The rowboat was a hundred metres from the coast when a tall man appeared from behind the bushes. He wore a long, brownish-black cloak and held what looked like a staff. Or, it could have been a spear. Shiva couldn’t be sure. He reached for his sword.
Gopal reached out to stay Shiva’s hand. ‘It’s all right, my friend.’
Shiva spoke without taking his eyes off the stranger. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, he is a Parihan. He has come to guide us.’
Shiva relaxed his grip on the sword, but kept his hand close to the hilt.
He saw the stranger reach into the bushes and tug at what looked like ropes. Shiva immediately caught his breath and reached for his sword once again.
To his surprise though, four horses emerged from behind the thick row of bushes. Three of them were not carrying anything, clearly ready for their new mounts. The fourth was loaded with a massive sack. Perhaps, it was carrying provisions. Shiva moved his hand away from his sword and let it relax.
The stranger was a friend.
Journey to Pariha
‘I’m glad that the Vayuputras have sent someone to receive us,’ said Gopal.
His sailors were offloading the provisions from the rowboat. Some of the luggage would be tied onto the three horses that would be mounted by Shiva, Gopal and the Parihan, while the rest would be loaded onto the severely-burdened fourth horse.
‘How can the Vayuputras ignore the Chief Vasudev, My Lord?’ asked the Parihan, bowing low towards Gopal. ‘We received your message from the Vasudev pandit of Lothal well in time. You are our honoured guest. My name is Kurush. I will be your guide to our city, Pariha.’
Shiva observed Kurush intently. His long brownish-black cloak could not hide the fact that he carried a sword. Shiva wondered as to how the Parihan would draw his sword quickly in an emergency if it lay encumbered within the folds of his cloak.
The man was unnaturally fair-skinned, not seen often in the hot plains of India. While one may have expected this to make the Parihan look pale and unattractive, this was not so. The sharp long nose, combined with a full beard somehow enhanced the beauty of the man while giving him the look of a warrior nevertheless. The Parihan wore his hair long, something that was in common with the Indians. On his head was perched a square white hat, made of cotton. For Shiva, the most interesting aspect was his beard. It was just like that of Lord Rudra’s image in the revered Vishwanath temple at Kashi; the distinctive beard of the previous Mahadev had many strands of hair curled into independent clumps.
‘Thank you, Kurush,’ said Gopal. ‘Please allow me the pleasure of introducing the long-awaited Neelkanth himself, Lord Shiva.’
Kurush turned towards Shiva and nodded curtly. Clearly he was one amongst those Vayuputras who considered Shiva a usurper; a Neelkanth who had not been authorised by his tribe. Shiva did not say anything. He knew that the only opinion that mattered was that of their chief, Mithra.
Shiva mounted his horse, then turned and waved at the sailors as they rowed back to their ship. They intended to sail a little farther and anchor in a hidden cove. After a waiting period of two months, the captain would send out a rowboat once every two days to the spot where Gopal and Shiva had met Kurush, to check if they had returned.
Kurush had already begun riding in front, while also holding the reins of the horse bearing the provisions, when Gopal and Shiva kicked their horses into a trot. With the Parihan safely out of earshot, Shiva turned to Gopal. ‘Why does the name Kurush sound familiar?’
‘Kurush is sometimes also known as Kuru,’ said Gopal. ‘And Kuru, I’m sure you’re aware, was a great Indian Emperor in ancient times.’
‘So which name came first? Kuru or Kurush?’
‘You mean who influenced whom?’ asked Gopal. ‘Did India influence Pariha or was it the other way around?’
‘Yes, that’s what I want to know.’
‘I don’t know. It was probably a bit of both. We learnt from their noble culture and they learnt from ours. Of course, we can go on about who learnt how much and from whom, but that is nothing but our ego, showing our desperation to prove that our culture is superior to others. That is a foolish quest. It is best to learn from everyone, regardless of the cultural source of that learning.’
The Parihan rode ahead in solitary splendour. They had been travelling for a week now, and Kurush had determinedly remained uncommunicative, giving monosyllabic answers to Shiva’s companionable queries. The Neelkanth had finally stopped talking to him.
‘Did the Lord grow up here?’ Shiva asked Gopal.
‘Yes, Lord Rudra was born around this area. He came to India when we needed him.’
‘He was from the land of fairies. That would obviously make him our guardian spirit as well.’
‘Actually, I believe he wasn’t born in Pariha, but somewhere close to this region.’
‘Doesn’t anshan mean hunger in India?’
Gopal smiled. ‘It means the same here as well.’
‘They named their land “hunger”? Was it so bad?’
‘Look around you. This is a harsh, mountainous desert. Life is perennially difficult here. Unless...’
‘Unless great men are occasionally able to tame this land.’
‘And Lord Rudra’s tribe proved to be such men?’
‘Yes, they set up the kingdom of Elam.’
‘Elam? You mean the same one that the Akkadians conquered?’
‘That would explain the Vayuputra support, wouldn’t it? The Elamites were the people of Lord Rudra.’
‘No, that’s not the reason why. The Vayuputras supported the Elamites because they genuinely felt the need for a buffer state between them and the Mesopotamians. In fact, Lord Rudra had made it very clear to his fellow Elamites: they could either join the Vayuputra tribe, giving up all links with any other identity that they had previously cherished, or they could choose to remain Elamites. Those who chose to follow Lord Rudra are the Vayuputras of today.’
‘So Pariha is not where Anshan used to be.’
‘No. Anshan is the capital of the Elamite kingdom. Pariha exists farther to the east.’
‘It appears to me that the Vayuputras accepted other outsiders as well, and not just the Elamites. My uncle was a Tibetan.’
‘Yes, Lord Manobhu was one. The Vayuputras accept members solely on merit, not by virtue of birth. There are many Elamites who try to become Vayuputras but do not succeed. The only people who were accepted in large numbers, because they were refugees, were a tribe from our country.’
‘Yes, Lord Rudra felt personally guilty about what he had done to them. So he took them under his protection and gave them refuge in his land, amongst the Vayuputras.’
‘Who were these people?’
Before Shiva could react to this revelation, Kurush turned and addressed Gopal. ‘My Lord, this is a good place to have some lunch. The path ahead goes through a narrow mountain pass. Shall we take a break here?’
Lunch was entirely unappetising and cold, with the harsh mountain winds adding to the discomfort. But the dry fruit that Kurush had brought along provided a boost of energy, much needed for the back-breaking ride that lay ahead.