the Tsangpo. The river flowed east, so it would go to relatively unpopulated lands away from India. Therefore, our land would not suffer from the harmful effects of the Somras.’
Shiva frowned. ‘But what about the lands farther ahead that the Tsangpo flowed into? The eastern lands that lie beyond Swadweep? What about the Tibetan land around Tsangpo itself? Wouldn’t they have suffered due to the toxic waste?’
‘They may have,’ said Brahaspati. ‘But that was considered acceptable collateral damage. The Meluhans kept track of the people living along the Tsangpo. There were no outbreaks of disease, no sudden deformities. The icy river waters seemed to be working at keeping the toxins inactive. The Vayuputra council was given these reports. Apparently, the council also sent scientists into the sparsely populated lands of Burma, which is to the east of Swadweep. It was believed the Tsangpo flowed into those lands and became the main Burmese river, the Irrawaddy. Once again, there was no evidence of a sudden rise in diseases. Hence it was concluded that we had found a way to rid ourselves of the Somras waste without harming anyone. When it was discovered that Tsangpo means “purifier” in the local Tibetan tongue, it was considered a sign, a divine message. A solution had been found. This came down to the scientists of Mount Mandar as received wisdom as well.’
‘What does this have to do with the Brangas?’
‘Well, you see, the upper regions of the Brahmaputra have never been mapped properly. It was simply assumed that the river comes from the east; because it flows west into Branga. The Nagas, with the help of Parshuram, finally mapped the upper course of the Brahmaputra. It falls at almost calamitous speeds from the giant heights of the Himalayas into the plains of Branga through gorges that are sheer walls almost two thousand metres high.’
‘Two thousand metres!’ gasped Shiva.
‘You can well imagine that it is almost impossible to navigate a river course such as the Brahmaputra’s. But Parshuram succeeded and led the Nagas along that path. Parshuram, of course, did not realise the significance of the discovery of the river’s course. Queen Kali and Lord Ganesh did.’
‘Did you go up the Brahmaputra as well?’ asked Shiva. ‘Where does the river come from? Is it connected to the Tsangpo in any way?’
Brahaspati smiled sadly. ‘It is the Tsangpo.’
‘The Tsangpo flows east only for the duration of its course in Tibet. At the eastern extremities of the Himalayas, it takes a sharp turn, almost reversing its flow. It then starts moving south-west and crashes through massive gorges before emerging near Branga as the Brahmaputra.’
‘By the Holy Lake,’ said Shiva. ‘The Brangas are being poisoned by the Somras waste.’
‘Exactly. The cold waters of the Tsangpo dilute the poisonous impact to a degree. However, as the river enters India in the form of the Brahmaputra, the rising temperature reactivates the dormant toxin in the water. Though the Branga children also suffer from the same body-wracking pain as the Nagas, they are free from deformities. Sadly, Branga also has a high incidence of cancer. Being highly populous, the number of deaths is simply unacceptable.’
Shiva began to connect the dots. ‘Divodas told me the Branga plague peaks during the summer every year. That is the time when ice melts faster in the Himalayas, making the poison flow out in larger quantities.’
‘Yes,’ said Brahaspati. ‘That is exactly what happens.’
‘Obviously, since both the Nagas and Brangas are being poisoned by the same malevolence, our medicines work on the Brangas as well,’ Kali spoke up. ‘So we send them our medicines to help ameliorate their suffering a little. Even though we told King Chandraketu how his kingdom was being poisoned, some Brangas prefer to believe that the plague strikes every year because of a curse that the Nagas have cast upon them. If only we were that powerful! But it appears that at least Chandraketu believes us. This is why he sends us men and gold regularly, to stealthily attack Somras manufacturing facilities, the root of all our problems.’
‘Evil should never be fought with subterfuge, Kali,’ said Shiva. ‘It must be attacked openly.’
Kali was about to retort but Shiva had turned back to Brahaspati.
‘Why didn’t you say something? Raise the issue in Meluha or with the Vayuputras?’
‘I did,’ said Brahaspati. ‘I took up the matter with Emperor Daksha. But he doesn’t really understand scientific things or involve himself with technical details. He turned to the one intellectual he trusts, the venerable royal priest, Raj guru Bhrigu. Lord Bhrigu seemed genuinely interested and took me to the Vayuputra council so I could present my case before them, but they were not at all supportive. This was where the issue was effectively killed. Nobody was willing to believe me about the source of the Brahmaputra. They also laughed when they heard that I was ostensibly listening to the Nagas. According to them, the Nagas were now ruled by an extremist harridan whose frustration with her own karma made everyone else the object of her ire.’
‘I’ll take that as a compliment!’ said Kali.
Shiva smiled at Kali before turning back to Brahaspati. ‘But how did the Vayuputras rationalise what’s happening in Branga?’
‘According to them,’ said Brahaspati, ‘the Brangas were a rich but uncivilised lot, with strange eating habits and disgusting customs. So the plague could have been caused by their bad practices and karma rather than the Somras. Remember, there is little sympathy for the Brangas amongst the Vayuputras because it is well known that they drink the blood of peacocks, a bird that is held holy by any follower of Lord Rudra.’